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Celebrating Married Love: The London Library Collection of Per Nozze

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by Andrea Del Cornò

In amongst the riches of the Italian material held at The London Library, the collection of Per Nozze (literally “for a wedding”) deserves a special mention. Outside Italy this collection of epithalamia – writings published on the occasion of marriage – is a unique resource with a significance comparing only to those collections of Nozze or Per Nozze held at the Central National Library of Florence and the State Library of Berlin.

The origins of nuptialia – literary compositions in verse or prose written and printed to celebrate a wedding – might be traced back to classical times. As poetic compositions, nuptialia were popular in Latin literature, continuing the Italic tradition of rustic verses and poems, like the fescennini, the contents of which could be bawdy or openly licentious. The tradition of Per Nozze, publications presented as gifts and mementos to the spouses – for reasons which have yet to be properly investigated – would appear to have been an almost exclusively Italian custom. Usually printed in limited editions and for private circulation, these volumes or pamphlets of congratulatory verses, were often made without any expense being spared in their delightfully decorated appearance. Whilst some have been preserved in libraries on account of their importance or fine bindings, a great number were printed on poor quality paper, even on loose sheets, and by amateur printers. These works, due to their ephemeral and transitory nature, are now very scarce or no longer extant.

Eminent writers and scholars composed writings Per Nozze, amongst them: Carlo Goldoni, Giuseppe Parini, Giacomo Leopardi and Giosuè Carducci.

Written or compiled to mark the occasion of a wedding, epithalamia are not simply celebratory poems about married love. Compositions Per Nozze, often in prose, cover a remarkable and highly miscellaneous variety of subjects – from history and philosophy, to art, architecture and even scientific fields. These can represent serious contributions to their respective discipline, of lasting merit. Additionally, writings Per Nozze and their contents, can provide invaluable material in the analysis of cultural and social history and life of Italian society, with particular relevance to local events.

The eighteenth-century witnessed a plethoric production of Per Nozze, especially driven by the literary output of the numerous learned academies at the time popular throughout the Italian peninsula. Members of the Accademia degli Arcadi, founded in Rome in 1690, for example, were particularly prolific, as were the so-called frugoniani poets. Writings Per Nozze were printed by the thousand during the nineteenth-century. This sizeable production – which had already generated the veiled irony of Parini in his well-known Ode per nozze – prompted severe criticism. Venetian polymath Francesco Algarotti complained of an “incredible dysentery of sonnets”. French novelist Stendhal, having observed that Italy had faltered in its march towards progress, sarcastically posed the question: “l’Italie se remettra-t-elle à faire des sonnets imprimés sur du satin rose pour les jours de noces?” Several writers, nevertheless, encouraged this tradition. In 1899, man of letters, Luigi Settembrini wrote: “… the custom persists to the present day in every Italian city, this is laudable, and we hope it will last forever”.

The so-called Nozze collection at The London Library – the only UK-based institution to hold this material in such quantity – amounts to over 2,500 pamphlets, bound together in 144 volumes and boxes numbered in sequence and divided into “Poetry”, “Prose” and “Miscellanea”, according to their content. This discrete collection was put together patiently by former Librarian Charles Hagberg Wright and some of the works held would appear to be lacking in Italian libraries. The earliest work held is the fascinating Feste delle nozze del Serenissimo Don Francesco Medici Gran Duca di Toscana et della Sereniss. Sua consorte la Sig. Bianca Cappello, by Raffaello Gualteretto printed at Florence, and dated 1579. Several items feature fine engravings and printers’ devices, and, in some cases, the original highly decorative publisher’s bindings or paper wrappers have been preserved. Some are decorated with elaborate woodcuts or stencil-printed armorial design or embossed patterns. Conspicuously, in a few cases, the text is printed on charming pale blue leaves of paper. Within the collection, a number of publications were not intended to celebrate marriage but rather different occasions, such as all kinds of anniversaries, the taking of vows and promotion to high office. These, more correctly, are often referred to as ingressi, gratulatorie, or monacazioni, also known as Nozze in Cristo.

The Library’s holdings would seem to originate mainly from the northern regions of Italy, Venice and the Veneto area in particular. However there are a number of eighteenth-century Per Nozze publications from Lucca as well as a rare compilation from southern Italy, which includes a composition by the Neapolitan philosopher Giambattista Vico, written to celebrate the wedding, in Naples, of Charles II and Maria Amalia of Saxony in 1738.
Amongst the many gems, there are several rare Nozze of historical interest and others relating to Italian travellers to Elizabethan England, England in the Cromwellian years and those of William and Mary of Orange. To this category belongs the diary of Anton Maria Ragona, a merchant from Vicenza, who travelled to England in the company of Filippo Pigafetta, the renowned traveller, in 1582. In his diary, Ragona recalls his meeting with Sir Francis Walsingham, Secretary of State “who like all great men in England speaks Italian excellently”. Whilst Queen Elizabeth is described as “thin, with a long face, and not unpleasing in appearance”. Additionally, Ragona noticed that “Italians were well received in this court, especially if they had changed their religion”.

Another outstanding example is the rare Giornale del viaggio nella Svizzera, an elegant edition dated 1834, of which only twelve copies were made. The Giornale represents a primary example of the cultural and scientific cosmopolitanism which inspired the European Enlightenment. A noteworthy association of the journal – indeed its claim to fame – lies in its recording a meeting, on 16th September 1777, in the Swiss town of Ferney, between the author, Venetian senator Angelo Querini, and the French philosopher Voltaire, by this time of advanced years.

Furthermore, the Library possesses a set of rare Nozze relating exclusively to the Medici Family of Florence. These include reproductions of documents and letters drafted or composed by Gian Giorgio Trissino, papal legate to Venice and Vienna during the first half of the sixteenth century, and author of the once famous tragedy of Sofonisba. Other pieces of some rarity feature poetic writings of Fogazzaro, Zanella, and Cabianca.

From the early decades of the twentieth century the tradition of writings Per Nozze started to decline. In a pamphlet published in 1928 the scholar Augusto Campana wrote “today the custom of Per Nozze publications appears to have passed, almost not approved of. Per Nozze were the charm of a bygone era”. The golden age of publications Per Nozze, has undoubtedly waned away. In a 1915 article, however, The Times describes the London Library’s Nozze holdings through the words of Dante, Messo t’ho innanzi: omai per te ti ciba. The marvelous London Library Collection bears testimony to the popularity and significance of a literary genre which deserves indeed to be better known.

 

Per le felici Nozze del nobile Signore Francesco Cortelazis colla Signora Contessa Marina Arnaldi Padova, 1857    [London Library Nozze 114].

