Category Archives: Activity

The Composer who Defied the BBC

Robert Simpson. ©Robert Simpson Society

Robert Simpson (1921-1997), was an English composer and writer on music and, from 1951 until 1980, a well-respected BBC producer and broadcaster. His pioneering and popular radio programme ‘The Innocent Ear’ ran for many years introducing the British public to music of lesser-known composers. As well as his work for the BBC, he published a distinguished body of music, including 11 symphonies, 15 string quartets and other chamber music. He was a highly regarded composer and was even afforded the unusual honour of having a society founded in his name during his lifetime (https://robertsimpson.org.uk/). As a particular expert on Beethoven, Bruckner and Carl Nielsen, he wrote extensively and illuminatingly on these and other composers.

Robert Simpson’s contract with the BBC, dated 1953 (MS. Simpson 21).

Housed in the Bodleian’s Weston Library in Oxford, the Simpson collection brings together the archive of the Robert Simpson Society and additional material gifted by the late Angela Simpson, the composer’s widow, and others.

A small section of the Robert Simpson archive

Simpson’s original music manuscripts are in the British Library but the Archive in the Bodleian includes photocopies of many of the music manuscripts, often further annotated by the composer himself. The Bodleian archive also contains original correspondence and writings, broadcasting scripts, concert programmes, recordings and more. It has recently been catalogued for Archives Bodleian (https://archives.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/repositories/2/resources/3681#) as part of the ongoing Music Manuscript cataloguing project. All the archival material quoted in this post can be found in a box bearing the shelfmark MS. Simpson 21.

It reveals that the 1980s were a trying time for Simpson. His disagreements with the BBC, particularly over the Proms, eventually resulted in his resignation, and his passionate hatred for the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher led him to move to the Republic of Ireland in 1986.

In 1980, tensions between various musicians, music producers and the BBC came to a head due to severe cuts in funding, which threatened the loss of a third of the BBC’s musicians and the scrapping of five of its orchestras. In fact, a strike by the orchestras caused the cancellation of 20 Proms concerts that year. Despite this, the BBC were not planning to showcase less music but to increase its output of records and foreign tapes. The Musicians’ Union stated that ‘over 60% of B.B.C. radio output consists of music but less than 5% of radio expenditure is on staff orchestras’ (such leaflets can be seen below), claiming that the BBC had therefore broken its agreement with the Union.

Material documenting the musicians’ dispute with the BBC (MS. Simpson 21)

Robert Simpson disapproved greatly of the BBC’s decision on this issue, believing Britain’s cultural integrity to be at risk. It also becomes clear from the papers in MS. Simpson 21 that the composer, always forthright in his views, was rather irritated by the BBC and those who defended it.

In a letter to Robert Ponsonby, Director of the Proms from 1974 to 1986 and Controller of Radio 3 (who died last year at the age of 92), Simpson scathingly wrote, ‘Your public support of them wins no respect…’. Regarding other people in the music profession who had written to the press in defence of a dwindling cultural life, Simpson declared, ‘I wish I could follow their example, and it is contractual duress not false loyalty that prevents me from doing so’ (12 March 1980). However, just four months later Simpson would rebel against this ‘contractual duress’.

After The Times had jumped the gun and falsely reported Simpson’s resignation on 11 July, Simpson retaliated with a response that the BBC had persuaded him to delay his resignation due to the fragile negotiations with the Musicians’ Union and their wish to avoid negative publicity. However, after the hearsay over Simpson’s relationship with the BBC he brought his resignation forward, just months away from retirement, which would have enabled him to claim a full pension.

In his letter to the editor published in The Times on 18 July 1980 he states ‘I have resigned from the BBC, for reasons wider and deeper than the current argument over the orchestras, which is only the symptom of a larger problem.’ Simpson argues that, ‘When I first joined the Corporation nearly 30 years ago it was a wonderful and promising place to be at, with the Third Programme at the height of its achievement… Since the BBC’s capitulation to the urge to compete on the lowest level with commercial broadcasting values have degenerated.’

Simpson ends this letter with a harsh testimonial: ‘I can no longer work for the BBC without a profound sense of betrayal of most of the values I and many others believe in… It is now necessary for me to be able to say what I wish to whom I wish when I wish, without the shackles imposed by that all too sinister phrase “corporate loyalty”. This is why I have resigned’.

