Tag Archives: Early Fine Print Collection

Winter pastimes: The Ice Slide

The Ice Slide from A Picturesque Representation of the Manners, Customs and Amusements of the Russians, in one hundred coloured plates, with an accurate explanation of each plate in English and French in three volumes [AE 096/1803]

“Sliding down an artificial hill of ice is a favourite diversion of the Russians in the winter. Not a village or a hamlet is without them, particularly during the week of the Carnival. The ice hills at St. Petersburg are built upon a large scale. A scaffolding is made of balks about thirty-five feet high: a staircase of steps which leads to the top of it; on the parts opposite to the stairs, a slanting descent is managed, which forms an angle of about forty-five to fifty degrees with the surface of the ice. Two small doors lead to this descent: the ice is smoothed very carefully in a straight line about one hundred fathoms long and twenty feet wide. At the end of this sliding place another hill of the same size is built, from which the sliding place runs parallel again with the other. Guides are appointed at each hill, who sit upon small sledges of wood, about eighteen inches long, eight or ten inches broad, and a few inches high, with iron shoes or skates under them on each side. The person who wants to take a slide down the hill, sits upon the lap of the guide with his legs close together between those of the guide, who shoves himself forward with his hands to the brink of the precipice, from which he rushes down with great velocity to the end of the sliding place.”

This comes from ‘A Picturesque Representation of the Manners, Customs and Amusements of the Russians, in one hundred coloured plates, with an accurate explanation of each plate in English and French in three volumes’, by John Augustus Atkinson and James Walker. (London, 1803), part of our Early & Fine Printing Collection.

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The War Poetry Collection in the Library of Birmingham

Book Plate from the Catalogue of the War Poetry Collection. 1921. L52.31.

 

The War Poetry Collection was presented to the Birmingham Reference Library in 1921 by an anonymous donor, in memory of William John Billington, 2/24 London Regiment, (Queen’s Hussars), 60th Division, formerly 2/2 South Midlands Field Ambulance, who was killed in action at Abu Tellul Ridge in Palestine  on 9 March 1918.

 

 

The donor was William Cross of Rubery, who had assembled an unrivalled collection of 1,233 books and pamphlets of poetry relating to the First World War, written by both soldiers and civilians.

Included are poems in English, Breton, Czech, Danish, French, Gaelic, German (Swiss), Italian, and Latin, by members of the British and Allied Nations. There is poetry which was published in Britain, Canada, Australia, America and Barbados.

Many additions were made to the Collection by the Reference Library, notably in 1938 when a fine collection of over 40 volumes of newscuttings of poetry and verse from newspapers and periodicals of the 1914-1918 period was acquired, which represents many different social attitudes to war from the patriotic to the despairing.

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The Cervantes Collection

Part of the Cervantes Collection

The Cervantes Collection is the second oldest Special Collection in the Library of Birmingham. The original collection of 1,500 books was donated by William Bragge (1823-1884), a highly successful, much travelled and cultured businessman, who, prompted by the setting up of the Shakespeare Library in 1861, gave his Cervantes books, the most important part of his extensive collections, to the city of his birth.

Son of a well-known jeweller, Thomas Perry Bragge, in Birmingham, William Bragge studied mathematics and mechanics and practical engineering, training as an engineer and railway surveyor. He started work at the Birkenhead Railway in 1845 and then spent much of his life in South America, where he built gas-works, railways and waterworks for Buenos Aires and had the Order of the Rose conferred on him by the Emperor of Brazil. He also visited Spain frequently, and it was probably these connections which led to his particular interest in Spanish literature and the writings of Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616).

Smollet’s Edition of Don Quixote

Cervantes was a novelist, playwright and poet and the most celebrated writer in Spanish literature. He created the character of Don Quixote, an elderly gentleman who sets off from his home, La Mancha, with his servant Sancho Panza to undertake chivalrous acts and has many rather ridiculous adventures. Thanks to numerous translations, extensive literary criticism and adaption of the story into art, drama and film, Don Quixote is recognised throughout the world. Continue reading

Rediscovering the Milton Collection at the Library of Birmingham

With the expert help of Corinna Rayner and the Archives & Collections team, and my research assistant Ellie Rowe, I have recently begun a project to reassess the contents and significance of the Library of Birmingham’s Milton Collection, an extensive but little-known collection of books relating to the English poet and polemicist, John Milton (1608-1672).

The Library’s Stock Book shows that the Milton Collection began in 1882 in the Gladstone era, when the Library was being rebuilt after the catastrophic fire of 1879. The core of the collection was a gift of about 160 volumes of editions of Milton’s works and Miltonian commentary and criticism. The books were given by Frank Wright (1853-1922), a Liberal politician and member of the Free Library Building Sub-Committee, son of the well-known nonconformist John Skirrow Wright (1822-1880), and partner in the firm of Smith & Wright, makers of buttons and tin-plate.

Free Library Committee Minutes 1882
[BCC/1/AT/1/1/5]

Wright donated the books in the hope that they might be made ‘the nucleus of a Milton Collection worthy of his name and that of our town’. Wright’s interest in Milton almost certainly stemmed from the family’s Liberal and nonconformist leanings. Over the century following Wright’s initial donation, the Milton Collection swelled to over eight times its initial size.