Per le felici Nozze del nobile Signore Francesco Cortelazis colla Signora Contessa Marina Arnaldi
Padova, 1857 [London Library Nozze 114].

I riti nuziali de' Greci per le faustissime Nozze dell' illustrissimo Sionor Marchese Vincenzio Riccardi con l'illustrissima Signora Ortenzia dei Vernaccia. [by Francesco Fontani followed by poems by various authors.] Firenze 1789 [London Library Nozze 104]

I riti nuziali de’ Greci per le faustissime Nozze dell’ illustrissimo Sionor Marchese Vincenzio Riccardi con l’illustrissima Signora Ortenzia dei Vernaccia. [by Francesco Fontani followed by poems by various authors.] Firenze 1789 [London Library Nozze 104]

Nelle faustissime Nozze de' nobili signori Alessandro Ottolini Conti e Luisa Santini patrizj lucchesi Rime. Lucca 1784.  [London Library Nozze 72]

Nelle faustissime Nozze de’ nobili signori Alessandro Ottolini Conti e Luisa Santini patrizj lucchesi Rime. Lucca 1784. [London Library Nozze 72]

Poesie per le felicissime Nozze del nobile Signor Conte Marcantonio Trissino di Vicenza con la nobile Signora Contessa Cecilia Emilii di Verona  In Vicenza 1764  [London Library Nozze 60].

Poesie per le felicissime Nozze del nobile Signor Conte Marcantonio Trissino di Vicenza con la nobile Signora Contessa Cecilia Emilii di Verona
In Vicenza 1764 [London Library Nozze 60].

A charming white cover with a relief motifs of coloured flowers.

A charming white cover with a relief motifs of coloured flowers.

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Italian Collections

Russian acquisitions in the UK-Russian Year of Culture 2014

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As the UK-Russian Year of Culture 2014 is over, our Russian Specialist Claudia Ricci provides a brief round-up of recent acquisitions that have been added to our Russian shelves.

Last year’s acquisitions started with some publications linked to anniversaries that had taken place during the previous year.

One such event was the discovery of Severnaya Zemlya (Northern Land) in the Arctic Sea in 1913, which is narrated by the explorer and head of the North Arctic Ocean Hydrographic Expedition (1910-1915), Nikolay Evgenov (1888-1964). The author was a victim of Stalin’s purges between 1938 and 1943 and his work was completed and edited by a younger colleague, V.N. Kupetsky, who only managed to publish some chapters in a Soviet scientific journal in the 1980s. Now it has been published unabridged for the first time in book form:

- Poli͡arnai͡a ėkspedit͡sii͡a na ledokolakh “Taĭmyr” i “Vaĭgach” v 1910-1915 godakh (Geograf, 2013) [The Polar expeditions on board the ice-breakers Taimyr and Vaigach in 1910-1915] Shelved in: T. Arctic & Antarctic, under Evgenov.

Another important event that took place in 2013 was the discovery of a manuscript from 1921, the almanack “Serapionovy brat’ia”, a collaborative work by the members of a literary group, who met at the Petrograd House of Arts and had taken their name from E.T.A. Hoffman’s German movement. The anthology was due to be published in 1921, but was lost during the Civil War, then only found in Finland in recent years and published for the first time in 2013. It includes contributions by Maxim Gorky, Lev Lunts, Mikhail Zoshchenko and Viktor Shklovsky :

- Serapionovy bratʹi͡a 1921 : alʹmanakh (Limbus Press, 2013) [The Serapion Brothers, 1921: almanack] Shelved in L. Russian Lit. under its title.

One major event in 2013 was the 400th anniversary of the ascent to the throne of the Romanov dynasty. In 1613 Mikhail Romanov was offered the Russian crown following years of unrest and fighting known as the Time of Troubles, and the House of Romanov ruled over the country until the abdication of Nicholas II in February 1917. Various publications appeared on this occasion including two exhibition catalogues:

- Romanovy – portret dinastii : t͡sarskiĭ i velikokni͡azheskiĭ portret v sobranii Istoricheskogo muzei͡a / [The Romanovs – portrait of a dynasty : portraits of tsars and Grand Dukes from the collections of the State Historical Museum]. Shelved in A. Portraits, 4to. under Gosudarstvennyi istoricheskii muzei

- Romanovy – nachalo dinastii : k 400-letii͡u izbranii͡a na t͡sarstvo Mikhaila Fedorovicha Romanova = [The Romanovs - the beginning of the dynasty : on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the ascent to the throne of Mikhail Fedorovich Romanov] Shelved in H. Russia, 4to. under title.

A topic that has attracted renewed attention in recent times, inspiring works both in English and Italian, is the controversial award of the Nobel Prize to the novelist Boris Pasternak in 1958, now reinterpreted in the light of new archival discoveries:

- Fleishman, Lazar. Boris Pasternak i Nobelevskai͡a premii͡a (Azbukovnik, 2013) [Boris Pasternak and the Nobel prize]

- Mancosu, Paolo. Inside the Zhivago storm : the editorial adventures of Pasternak’s masterpiece (Feltrinelli, 2013 – the original publisher of the 1st Russian edition of Doctor Zhivago).

- Finn, Peter and Couvée, Petra. The Zhivago affair : the Kremlin, the CIA, and the battle over a forbidden book (Harvill Secker, 2014)

- B.L. Pasternak : pro et contra : B.L. Pasternak v sovetskoĭ, ėmigrantskoĭ, rossiĭskoĭ literaturnoĭ kritike : antologii͡a / sostavlenie, kommentarii: El.V. Pasternak et al. (RKhGA, 2012-13) [B.L. Pasternak- pros and cons : Pasternak in Soviet, émigré and Russian literary criticism : an anthology]

All the above are to be found in L. Russian Lit., Pasternak.

However, the event that has had the greatest impact on Russian publishing in 2014 is, without any doubt, the anniversary of the First World War. In Russia WWI has never been perceived on the same level of importance as the other two great Patriotic wars (the Napoleonic invasion of 1812 and WWII respectively), and one gets the impression that it was often neglected as a topic of research in Soviet times. Several publications have been acquired for our History, Reading Room and Art collections with the aim to fill existing gaps and enrich our WWI section with a Russian perspective. Among them:

- Rossii͡a v Pervoĭ mirovoĭ voĭne, 1914-1918 : ėnt͡siklopedii͡a v trekh tomakh / red. A.K. Sorokin et al. (Rosspen, 2014) [Russia during WWI, 1914-1918: encyclopaedia] in R.R. Dicts., History

- Pervai͡a mirovai͡a voĭna, 1914-1918. Catalogue of an art exhibition held in Saint Petersburg in 2014. (Palace editions, 2014) [First World War, 1914-1918] shelved in A. Art, 4to.