Simpson immediately began to receive overwhelmingly supportive responses from fellow composers, musicians and admirers. Many key phrases such as, ‘courage’, ‘marvellous letter’, ‘what you said certainly needed saying’, and ‘thank you’ jump out from this correspondence, showing how much opposition there was to the BBC’s attitude and its decisions at the time.

A small selection of the responses, all dated 19-20 July 1980
One such letter, dated 19 July 1980, begins with ‘I read your letter… with some sadness as I have obtained great pleasure for many projects with which you have been associated as producer, but also with a feeling of reassurance that there are still people who are prepared to act according to their professed principles… am grateful for your example.’
After his resignation Simpson remained a vocal critic of the BBC and campaigned for music funding. He also continued his career as a composer, completing several further works. With time tensions with the BBC subsided slightly, and his compositions were once again played on BBC stations, although perhaps not as often as they deserve.

Robert Simpson suffered a debilitating stroke in 1991 which all but ended his composing career. He died in 1997, aged 76. The Robert Simpson Society continues today. 2021 marks the centenary of Simpson’s birth so do look out for performances of his music next year. It’s well worth getting to know!

Jen Patterson, Archives & Modern Manuscripts
Martin Holmes, Alfred Brendel Curator of Music, Bodleian Libraries,
and Robert Simpson Society Archivist

A book of magical charms: MS. e Mus. 243

Whilst working on the project of retro-converting the Old Summary Catalogue (OSC), I get a unique chance to look at everything acquired by the Bodleian Libraries since 1602. This includes the academic, interesting, and a bit weird. And weird is what I’m bringing you today, hopefully offering a welcome bit of escapism.

You never know what you’re going to come across each day and the item I’ve chosen to write about this time is recorded as number 3548, with the description beginning “A book of magical charms”. How could this not pique my interest? The full OSC entry is as follows:

The Newberry Library in Chicago contains a similar book of magical charms from the 17th century, for which they sought public help to transcribe in 2017 in the hope of making the various magical texts they held “more accessible to both casual users and experts”.  Christopher Fletcher, the coordinator of the US based project, explained that ” both protestant and Catholic churches tried very hard to make sure that nobody would make a manuscript like this…they didn’t like magic. They were very suspicious of it. They tried to do everything they could to stamp it out. Yet we have this manuscript, which is  a nice piece of evidence that despite all of that effort to make sure people weren’t doing magic, people still continued doing it.” [1] Although from a different continent, this is a great piece of evidence to show how magic, spirituality, and supposed ‘witchcraft’ continued to remain in the lives of many for much longer than the church and state would have liked to believe.

There are another three items attributed by Falconer Madan (author of the OSC and a Bodleian librarian) to the Oxford citizen Joseph Godwin, who presented this book of magical charms on the 6th August 1655. These show an interesting mixture of magic, science, and religion, that was undoubtedly prevalent – though discouraged- at the time:

– Number 3543, MS. e Mus. 173: “Copies of incantations, charms, prayers, magical formulae, astrological devices, and the like”
– Number 3546, MS. e Mus. 238: “Magical treatises” (including magic and astrology)
– Number 3550, MS. e Mus, 245: “A roll of incantations and prayers”

As with many archival items, we don’t know a huge amount of information about it. We don’t know much about Joseph Godwin, the donor, other than that he was a citizen of Oxford, and we can’t know whether this book of magical charms was written by Godwin or someone else.  What we can assume with relative confidence is that the author of this book would have been well-educated. Literacy levels are notoriously difficult to estimate; some may have been able to read and not write, and although most information comes from those able to sign their names, they may have been able to do little else. However, in England in the 17th century, it is tentatively estimated that literacy levels were around 30% for males, potentially higher for a university city such as Oxford. [2] The fact that this, as well as the other material, is written in a mixture of Latin and English, suggests an elite education. A standardised form of written English became prevalent in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, with this replacing Latin and French in 1417 in government documents and business. [3] By the 17th century, Latin would have largely been the preserve of the clergy and academic community. A disproportionate amount of those persecuted for witchcraft were from poor and uneducated backgrounds, whereas this book provides additional evidence that those from all walks of life may have taken an interest.

Onto the object here at the Bodleian Library. One of the reasons I chose this item to write about was how much the first charm I came across made me laugh:

“A booke of Experiments taken
out of dyvers [diverse] auqthors. 1622

Anger to aswage.