Today, the Milton Collection includes approximately eighty 17th century editions of Milton’s work, and more than 1,200 volumes of later editions and works of criticism. The oldest works in the collection are pamphlets written by Milton in the Civil War and Commonwealth periods, such as The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), Areopagitica: a speech for the liberty of unlicenced printing (1644), and Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio (Defence of the English People) (1651).

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Archi’ve Discovered: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, 1563

green-discovered

One of the items selected by our researchers for our Explore Your Archive pop-up exhibition on Saturday 19th November was a hefty sixteenth century volume created by John Foxe, The Book of Martyrs printed in 1563. As a new member of the team constantly learning more about the collections we hold, I decided to look in to the background of this sizeable work.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Foxe’s [AF094/1563/3].

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Foxe’s [AF094/1563/3].

The longer name of this work is the Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perilous Dayes, Touching Matters of the Church by John Foxe. With such a lengthy title, it is understandably often known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. The book gives a detailed history of the Church covering the apostles, a succession of popes, heretical episodes and accounts of martyrdoms running all the way to Foxe’s time. It is particularly well known for its detailed accounts of religious persecutions during the reign of Queen Mary I (1553-1558) and accompanying (somewhat gruesome) illustrations.

The book was very popular and influential. Following Mary’s death Queen Elizabeth I’s Privy Council to the Archbishop’s of York and Canterbury encouraged every parish church to acquire a copy. It would have been used by clergy to provide material for sermons and may also have been viewed by parishioners.

Decoration in a classical style, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs [AF094/1563/3].

Decoration in a classical style, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs [AF094/1563/3].

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Science and magick in the stores

Book plate for Natural Magick

This stunning front piece is from an earlier English edition of Natural Magick held in Boston Public Library unfortunately our edition does not contain a similar one.

This week’s blog is about a volume that I stumbled across whilst working in the storerooms last week. I was initially going to write about Micrographia which is one of my favourite books in the Early and Fine Printing Collections. Micrographia was written by Robert Hooke in 1665 and was the first book published by the recently formed Royal Society. It revealed a mysterious microscopic world unseen by human eye with its incredibly detailed etchings of plants, insects and mineral and is a wonderful example of the work from the Scientific Revolution when experiments and empirical data began to be seen as essential to understand the world.

 

Page from Micrographia, Robert Hooke, 2nd edition, 1667 [Ref: AQ094/1667/13]

Engraving of a fly as observed under a microscope from Micrographia. Robert Hooke, 2nd edition, 1667 [Ref: AQ094/1667/13]

 

When I went to retrieve Micrographia a volume called Natural Magick stored a couple of shelves down caught my eye and intrigued, I took it down to the office to have a look. Natural Magick was originally written in Latin by John Baptist Porta (Giambattista Della Porta) from Naples. Porta  was   born in about 1535 and was  a polymath who wrote on subjects as wide-ranging as cryptography, military engineering, distillation and agriculture as well as writing  seventeen plays.

Magiae Naturalis (Natural Magic) is his most famous work. We have a copy of the expanded edition written in 1559  and first published in English in  1659. Our volume was printed for John Wright next to the sign of the Globe in
Little-Britain [London] in 1669. Continue reading

Spring has sprung!

With the recent warm weather and crocuses and daffodils beginning to fill the parks with the joyful colours of spring I thought I would have a wander through our collections to find some treasures to celebrate this happy time of year. Our Early and Fine Printing Collections hold a wealth of botanical and zoological studies and many of them contain beautiful coloured illustrations. It was hard to pick out a favourite to talk about but a stunning Art Nouveaux gilded binding caught my eye and I found myself leafing through Maurice Maeterlinck’s ‘The Life of the Bee’ (collection reference AQ 096/1912).

Maeterlink_Cover_Image

Maurice Maeterlinck’s ‘The Life of the Bee’ [AQ 096/1912]

Unknown to me previously, it turns out that this is a classic text relating to the bee. It is not a practical manual nor does it claim to be a scientific treatise. Instead it is an in-depth study of the complexities of hive society, the queen and her interactions with her workers, male drones. It is clear that Maeterlinck was fascinated by the subject and spent many hours examining his hives before creating this work. What makes it even more interesting is the way it is written. The language is strikingly exuberant and poetic, clearly expressing Maeterlinck’s fascination with the little insects. It is hard not to be swept into the detail such as this extract relating to how a bee sting feels

‘… which produces a pain so characteristic that one knows not wherewith to compare it; a kind of destroying dryness, a flame of the desert rushing over the wounded limb, as though these daughters of the sun had distilled a dazzling poison from their father’s angry rays, in order more effectively to defend the treasure they gather from his beneficent hours.’1

Maeterlink_The_Queen_p_20

The Queen. Page 20

This may be unsurprising as Maeterlinck (1862-1949) was a Belgian playwright, poet and essayist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1911

“in appreciation of his many-sided literary activities, and especially of his dramatic works, which are distinguished by a wealth of imagination and by a poetic fancy, which reveals, sometimes in the guise of a fairy tale, a deep inspiration, while in a mysterious way they appeal to the readers’ own feelings and stimulate their imaginations”2

The original version of this book was published in French in 1901 and translated into English by Alfred Sutro in 1911.  Maeterlinck was writing at a time when concerns over increasing industrialisation and the urban environment were fashionable. Whilst ‘The Life of the Bee’ is primarily a natural history text it also draws out parallels relating to human society and the relationship of man to nature. Much of this can appear dated to the modern reader but nevertheless captures a vivid sense of the philosophy of the time. Continue reading