- Rossiĭskai͡a monarkhicheskai͡a gosudarstvennostʹ na poslednem ėtape svoeĭ istorii, 1894-1917 : sbornik dokumentov (IRI RAN, 2014) [ The Russian monarchical state in the last stage of its history : collection of documents] shelved in H. Russia.

- Aǐrapetov, O. Uchastie Rossiĭskoi imperii v Pervoĭ mirovoĭ voĭne (Kuchkogo pole, 2014) [The participation of the Russian empire in the First World War] shelved in H. European War I.Stepanov, Evgeniĭ. Poėt na voĭne : Nikolaĭ Gumilev, 1914-1918 (Progress-Pleiada, 2014) [A poet at war : Nikolay Gumilev, 1914-1918] A detailed chronicle of Gumilev’s life as a soldier in 1914-1918, including his missions to London and Paris. N. Gumilev is better known for his acmeist poetry, his relationship with Anna Akhmatova and his execution by the Cheka in 1921. Shelved in Biog. Gumilev.Li͡etopisʹ Velikoĭ voĭny in 6 v. [Chronicle of the Great War] Complete reprint of the homonymous Russian periodical (1914-1917), which aimed for a comprehensive coverage of articles from the national press and official documents about the Great War published at the time. Shelved in H. European War I, 4to.

Finally, a couple of items that honour the memory of other victims of Russian and Soviet events:

- Kniga russkoĭ skorbi : pami͡atnik russkim patriotam, pogibshim v borʹbe s vnutrennim vragom / sost. V.M. Erchak (Institut russkoi tsivilizatsii, 2013) [Book of Russian sorrow : memory to Russian patriots, who died in the fight against internal enemies]. Shelved in Biographical Colls., this is a very comprehensive list of names of victims of domestic terror and terrorism in tsarist Russia up until 1914, previously published in 14 vols. between 1908 and 1914, but banned after 1917.

- Chistiakov, Ivan. Sibirskoĭ dalʹneĭ storonoĭ : dnevnik okhrannika BAMa : 1935-1936 (AST, Corpus, 2014) [ From the Siberian far side : dairy of a prison guard at the Baikal-Amur Lager, 1935-1936] Shelved in Biog. Chistiakov, it is a unique historical testimony, being the diary of a GULAG guard, who was sent to the prison camp where the BAM railway line was being built in the 1930s.

The Library also aims to acquire works about current events affecting Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union, although possibly more in English than in Russian. On our shelves you will find recent publications about the “Pussy riot” phenomenon, the Khodorkovsky case, the Ukrainian crisis and annexation of Crimea, and biographies of politicians, intellectuals and other distinguished contemporary Russians. Look out for them in our New Books shelves and don’t hesitate to ask at the Enquiry desk or contact the Russian Specialist (claudia.ricci@londonlibrary.co.uk).

 

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Russian collections

Search The London Library’s Catalogue with Catalyst

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The London Library’s new catalogue search tool, Catalyst is now live.  This is an exciting development for the Library, allowing members to search our print and online resources simultaneously.

What does Catalyst contain?

Books and Journals – All of the Library’s books and journals acquired since 1950 are now on Catalyst, as well as a substantial and growing number of titles from our earlier catalogues.

eJournals – All the eJournals the Library subscribes to can be found by title in Catalyst and the content of 95% of our subscription eJournals can also be retrieved by Catalyst.

Databases – All of our subscription online databases can be found by title in Catalyst and the content of a number of databases including the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Who’s Who, and the Oxford Dictionary of Art can also be retrieved by Catalyst.  We expect to be able to add the content of more databases in the future. Catalyst has a mobile friendly view which allows you to search on your mobile device. The site is responsive and adapts automatically to the mobile view when the screen size reduces to under 500 pixels.

How to use Catalyst – Members wishing to use Catalyst should select the Sign in option from the top right hand corner on any Catalyst screen and you will be taken to a login screen.  You will need your membership number or the barcode from your London Library membership card and your PIN.  If you have forgotten your PIN please contact the Membership Office and they will be pleased to help.

For members who would like to know more, The London Library will be holding demonstration sessions at the Library for members.

Tuesday 27th January 10.15am – 11am or 11.15am – 12pm
Wednesday 28th January 2.15pm – 3pm or 3.15pm – 4pm
Thursday 29th January 2.15pm – 3pm or 3.15pm – 4pm
Friday 30th January 10.15am – 11am or 11.15am – 12pm 

Numbers at each session will be limited, to reserve a place please contact Amanda Stebbings.

 

 

 

 

 

A Binding Commitment

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As the Library looks towards the next phase of its award-winning 21st century building project, our Collection Care team is already working hard to make sure our books are ready for action.

The past decade has seen many impressive developments to the Library building, from the refurbishment of iconic spaces such as the Times Room and the Sackler Study to the addition of a whole new wing in the form of T. S. Eliot House. Now the Library is looking forward to the next stage of its building programme, which will see an extension of the Victorian Back Stacks and the refurbishment of most of our collection spaces.

In order to keep our collections safe, clean and accessible while this work is taking place, we will need to move many of our books to alternative locations. Anyone who has ever moved home will know it is essential to ensure that one’s possessions are in good order, and that they are packed and wrapped in such a way that they will arrive safely at their destination. The Library’s collections are no different, and that’s why our Collection Care team is already preparing them for what promises to be one of the largest book moves in the institution’s history.

The scale of the challenge is considerable. The nineteenth-century Back Stacks occupy seven floors and house five and a half miles of books. To make sure the books can be safely transferred en masse from their existing shelves to other another part of the library, each volume needs to be thoroughly assessed. If a book’s binding is defective, the risk of it suffering further damage is greatly increased, and would be especially high during a complex operation such as a major book move. If the binding is failing, we don’t only risk losing the book’s covers. Without its sturdy protection, text-blocks can suffer tears, staining, crumpling, and pages may also go missing.

Collection Care assistants Frances and Bettina have taken on the challenge of working through the Library’s Topography holdings, checking each volume for structural damage or any significant weakness that would render it vulnerable to rapid degradation. They have learned to identify signs of deterioration, from a few loose pages to a partially detached spine, a board held in place only by sticky tape or a text-block that no longer stands properly within the square of the binding case.

The team’s mission is to select only the most vulnerable books for treatment. Books with only minor or cosmetic damage, which are in a stable condition, are returned to the shelves. It can be a tough call to leave a book on the shelf when it requires some minor repairs, or even if it just looks a little tired, perhaps having a small amount of old tape on the spine or few small tears to the text-block. This strategic approach is nevertheless proving successful, enabling us to commit our available binding funds to those volumes that are most at risk. As the average cost of rebinding an octavo volume comes in at about £20, we need to be selective to ensure we can cover as many shelves as possible before building work commences.