Wryte this name in an Apple ya[v]a
& cast it at thine enemie, & thou shalt
aswage his anger, Or geve it to a
woman & she shall love thee.”

Now I’m no expert, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say throwing an apple at your enemy is probably not going to do wonders for repairing your friendship, even in the 17th century! Geoffrey Scare, John Callow, et al, for The Guardian in 2001, wrote about how differently we do live now, however. They began their article on witchcraft and magic in 16th and 17th century Europe with a simple truth: “‘At the dawning of the third millennium, a belief in the reality and efficacy of witchcraft and magic is no longer an integral component of mainstream Western culture. When misfortune strikes at us, our family or a close neighbour, we do not automatically seek to locate the source of all our ills and ailments in the operation of occult forces, nor scour the local community for the elderly woman who maliciously harnessed them and so bewitched us.” [4] Just like this, we do not tend to turn to magical charms in order to reverse our fortune, or solve our problems with enemies, love, or danger, as the book suggests was practiced then.

This book of magical charms is to me, a mixture of folklore, religion and spiritual belief, and I couldn’t talk about it without delving a little bit into witchcraft, which I and many others find a fascinating topic. What I found shocking when doing my research was how recent the last conviction under the 1735 Witchcraft Act was in the United Kingdom. The act repealed previous laws against witchcraft but imposed fines and imprisonment still against those claiming to be able to use magical powers. To me, witchcraft persecution is the stuff of Early Modern History classes, but it was actually 1944 when Jane Rebecca Yorke of Forest Gate in East London was the last to be convicted. [5] Whereas we may think of witchcraft now to be mostly mythical, or something a small amount of the population dabble in, the law has played a large part in punishing those who have been associated in it throughout at least the last 500 years.

The first official (and by that I mean recorded) law against witchcraft in England was in 1542. Parliament passed the Witchcraft Act, making the practice of magic a crime punishable by death. Although repealed in 1547, it was  restored in 1562. An additional law was passed in 1604 by James I, a firm believer in the persecution of witches, which transferred the trials from the church to ordinary courts and thus made witchcraft trials far more commonplace. The peak of witchcraft trials took place between 1580 and 1700, usually involving lower class and older women, and the last known trials occurred in Leicester in 1717. It is estimated that 500 people in England were executed for witchcraft related offences, most of these being women. As referenced above, the 1735 Witchcraft Act, passed in 1736, repealed the laws making witchcraft punishable by death but allowed fines and imprisonment. This was repealed in 1951 for the Fraudulent Mediums Act which is turn was repealed in 2008. [6] The timeline of witchcraft makes the book of charms even more interesting, and the act of Joseph Godwin’s donation one of potential bravery (/stupidity). With witchcraft such a prevalent part of society in 1622, this object in Godwin’s home or as a donation may have led to suspicion, prosecution, and even death.

The story behind the book, we may never know, but it is a great object in itself. Here are some other interesting passages/charms I came across which provide us a unique look into belief at this time:

If you’re interested in this object, you can view it in the Bodleian Archives and Modern Manuscripts interface. Once the library reopens, it will be available to request and view in the Weston Library Reading Rooms.

[1] Katz, B., “Chicago Library seeks help transcribing magical manuscripts,” Smithsonianmag.com, (3 July 2017), URL: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/chicago-library-seeks-help-transcribing-magical-manuscripts-180963911/
[2] Van Horn Melton, J., The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)
[3] “Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500-1700,” The Guardian (20 June 2001), URL: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2001/jun/20/artsandhumanities.highereducation
[4] Scarre, G., J. Callow, et al, “Witchcraft and Magic in Sixteenth-and Seventeenth Century Europe,” The Guardian (8 June 2001), URL: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2001 /jun/08/artsandhumanities.highereducation
[5] “Jane Rebecca Yorke,” Wikipedia, URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Rebecca _Yorke
[6] “Witchcraft,” UK Parliament, URL: https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/private-lives/religion/overview/witchcraft/

New catalogue: papers of Edmund Blunden

The catalogue for a collection of letters and papers relating to the poet Edmund Blunden is now available online.*

Perhaps best remembered for being a war poet, Edmund Blunden is commemorated alongside fellow war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Many of his war poems, however, were written in retrospect and have the added poignancy of being written by an author over whose entire remaining life the First World War cast a long shadow. His poetry, like that of his literary hero John Clare, often evoked nature and explored how the natural world was affected by the devastating effects of war.