Any books which are found to be particularly fragile are taken off to our Collection Care department, where they are put through a kind of triage. Some may need some to be repaired in-house before they are sent off to the bindery. Page tears are patched with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. In some cases we may even be able to stabilise a binding so that the book no longer needs to be sent out to a commercial contractor. Carefully-placed strips of light-but-strong aerolinen can shore up a damaged spine and reinforce any weakened joints.

Other volumes need to be sent to the bindery with specific instructions to ensure that their aesthetic is preserved. We take great care to retain original features from the covers such as illustrated papers panels, printed textiles, and even early Library book labels, which give a taste of the object’s history. Decorative endpapers are preserved where possible, and any repairs are done in cloths and papers which tone in with the original design. In a few cases, where it is impossible to keep an original feature (for example, paper covers which have been glued down onto the book boards), we’ll make a facsimile of it so that the design can still be enjoyed by future readers.

The project has been an enjoyable one for Frances. She says, “I find the Topography section fascinating, as it covers such a large range of subjects, from physical geography to national customs and other aspects of social history. As a collection, it has a lot of character and, browsing through it, you quickly discover how attitudes to travel have changed. The ‘Hints to Travellers’ section is particularly interesting, and I’ve been struck by the eloquence of many of these early guides”.

Overall, it is the transformative effect of the project that has been the most rewarding for all those involved. “I hope that members will find the Topography section even more attractive now”, says Frances. “Some of the bindings were particularly lovely, my favourite being an 1834 Italian guidebook with original leather binding and decorated metal clasps. It is wonderful that we have been able to preserve these bindings for members to enjoy for years to come”.

With between two and five books in need of treatment per shelf, there is still a long way to go until all the of the Back Stacks have been covered, but it is heartening to see how the project is already enhancing the appearance of our collections and giving them vital protection. Crucially, all the books we’ve dealt with are now more stable, and so are in a much better position to be taken off the shelves and browsed, stamped at the issue desk and then taken off in a bag to read at home.

If you would like to learn more about our Back Stacks rebinding project, please get in touch with our Collection Care department. Email judith.finnamore@londonlibrary.co.uk

 

The charming decorative textile binding from our  Topography collections.

The charming decorative textile binding from our Topography collections.

Damaged bindings leave books vulnerable to page losses.

Damaged bindings leave books vulnerable to page losses.

Before rebinding...

Before rebinding…

...and after.

…and after.

In the past, 'quick-fix' tape repairs were sometimes used to hold a book together. These could be damaging and many are now failing.

In the past, ‘quick-fix’ tape repairs were sometimes used to hold a book together. These could be damaging and many are now failing.

The books spine had be precariously held in place by tape. The tape had since failed revealing the damage it had done to the leather.

The books spine had be precariously held in place by tape. The tape had since failed revealing the damage it had done to the leather.

The same book sensitively rebacked. The decorative leather covers were retained and the damaged patches toned in dark red to improve their appearances.

The same book sensitively rebacked. The decorative leather covers were retained and the damaged patches toned in dark red to improve their appearances.

We were unable to salvage the original paper cover of this book but a colour photocopy has allowed us to retain much of the bindings character.

We were unable to salvage the original paper cover of this book but a colour photocopy has allowed us to retain much of the bindings character.

The splendid binding of the 1834 Italian guide book.

The splendid binding of the 1834 Italian guide book.

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Collection Care

Objects of War

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by Judith Finnamore, Head of Collection Care

On the night of 23 February 1944 enemy planes flew over St James’s and dropped a deadly cargo of high-explosive bombs. Four landed between Jermyn Street and Pall Mall, with one hitting the London Library’s north-west wing. The Library lost four floors of its 1930s stacks and the blast affected many of the library’s most iconic spaces, including the Art Room and the Prevost Room (now the Sackler Study). Over 16,000 volumes were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. Even where books had escaped the full force of the explosion, these were seriously affected by the dust and dirt.

In the aftermath of the disaster, repairing the Library’s building fabric had to be a priority. Rebuilding the collections was also high on the agenda. Where books had been obliterated or were simply too damaged to put back on the shelves, the Library sought to replace them. New copies of the most popular volumes were acquired shortly after the disaster, while strenuous efforts to fill gaps in the art, fiction and biography collections went on well into the Fifties.

Pages suffering from mechanical adhesion

Pages suffering from mechanical adhesion

This book lost its covers, and the pages have been badly distorted and torn

This book lost its covers, and the pages have been badly distorted and torn

Close-up of torn and crumpled pages caused by the blast

Close-up of torn and crumpled pages caused by the blast

One of our surviving casualties from the air raid

One of our surviving casualties from the air raid

70 years later, bomb-damaged volumes can still be found on the library’s shelves. If you’ve spent time browsing the Library’s art collections, you may well have come across books with the words “damaged by enemy action” (or “e. a.”) lightly pencilled onto the reverse of the title page. In many cases, bomb-damaged books were retained because they were still serviceable, despite the odd warped board, tear or water stain. In others, more seriously mutilated volumes were retained because there was no replacement copy to be had.

Over the years, work has been carried out to stabilise many of these surviving books. Bindings have been strengthened, shrapnel holes patched, and tears mended. These kind of repairs fall well within our in-house conservator’s repertoire, and all are carried out with archival quality materials, such as Japanese papers and wheat starch paste, to ensure that they can be removed should the need ever arise. There is never any attempt to hide the original damage, or to make the book look ‘as good as new’, as our Collection Care team follows a programme of conservation rather than restoration. We act to arrest the degradation of our collections rather than to reverse it, and try as far as possible to maintain the historical integrity of the books in our care.

A handful of our surviving bomb-damaged books remain almost unusable, their bindings shattered by shrapnel and bits of blasted mortar. Where fragments punctured the text-blocks, pages have become ‘mechanically adhered’: each page has curled around the other at the point of impact, with an interlocking effect. In this state, the pages cannot be turned without snagging and tearing. We could flatten these pages by a process of humidification, but to do so would remove primary evidence of an event which not only affected this book, but also had ramifications for the Library’s wider collections.

In these rare cases of extreme mutilation, we have elected to preserve the books in their damaged state, carrying out only minimal repairs where these are needed to prevent further degradation. Where bindings were blown off or are no longer able to protect the pages within them, we have boxed these volumes. We have removed embedded shrapnel and mortar as this could cause the paper to decay, and encapsulated any interesting fragments in archival-quality plastic, so that they can still be seen but won’t harm the books. Having carried out this essential preservation work, the risk of loss to the bindings and paper is now low.

Since the disaster some 70 years ago, interest in our bomb-damaged volumes has transferred from the textual document to the historical object. We would not want to restore the volumes to how they were before the disaster, as to do so would undoubtedly result in losses of a different kind – this time cultural and historical. Preserved in their war-torn state, they are poignant reminders of a dark period in the Library’s history and of the institution’s remarkable resilience.

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Collection Care

From Sainsbury’s to the Somme: Advertising Christmas 1914

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As we edge towards Christmas Helen O’Neill, our Archive, Heritage and Development Librarian, takes a peek at Christmas advertisements in 1914 and looks at the depiction of the Christmas Truce both today and 100 years ago.

In the five days preceding 12 December 1914 the Post Office reported that 250,000 parcels had been sent to troops at the Front and the following week 200,000 more were despatched along with two and a half million letters. The Post Office increased its van fleet by half to cope with demand, and as rail services were disrupted by the war and vehicles were in scarce supply, post was transported in a range of conveyances including open cars and furniture vans.

So how did the recipients of these letters and parcels spend Christmas 1914? The Christmas Truce depicted in this year’s Sainsbury’s advert shows the point at which the fighting stopped during World War One and opposing sides met in a temporary peace in No-Man’s Land. The carol singing, handshaking, swapping of caps, cigarettes and mementos, and football all feature and are historically referenced in soldiers’ letters and diaries and newspaper reporting of the time. At the time of writing the advert has had a staggering 15,682,873 YouTube hits, and some criticism, but how was the truce illustrated in 1914 and what impact did the war have on advertising in the run up to Christmas 100 years ago?

Christmas adverts in the pages of The Times in December 1914 include household brands such as Boots, Perrier, Oxo, Bovril, Horlicks, Burberry’s, Moss Bros and Shell, to name a few, which capitalised on their presence and use at the Front. From Burberry fleece lined gabardine trench coats to Shell fuelling the ambulances of the Allied forces, the adverts are rich in detail, many using soldiers’ testimonies as proof of their efficacy. Acquasctuum, Burberrys and Moss Bros all advertised officer’s kit. Burberry used no less than six quotes from those on active service as endorsements, including this from A.D.P. of the 16th Battalion London Regiment: “All officers coming out for the winter should have a Burberry with detachable fleece lining and Gabardine overalls. They will be covered in mud the first hour in the trenches but Gabardine dries well and the mud drops off.”

If testimonies from the Front were not suitably persuasive Burberry had a secret advertising weapon in the shape of Antarctic explorer and national hero, Ernest Shackleton: “Gabardine is a lightweight weatherproof material of such remarkable warmth-maintaining powers that Sir E. Shackleton recently said nothing would induce him in polar regions to use any substitute even if the price of gabardine doubles and the substitute were offered free of charge.”

Benson’s advertised an “essential” part of an officers’ kit – an “active service watch” with fully luminous figures and hands so that the time could be seen at night. Boots ran several versions of an advert for its own brand of British cologne: White Heather and Jersey Castle under the header “No more German eau de cologne”. Food stuffs featured too. Oxo adverts claimed to be “exactly suited to the needs of our men at the Front – made in minutes and sustains with bread and a few biscuits for hours”. If a few minutes were not to be had, Horlicks Malted Milk tablets were advertised as “invaluable to any soldier in the field. Most efficient at relieving hunger and thirst and preventing fatigue”. Horlicks offered free post to the Front if the name, regimental number, brigade and division of the soldier was supplied. Bovril used a military metaphor in its advertising asking “Are your communications threatened? Build up the defensive forces of your body. Bovril is and has always been at the Front.” Paisley Flour addressed itself to mothers of sons on active service in an advert that encouraged the baking and sending of home-made cake to the Front:
“You could not offer your boy in camp or at the Front any greater treat than a good wholesome home-made cake like those he used to get at home. Send him one this week with Paisley Flour”

If cake, Perrier water and a waterproof gabardine failed to stave off colds Dr J. Collis Browne’s Chloradyne –a remedy for “coughs, colds, colic, ague and kindred ailments” claimed to do the trick:
“Next to the weapons he bears, the best safeguard of a soldiers’ life is a small bottle Dr Collis Browne’s Chloradyne…it is a medicine chest in itself…Every man on active service should have a supply.”

The Civil Service Supply Association advertised service kits and camp equipment but also “Gifts for the Troops“ which included small items such as tobacco, cigarettes, socks, mittens, mufflers, caps, chocolate, ointments, foot powder, pocket knives, postcards and pencils. Taken in their totality the adverts provide a grim picture of conditions at the Front.

So in these grim conditions how was the temporary, spontaneous and informal Christmas Truce (or more accurately Christmas truces) depicted in 1914? The truce featured in the pages of The Illustrated London News on 9 January 1915. In a remarkable double page spread on page 5 the meeting of German and British soldiers in No Man’s Land is rendered as an etching from a photograph with the following description:

“The spirit of Christmas made itself felt in at least one section of the trenches at the front, where British and German soldiers fraternised…during an informal and spontaneous truce there was ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all men’…British and Germans met and shook hands, exchanged cigars and cigarettes, newspapers and addresses and wished each other the compliments of the season…A group of British and German soldiers, arm-in-arm, some of whom had exchanged head-gear were photographed by a German Officer…Some of the British it is said visited the German trenches and an Anglo-German football match was even played…”

The cover page illustration of this edition is an image of a single German solider, approaching the British lines with a small illuminated Christmas tree and the caption: “The light of peace in the trenches”.

By the time these images appeared on 9 January 1914 The Times had already reported that friendly approaches by German soldiers to the British line were now being treated as acts of treason and no further informal and spontaneous truces would break out over the remaining four years of the war.

The Christmas Truce depicted in The Illustrated London News showed German and British soldiers meeting in No Man’s Land shaking hands and exchanging headgear. The etching was taken from a photograph taken during the truce. The figure on the extreme left is a German soldier in a British service cap and the fourth figure from the left is a British soldier wearing a Pickelhaube or German helmet.

The cover image of The Illustrated London News on January 9 1915 depicted a German soldier opening the truce by approaching British lines with a small Christmas tree.

The cover image of The Illustrated London News on January 9 1915 depicted a German soldier opening the truce by approaching British lines with a small Christmas tree.

Christmas True depicted in The Illustrated London News showed German and British soldiers meeting in No Man’s Land shaking hands and exchanging headgear. The etching was taken from a photograph taken during the truce. The figure on the extreme left is a German soldier in a British service cap and the fourth figure from the left is a British soldier wearing a Pickelhaube or German helmet.

Trench repair was conducted by both German and British soldiers during the truce.  Illustrated London News January 9, 1915. The burial of the dead also took place during the truce.

Trench repair was conducted by both German and British soldiers during the truce. Illustrated London News January 9, 1915. The burial of the dead also took place at this time.