Born in London on 1st November 1896, the eldest of nine children, Edmund’s formative years were spent in Yalding, Kent. He attended Christ’s Hospital in Horsham, Sussex. When he left school in 1915, he joined the Royal Sussex Regiment as a Second Lieutenant and fought on the front line. His war years were not without distinction and he was awarded the Military Cross in 1917. He would later write about his experiences in his acclaimed prose work, Undertones of War, published in 1930.

During the last year of the war, when on camp in Suffolk, he met, fell in love with, and married Mary Daines, a local 19-year-old girl. Their first child, Joy, was born the following year but tragically died after only a few weeks. Joy’s death was to haunt him for the rest of his life. Mary carefully kept the letters Edmund sent her during their courtship when he was away with military duties; as she requested, however, her own love letters to him have not survived.

Edmund Blunden and Mary Blunden (née Daines), by Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1920 © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

After demobilisation in 1919, Edmund started studying at The Queen’s College, Oxford but this was cut short, partly for financial reasons. He travelled alone to Buenos Aires in 1922 and then accepted the post of professor of English at the Imperial University of Tokyo in 1924. Both times he left Mary and his family behind, their daughter Mary Clare having been born in 1920 and a son John Clare in 1922. Edmund, always a prolific correspondent, sent home copious letters, postcards, and Japanese prints, which Mary and later Mary Clare kept carefully. However, the strain of living apart took its toll on an increasingly fragile relationship. Edmund returned home in 1927 and the couple were divorced in 1931.

Despite an inauspicious start at Oxford, Edmund became Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Merton College, Oxford between 1931 and 1947. In these years he met and married the writer, Sylva Norman (née Nahabedian). The marriage, perhaps based more on intellectual need than compatibility, was short lived. Shortly after the marriage was dissolved in 1945, he married Claire Margaret Poynting, a young teacher and Oxford graduate, who shared his love of literature and cricket. They had four daughters.

Edmund returned twice again to the Far East – firstly in a diplomatic role between 1947 and 1950, before returning for a longer period as Professor of English Literature at the University of Hong Kong between 1954 and 1964. This time, though, he took his entire family with him.

Publicly acknowledged for his works to literature, in 1951 he was made a CBE, received the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry in 1956, and was made a companion of the Royal Society of Literature in 1962. Upon his retirement in 1964, the family returned to Suffolk. Though his health was deteriorating, Edmund Blunden was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1966, a post he had to resign after two years. He died at his home in Long Melford in 1974 aged 77.

The collection contains an extensive series of correspondence, dating from 1918 to the 1960s, mainly comprising letters sent from Edmund Blunden to his first wife Mary. The collection also includes commonplace books, scrapbooks, newspaper cuttings, various papers and correspondence relating to biographies, and papers relating to Mary Blunden.

– Rachael Marsay

*Please note that the collection is not currently accessible as, following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please do check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

The ‘Mirror of Wisdom’ in the Weston stacks: MS. Lat. misc. e. 74

What is Rosicrucianism?

Rosicrucianism was born at the beginning of the 17th century from a legend about a man called Christian Rosenkreuz. According to the legend, Rosenkreuz was a German doctor who lived in the 15th century. He is credited with creating the Order of the Rose Cross, which gave its name to the tradition.

The spiritual movement draws on several other traditions and brings together Hermeticism, Christian mysticism, alchemy and the Kabbalah. The Kabbalah is a system of beliefs that derives from ancient Hebraic traditions. Though inherited from the Jewish religion, Christianism also has a Cabbala (with a different spelling). Whether Jewish or Christian, the tradition, if followed correctly, is to bring an evolution of the being, transforming the initiate into a better self, bringing them closer to their God. Quite similarly, Rosicrucianism aims at a “universal reformation of mankind”.

Together with freemasonry, Rosicrucianism is now one of the most well-known traditions of occultism. Since it appeared in the 17th century, it has had a lasting influence on many hermetic groups and shaped the occult revival of the 19th century. Although it has been quite forgotten today, at the time the movement was a large-scale phenomenon that touched most classes of society. Many significant people of the era dabbled in occult movements, making a lasting imprint on European culture. For example, Oscar Wilde and W. B. Yeats, two well-known writers of the time, were both initiates of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult group that heavily included Rosicrucianism in its teachings.

Before our manuscript was published, three other texts set the basis for what came to be know as Rosicrucianism; these were published in 1614 (Fama Fraternitatis RC), 1615 (Confessio Fraternitatis) and 1617 (Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosicross anno 1459). All three works are now considered manifestos to the spiritual tradition.