Benson’s Active Service Watch with illuminated figures and hands was marketed as an essential part of an officer’s kit.

Benson’s Active Service Watch with illuminated figures and hands was marketed as an essential part of an officer’s kit.

Under the title “No more German eau de cologne” Boots advertised British alternatives.

Under the title “No more German eau de cologne” Boots advertised British alternatives.

Burberrys used testimonials from solders at the Front in its advertising and offered an ordering and fitting service in London and Paris which could be completed within a few hours.

Burberrys used testimonials from solders at the Front in its advertising and offered an ordering and fitting service in London and Paris which could be completed within a few hours.

Advertisements for Dr Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne claimed soldiers at the Front realised its value and recommended that every man on active service should have a supply.

Advertisements for Dr Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne claimed soldiers at the Front realised its value and recommended that every man on active service should have a supply.

Horlick’s Malted Milk tablets claimed to be “invaluable to a soldier in the field” relieving hunger, thirst and fatigue.

Horlick’s Malted Milk tablets claimed to be “invaluable to a soldier in the field” relieving hunger, thirst and fatigue.

Adverts for Perrier water in December 1914 marketed itself as the table water of the Allies in both battlefield and hospital.

Adverts for Perrier water in December 1914 marketed itself as the table water of the Allies in both battlefield and hospital.

Shell’s adverts highlighted its role as a supplier to the Allied Forces and its use in petrol driven ambulances.

Shell’s adverts highlighted its role as a supplier to the Allied Forces and its use in petrol driven ambulances.

The Sainsbury’s advert does not show the burial of the dead or the work to shore up and repair trenches, which also happened during the period of the truce, but a photo which appeared in The Illustrated London News on Jan 9 1915 p. 55 showed trench repair along with a detailed commentary of the shared trench experience of British and German soldiers:

“The life led by the infantry on both sides at close quarters is a strange, cramped existence with death always near, either by means of some missile from above or some mines exploded from beneath: a life which has the dull monotonous background of mud and water. Even where there is but little fighting the troops are kept hard at work strengthening the existing defences and constructing others, improving the shelter which is imperative in such weather and improving the sanitary condition and communications of the trenches.”

On Christmas Eve 1981 a BBC2 documentary about the Christmas Truce was aired called Peace in No Man’s Land which was written and produced by Malcolm Brown and researched by Shirley Seaton. In the programme veterans present at the truce spoke about their experience. In the programme (which has a modest 5000 YouTube hits), an 84 year old veteran called Albert Morrow makes a simple but profound observation. He was a 17 year old private in the Queen’s Regiment when he took part in the truce and his observation captures the essence of why the informal and spontaneous Christmas Truce of 1914 continues to resonate in the popular consciousness 100 years on:

“If the truce had gone on and on there’s no telling what could have happened, it could have meant the end of war, after all they didn’t want war and we didn’t want war, and it could have ended up by finishing the war altogether.”

 

 

 

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Unlucky Genius

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By Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros, Head of Bibliographic Services at The London Library. Adapted from an article originally written for History Today.

Niccolò Fontana Tartaglia was one of the less fortunate and most cantankerous polymaths of the Italian Renaissance. He was born in 1500 in Brescia, the son of a humble courier who was murdered when Niccolò was only six years old. The Fontana family had always been poor but after the father’s death their situation became desperate. Only six years later Niccolò received the second major blow of his life, this time a literal one. In 1512 his home town of Brescia was sacked by French soldiers and in the ensuing massacre a twelve year old Niccolò was left for dead after receiving horrific sabre wounds to his jaw and palate. Although he survived the attack the severe injuries he received left him with permanent speech difficulties, which earned him the nickname of ‘Tartaglia’ (stutterer). Niccolò could not hide the stammer but he could at least hide his facial scars by simply growing a beard, which he did as soon as he was able. As a destitute and disfigured boy with a stammer Niccolò would probably not have had high aspirations in life had it not been for one crucial fact: when it came to mathematics he was a child prodigy. Despite his terrible misfortunes Niccolò had great self-belief, some say arrogance, and managed to find a patron who paid for him to study in Padua.

By 1516 the teenager was already teaching in Verona but still lived in relative poverty. He later moved to Venice, where he spent most of the rest of his life. He is best known for coming up with one method for resolving cubic equations and for his bitter quarrel with Girolamo Cardano as a result. Cardano, who was also a mathematician, had persuaded Tartaglia to tell him about this method after swearing that he would never reveal it. Soon after, Cardano discovered that another mathematician, Scipione Ferro, had been the first to find a s
olution to the cubic equation and saw no reason why he shouldn’t publish Ferro’s method and the work Cardano himself had done based on Tartaglia’s solution. It is not clear whether Tartaglia wanted to be the one to publish his method or perhaps he was saving it for use in the many mathematical debates he participated, which had served to enhance his reputation. One thing is certain, Tartaglia felt Cardano had betrayed him and was absolutely furious. He never forgave him and never missed an opportunity to heap insults on Cardano. His reputation was further dented when, sensing defeat, he walked out of a mathematical debate against Lodovico Ferrari, Cardano’s pupil.

Tartaglia published Italian translations of the works of Archimedes and Euclid and is also remembered for his work in military science. It is not surprising that after almost being killed as a child by an invading soldier he should devote some of his considerable intellect and ingenuity to designing fortifications and devising formulae to calculate the reach and trajectory of cannonballs and other missiles. What is less well known is that Tartaglia was also interested in marine engineering and salvage.

The London Library holds a copy of his work, printed in Venice in 1551, on methods for raising sunken ships, which includes several designs for diving bells: Regola generale da sulevare con ragione e misura nõ solamẽte ogni affondata naue : ma una torre solida di mettallo (General rule for raising not only every sunken ship correctly and with care but also a tower of solid metal).

Despite Tartaglia’s genius and intellectual achievements he never managed to make the social connections that would have secured him lucrative employment and he died in poverty at the age of 51. His life was blighted by tragedy, violence and the highly damaging feud with Cardano.

 

A self-operated diving bell

A self-operated diving bell

One of the ingenious methods

One of the ingenious methods for raising a sunken ship

A conversation with Jo Berzins, Collection Care Intern

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Conservation and Restoration student Jo Berzins has just completed a 10 week work placement with The London Library’s Collection Care department. As her time at the Library drew to a close we caught up with her to talk about her experiences.

What inspired you to come to the London Library?

I’m studying for a BA in Conservation and Restoration at the University of Lincoln, and as part of my studies I needed to undertake a work placement in a conservation department. Although my course is mainly to do with objects (such as ceramics, wood and metalwork) I have a real passion for books. When my tutor suggested The London Library, I knew this was where I wanted to come. I was attracted by the prestige of the institution, as well as the opportunity to have one-to-one guidance and instruction from Rachel, the Library’s Conservator.

Did you have any experience of book conservation before you came here?

Advert for shoes in The Lady magazine

Advert for shoes in The Lady magazine

Bookbinding as 'a handicraft peculiarly suitable for women' (extract from The Lady)

Bookbinding as ‘a handicraft peculiarly suitable for women’ (extract from The Lady)

Books mid-treatment

Books mid-treatment

Jo at her workstation

Jo at her workstation

Learning to sew a book onto supports

Learning to sew a book onto supports

One of many volumes with badly damaged spines

One of many volumes with badly damaged spines

Some of the pages were badly crumpled and torn

Some of the pages were badly crumpled and torn

This illustrated advert for hair tonic raised a smile

This illustrated advert for hair tonic raised a smile

I first became interested in book conservation when I was Custodian of Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire. While I was there, I carried out a major cleaning project on the Hall’s historic library collections. It was hard work, but I was very proud of my achievement. I even got a two-page feature in the local paper!

Since starting my BA course I’ve undertaken a very short project on conserving a pamphlet, but other than that book conservation was a new world for me.

What were your first impressions of the Library?

I felt awestruck when I first arrived. The building had more original features that I’d imagined and I was impressed by the quiet and studious ambience of the Reading Room. I was also taken aback by the scale of the Library and its collections. I had two or three orientation tours of the Library that first day, which left me feeling quite exhausted and had my head spinning!

My first task in the Conservation Studio was to learn how to make a book box. Frances, the Library’s Preservation Assistant, was a great teacher. The atmosphere in the Collection Care department was wonderful. Everyone was really friendly and welcoming.

Tell us about the project you have been working on during your internship

I’ve been working on the Library’s holdings of The Lady magazine, which cover 1885 through to 1985. I had to draw up a survey of all the volumes to show which repairs would be needed, and once that was completed I got on with implementing the treatments. It has been a fabulous project and I’ve enjoyed looking through the magazines while I’ve been working on them. It made me smile to find a small feature on bookbinding as an ideal handicraft for the genteel lady at home! I found lots of wonderful adverts too, from shoes to hair tonic.

Some of the books were in fairly poor repair. There were quite a few broken headcaps to be repaired, and some of the spines were completely detached. Where the bookcloth covering had abraded, often at the corners, layers of book board had started to come apart or ‘delaminate’.

I’ve learnt so much through working on this project. I now know how to attach spines, insert pages, and even sew sections of a book together on a wooden frame. I’ve had a lot of practice in repairing tears. All the treatments I’ve done have used archival quality materials and where possible, have been in keeping with the book. For example, where I’ve needed to repair bindings with special lightweight linen, I’ve toned this to match the colour of the original binding.

Has anything surprised you?

Before I started my internship, I hadn’t realised how long each repair can take. You can be working on one volume, another thing will be drying so that you can carry out a further process on it, and you can easily find yourself with four or five books on the go at once! I soon realised I had to slow down and be patient, and found that if you take one step at a time you get a better result.

Has there been anything you’ve found difficult?

So much has been new to me, so of course I have needed guidance as I’ve undertaken different kinds of treatment for the first time. Rachel, the Library’s Conservator, has taken the time to demonstrate and explain each repair to me really clearly and she has also shared some of the tricks of the trade that help her to get a great finish.

Not long into the project, I realised that I needed to learn more about how books are made so that I could make the right decisions about how to repair them. The Library arranged for me to visit a commercial bindery to find out more. It was a fascinating day. The binder walked me through every stage of the bookbinding process and it was reassuring to find that some of the binding repairs I had found fiddly were also considered difficult by the professionals!

How would you sum up your time at the Library?

I’ve absolutely loved it, every minute of it. Would I recommend a placement to other conservation students? Definitely!

 

The Great War and The London Library

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For Remembrance Day 2014 Helen O’Neill, our Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian delves into the the Library’s history to consider the impact of the Great War on both staff and members of the Library.

On July 30 1916 The Times reported that fifteen members of London Library staff were on active service. Arthur Edwin Davis was one of those men He described his war service in a letter which survives in the Soldiers’ Records at the National Archives:

The London Library - Advert

During the Great War the Library was a drop off point for books for distribution to soldiers and sailors through the Red Cross War Library. Adverts instructed those sending books to mark them clearly “For Wounded”.

During the war the Library was a drop off point for books for dispersal through the Red Cross War Library. A large basket, centrally placed in the Issue Hall, was set aside for this purpose and labelled "Books for wounded soldiers and sailors"

During the war the Library was a drop off point for books for dispersal through the Red Cross War Library. A large basket, centrally placed in the Issue Hall, was set aside for this purpose and labelled “Books for wounded soldiers and sailors”

From the Cataloguing Room to the Front:  Charles Kennelly and Ernest Newman both died in action in 1917.  Before the war they had catalogued  books in this room.

From the Cataloguing Room to the Front: Charles Kennelly and Ernest Newman both died in action in 1917. Before the war they had catalogued books in this room.

“I was attested on 17 November 1915 and called up for service on 3rd May 1916. Wounded at Ypres 3rd July 1917. Sent to England August 1917. Transferred to R.A.M.C. September 1918. Demobilised on 28th September 1919.”

Arthur’s injury, a gunshot wound to the right thigh, resulted in treatment in two military hospitals before his transfer to the Royal Army Medical Corps [R.A.M.C.]. His colleague David William Kelly was 22 when he was called up and saw action as a rifleman in France, Salonica and Egypt serving from May 1916 to March 1919. In September 1918 he too was wounded during his second stint in France. David joined the Library at fourteen, his school reference testifying to his character as “one of our best boys.”

Junior library assistant A.S. White became a sergeant during the war with the 6th London R.A.M.C. – a first line territorial division which spent 1916 to 1918 on the Somme with stints in Ypres and Arras, ferrying the wounded from the field of battle. Sergeant White had something very particular in common with Siegfried Sassoon, who joined the Library in 1922. Both men were awarded the Military Medal: Sassoon for “conspicuous gallantry” in the field saving men under heavy fire and A.S. White for his work with the R.A.M.C. Sergeant White was awarded the medal in September 1917 when almost 33,000 admissions had been handled by his division. Three months earlier Sassoon made one of the most public criticisms of the war in an open letter to his commanding officer. Intended for public consumption the controversial letter appeared under the title “Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration” in the local press, was read out and discussed in the House of Commons and thereafter published in the pages of The Times. Tautly argued, Sassoon’s letter was a calculated counter-attack to Establishment complacency about the human cost of the War made all the more difficult to handle because of his considerable reputation for bravery:

“I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I am a soldier convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers.”