“The Mirror of the Wisdom of the Rosy Cross”

Not long after that, in 1618, Speculum sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum (The Mirror of the Wisdom of the Rosy Cross) was published by one “Theophilus Schweighardt” (a pseudonym, thought to be the German alchemist Daniel Mögling).


MS. Lat. misc. e. 74, pp. 2-3

The manuscript is written in Latin, but it is famous enough to have been transcribed and translated. Today, the text is thus available in several languages, including English, on the internet.

Like many writings dealing with subjects like hermeticism or alchemy, it is a complex text, and those who have sought to decipher it have not always come to the same conclusions.

MS. Lat. misc. e. 74, which is a copy of Speculum sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum, has other interesting features though: three colourful paintings, tucked at the end of the manuscript, such as this one:


MS. Lat. misc. e. 74, pp. 44-45

Imagery in esotericism is always packed with symbols and acts as codes that can be deciphered by adepts. Lines, shapes, words and colours were always thought out with a lot of care and an image such as this one is meant to be more than just a pretty picture. This manuscript shows the pictures in glorious colourful details; however, when Speculum sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum was published, the paintings became simple black and white engravings. These still became very popular, to the point that today, this is the image that illustrate the Wikipedia page defining Rosicrucianism!


Screenshot of the ‘Rosicrucianism’ Wikipedia page taken in April 2020

Though the engravings might be famous, and other coloured versions of the pictures (maybe lithographs) exist, I have not been able to find any coloured version online as rich as the one in MS. Lat. misc. e. 74.

The content of the manuscript might be available through the internet, but it doesn’t quite compare to the experience of holding the manuscript and admiring its three paintings, coloured and highlighted in gold leaf.

This item is now available through the Bodleian Archives & Manuscript interface.


References:

‘Rosicrucianism’ on Wikipedia
Speculum Sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum, translated by Donald Maclean

New catalogue: Papers of C. Day-Lewis and his wife Jill Balcon

The catalogue of the poet and novelist C. Day-Lewis and his wife, Jill Balcon, is now complete and available online via Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts.* These papers were generously donated by Daniel Day-Lewis and Tamasin Day-Lewis to the Bodleian Library in 2012.

C. Day-Lewis was Poet Laureate between 1968 and 1972; his earliest collection of poems, Beechen Vigil, was published in 1925, but the publication of Transitional Poem in 1929 saw Day-Lewis’s true emergence into the poetry world. Along with W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Louis MacNeice, he became one of the influential young poets of the 1930s (perhaps unfairly given the collective name of ‘MacSpaunday’ by Roy Campbell). For some years a member of the communist party, his early poetry collections, including Magnetic Mountain (1933), reflected his left-wing political views. In 1934, Day-Lewis also wrote a manifesto, A Hope for Poetry, claiming the young poets of the generation to be the direct descendants of the previous generation of poets, in particular Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wilfred Owen, and T.S. Eliot.

With a young family to support, Day-Lewis also turned his hand to writing detective fiction under the pseudonym Nicholas Blake. A Question of Proof, published in 1935, was the first of twenty Blake novels featuring the detective Nigel Strangeways. The success of the Blake novels allowed Day-Lewis to give up teaching to become a full-time writer. The novels achieved global popularity and were translated into several languages including Polish, Finnish, and Japanese.

Cecil Day-Lewis, by Howard Coster, bromide print, 1954, NPG x1808 © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Day-Lewis worked for the Ministry of Information during the Second World War. In 1941, he began an affair with the novelist Rosamond Lehmann which was to last several years. After the war, Day-Lewis took up a part-time position at the publisher Chatto & Windus, a role he maintained until the end of his life; his autobiography, The Buried Day (1960), was published by them.

In 1948, Day-Lewis met Jill Balcon, a young actress and the daughter of the Ealing film producer Michael Balcon. Despite family opposition (Day-Lewis was still married to his first wife at the time), the relationship flourished and the pair married in 1951. They had two children, the writer Tamasin Day-Lewis and the actor Daniel Day-Lewis. The family moved to Greenwich in 1957.

C. Day-Lewis was awarded a CBE in the 1950 King’s Birthday Honours and was elected Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford in early 1951. In 1964, he took up the post of the Charles Eliot Norton Chair in Poetry at Harvard. Both Day-Lewis and Jill Balcon championed the reading of poetry and literature and were active members of the Apollo Society along with Stephen and Natasha Spender, and Peggy Ashcroft.

Draft autograph manuscript of poem by C. Day-Lewis, ‘At East Coker’, n.d. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 6681/38. By kind permission of the estate of C. Day-Lewis.

Just before C. Day-Lewis’s death, the couple filmed a television series entitled A Lasting Joy at their home in Greenwich exploring some of Day-Lewis’s favourite poems. Day-Lewis died at the home of his friends, Kingsley Amis and Elizabeth Jane Howard in May 1972, composing poetry almost until the end. He was buried in Stinsford, Dorset, not far from his literary hero, Thomas Hardy.

Jill Balcon was a successful actress and broadcaster in her own right, becoming for many people the voice of George Eliot. After her husband’s death, Jill continued to act in both radio and film productions. She moved to a cottage in Steep, Petersfield and became the neighbour of Alec Guiness. She worked hard to promote Day-Lewis’s poetic legacy, editing both Posthumous Poems and The Complete Poems. She died in July 2009 and was buried near her husband in Stinsford.

The collection includes literary manuscripts, including early drafts, of Day-Lewis’s poetry and prose. The collection also contains photographs and audio recordings, alongside a wealth of professional and personal correspondence demonstrating their wide connections to the worlds of literature, drama and scholarship.

-Rachael Marsay

*Please note that this collection is not currently accessible as, following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please do check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

“My longing to burst into print grew into an uncontrollable mania”—Handmade editions of poetry by Frederic Prokosch (MS. Eng. poet. f. 33)

Working in archives, there is one thing which I find really special, and actually quite magical: even with a catalogue description, I am never entirely prepared for what is waiting inside the box. MS. Eng. poet. f. 33 is a perfect example of this. The Summary Catalogue entry for this item reads:

Twelve booklets containing copies of works by 20th cent. poets, written, and decorated in colour, by Frederic Prokosch, ‘New Haven 1932’, probably made 1968-70; a colophon in each states that it is one of five numbered copies.

I was intrigued by the date uncertainty, and by the fact that these would be handmade editions so I was curious to check out the contents. Inside a small dark blue box lay indeed twelve booklets, most of them with colourful marbled covers, along with an enclosed letter.

December 2.

Dear Sir,

I am sending you, as a gift, a group of 12 little handmade pamphlets of poetry which I did long ago. (They look rather Art Nouveau to me now!) 
I hope they will amuse you.

Cordially,

Frederic Prokosch

There are six poets featured in the series—W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and W. B. Yeats, along with Prokosch himself—and two booklets per poet. Quite interestingly, the two that do not have marbled covers are works by Prokosch; an attempt, perhaps, to differentiate himself from his fellow writers? Apart from the difference in the covers, all booklets are built in the same way: around five leaves, with a unique illustration at the beginning, always containing gold elements, and the poem(s) in the middle of the booklet with an illumination for the first letter.


The Gull by Prokosch (MS. Eng. poet. f. 33/10, fols. 1v-2)


Two Poems by Yeats (MS. Eng. poet. f. 33/11, fols.2v-3)

Frederic Prokosch was born in Wisconsin, in the United States, in 1908. He studied literature before becoming a writer himself, publishing his first novel in 1935 (The Asiatics), and his first collection of poems in 1936 (The Assassins). His memoir, Voices (1983), although proven to be mostly a fictional work, depicts Prokosch’s passion for the arts of the written word. In Voices, the reader is treated to a collection of anecdotes, including a tale of his newly discovered passion for poetry and printing: “I turned to poetry . . . My poems grew twisted, exotic, impenetrable. I wrote of mountains and deserts, of icebergs and caravans. My longing to burst into print grew into an uncontrollable mania.”[1] Although not printed editions, the booklets that form MS. Eng. poet. f. 33 probably were a product of this desire. Through the memoir, the reader also follows Prokosch as he encounters a great number of famous artists, many of them writers, including Auden, Eliot, Joyce, and Pound. Although there is no indication of any meetings with Yeats, the Irish poet is frequently mentioned throughout Voices. As questionable as those stories might be, they are nonetheless a testimony of Frederic Prokosch’s respect and admiration for his fellow writers.