The human cost of the war was felt at the Library as the deaths of Charles Kennelly, Ernest Newman and J. Miller who were all killed in action were announced. Charles Kennelly who died on the Western Front in 1917, had been singled out for singular praise by Librarian Hagberg Wright in a restructuring document of 1909: “No praise” he wrote “is too high for Kennelly. He is the best read and most intelligent Assistant in the Library.”

The death of his colleague Lance Corporal Ernest Newman of the Queen’s Westminster Rifles was announced with sadness at the Library’s AGM in 1917.

In the year following the deaths of Kennelly and Newman an American poet joined the Library. Within four years he captured the literary after-shock of the Great War in his modernist poetic masterpiece: The Waste Land. T.S. Eliot’s poem appeared in Britain in the Criterion in October 1922, in America in The Dial the following month and was published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf at the Hogarth Press in 1923.

In 1925 Virginia fired off her own modernist riposte to the War in the shape of Mrs Dalloway, in which the mental disintegration of a shell-shocked soldier culminates in his impalement on the doorstep of respectable society. Mrs Dalloway appeared in the same year as No More Parades the second novel in Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy Parade’s End. Ford’s work was re-interpreted in an award winning television series in 2012 written by the Library’s President, Tom Stoppard.

The story of the Great War was told through soldiers’ songs by London Library member Charles Chilton in a ground-breaking Radio 4 radio documentary in 1961 called the Long, Long Trail. Chilton’s work triggered both the stage musical Oh! What A Lovely War and Richard Attenborough’s film of the same title in 1969.

Above the Library’s Reception Desk in the Issue Hall hangs an oil painting of Hagbery Wright by William Orpen. The blank canvas was bought at a Red Cross sale at Christie’s during the War by an anonymous donor who requested that Wright sit for his portrait. I wonder if the portrait may, in part have been an acknowledgement of Wright’s role as Honorary Secretary and Trustee of the Red Cross War Library. His appeals for books for wounded servicemen appeared in the press during the War and the Library was as a drop off point for books for distribution to soldiers through the Red Cross. A large basket was placed prominently in the Issue hall for this purpose and advertisements instructed those sending books to the Library for distribution to label them clearly “For Wounded”. A large notice affixed to the front of the basket read “Books For Wounded Soldiers and Sailors.”

I continue to search for the stories of the London Library soldiers of the Great War not least for that of Library Assistant J. Miller who was killed in action in 1918 and whose first name, regiment and place of burial are currently unknown.

For more on the London Library during the Great War see the winter edition of the London Library magazine 2014.

To listen to the songs soldiers’ sang in the trenches or to hear more about the work of Charles Chilton see the following on BBC iplayer http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b008hvwk and http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03nrn9m
To read Sassoon’s controversial letter in full see http://allpoetry.com/Sassoon’s-Public-Statement-Of-Defiance

Magic, Superstition, or Subversion?

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In 16th century Europe nothing was more vitally important, controversial or dangerous than religion. And yet as some of the books in The London Library show, at a time when wars, plague and religious persecution were part of everyday life, in the search for answers and reassurance there were some who turned away from the Church. Adapted from an article originally written for History Today by the Library’s Head of Bibliographic Services, Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros.

Jean de Meun: Do you want to know the outcome of a trial or whether a besieged fortress will yield? Just roll the dice...

Jean de Meun: Do you want to know the outcome of a trial or whether a besieged fortress will yield? Just roll the dice…

The first of these books is Jean de Meun’s Le dodechedron de fortune : livre non moins plaisant & recreatif, que subtil & ingenieux entre tous les jeux & passetemps de fortune, printed in Paris in 1556.

Jean Clopinel or Chopinel (ca. 1240-ca. 1305), named de Meun after his birthplace, was the French poet best known for writing a continuation to the Roman de la Rose. In his poem he famously satirizes the Pope, monastic orders, marriage, love, and women and his playful and irreverent attitude towards life is also evident in the Dodechedron. It is an instruction manual for telling fortunes using dice and it includes a table of numbers to provide answers to a list of set questions. The reader only needs to roll a twelve-sided die to get answers to questions such as whether a horse one is thinking of buying will prove a good investment, whether a prisoner of our acquaintance will be released soon or whether a particular person will come to bad end.

The author warns in his preface that the book should only be used for fun and is not to be taken seriously but the fact that it was printed more than two hundred years after his death suggests that it may have been more than just something to bring out at the end of a boring dinner party.  Rather than diminishing over time its popularity appears to have grown so much that after a further five French editions were produced over the following three decades by various printers in both Paris and Lyon. It then travelled to London where an English translation was published  in 1613 as The dodechedron of fortune, or, The exercise of a quick wit A booke so rarely and strangely composed, that it giveth (after a most admirable manner) a pleasant and ingenious answer to every demaund; the like whereof hath not heretofore beene published in our English tongue. Being first composed in French by Iohn de Meum, one of the most worthie and famous poets of his time; and dedicated to the French King, Charles the fift, and by him, for the worth and raritie thereof, verie much countenanced, vsed, and priviledged: and now, for the content of our countrey-men, Englished by Sr. W.B. Knight.

Dariot: Should we operate today? The answer is in the stars...

Dariot: Should we operate today? The answer is in the stars…

Jean de Meun seems to have delved into unorthodox territory driven by his mischievous and subversive character, but our next two authors were drawn into astrology and occultism out of a profound belief in their power.

Claude Dariot (1533-1594) was a French physician and astrologer who was sensible enough to also be a Calvinist rather than a Catholic since astrology was considered heretical by the Catholic Church. His key work, A briefe and most easie introduction to the astrologicall judgement of the stares, printed in London in 1598, was first published in Lyon in 1557 as Ad astrorum iudicia facilis introductio and in it Dariot blurs the lines between science and magic by discussing the effect the movements of the planets and stars have on some illnesses and asserting his belief in astrologically propitious days for preparing remedies and carrying out certain surgical procedures.

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486?-1535) was secretary and counsellor to Charles V, Emperor of Germany. He was also a Catholic theologian, a royal physician, a philosopher and a soldier but he is defined by being the most important early modern writer on magic and the occult. He completed his most important work, De occulta philosophia, in 1510 and an enlarged version was published in Cologne in 1533. This is the work that earned him the title of “founder of occultism” and while he had a most eventful life travelling around Europe, being banished from Germany after a theological clash, and being imprisoned in France for his unwise remarks regarding the royal family he was never persecuted for his writings on magic, which in his later life he qualified as the product of misguided youthful curiosity.

Agrippa: A kind of magical geometry can be found in the human body.

Agrippa: A kind of magical geometry can be found in the human body.