Voices is not the only thing about Prokosch that raises suspicion regarding its accuracy. Robert Greenfield, who extensively studied the American writer in Dreamer’s Journey: The Life and Writings of Frederic Prokosch (2010), pointed out:

As a consequence of this medley of twists and turns, apocryphal claims, misstatements, distortions, and falsifications encompassing more than a century, even the simplest facts of his life, such as the date of his birth, are still subject to dispute.[2]

It seems MS. Eng. poet. f. 33 is no exception to this, falling in the very shroud of mystery described by Greenfield. It is quite unclear when Prokosch actually produced the booklets; although he claims they were made in New Haven in 1932, the New Summary Catalogue entry suggests otherwise: “‘New Haven 1932’, probably made 1968-70”. And they might even have been made slightly later than that. Indeed, upon close examination, some of the papers chosen by Prokosch bear (very faint but still visible) watermarks revealing the brand of the material—Arches and Ingres, both French brands. Quite interesting when one knows Prokosch spent the last decades of his life in the South of France. This would also be a perfect match to the biography written by Greenfield:

In 1972, Frederic abruptly ceased his travels and retired to ‘Ma Trouvaille’, a cottage in Grasse, in the south of France, where he played bridge, made some half-hearted efforts to cultivate a garden, revived his interest in printing private limited editions of his favourite poems and withdrew into invisibility.[3]

When I opened MS. Eng. poet. f. 33 I was, as always, quite unsure what would be sitting within the box. In this case, I found very beautifully made booklets of poetry, including some by one of my own favourite authors. But I also discovered Prokosch, a writer I had never encountered before working here, and more than that, I found myself in the middle of a date riddle. Pretty exciting for a small dark blue box.


[1] Prokosch, Frederic. Voices: A Memoir, New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1983, p. 45

[2] Greenfield, Robert. Dreamer’s Journey: The Life and Writings of Frederic Prokosch, Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2010, p. 21

[3] Ibid., p. 19

Have I Got A Hymn For You

‘A Hympne of Thanksgiving, composed by John Roe’ (MS. Eng. c. 7963, fol. 71) has recently been catalogued as part of the current project to incorporate the Bodleian’s music-related manuscripts into the online catalogue. The item contains the text of a previously unknown seventeenth-century hymn. It is in the hand of the herald and antiquary, Sir William Dugdale (1608-1686), many of whose other papers are held by the Library. Dugdale held the title of Chester Herald of Arms in Ordinary from 1644 to 1660. As part of the role, heralds would travel across England to deliver messages on behalf of the monarchy.

An early form of social media!

The hymn celebrates the Battle of Preston (1648), which ended with a victory of the Parliamentarians under the command of Oliver Cromwell over the Royalists and Scots led by the Duke of Hamilton during the English Civil War. John Roe is credited by Dugdale as the ‘composer’; however, his identity cannot be confirmed.

As an Assistant Archivist, I had the opportunity to take part in a Digital Editions Course at the Taylor Institutions Library. This course entailed for the digitisation of a chosen text, and creation of an XML file consisting of a transcription.

In order digitise the text, I had taken the photos using a digital camera and employed the software programme GIMP to ensure high-resolution and quality images. I then used Oxygen Editor to write the XML coding. The image and XML files were uploaded onto ORA data for future use and to provide access for researchers and students without the need to have the physical copy, which after about four hundred years is, unsurprisingly, showing some wear and tear. You can find these at the ORA deposit site here.

Following the convention of diplomatic transcription, I kept the spellings the same as they appear in the text; some of the writing though is illegible. For example, in stanza 6 (shown in the image above) I was unable to transcribe the last word in line 2: ‘‘Ye kings give ease, ye people […] / I even I will sing / And sweetly raise my voice in praise / To England’s God and king.’

Can you read the missing word? Heaze, wave, haze, or something else?

This catalogue is now online.

New catalogue – Oxford Women in Computing: An Oral History project

The catalogue of the Oxford Women in Computing oral history project is now available online.

This oral history project captures the experiences of 10 pioneering women who were active in computing research, teaching and service provision between the 1950s and 1990s, not only in Oxford, but at national and international levels. The rationale for the project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, through grants held by Professor Ursula Martin, was that women had participated in very early stages of computing; aside from a few exceptions their stories had not been captured – or indeed told. Among the interviewees are Eleanor Dodson, methods developer for Protein Crystallography and former research technician for Dorothy Hodgkin and Linda Hayes, former Head of User Services at the Oxford University Computing Service – now University of Oxford IT services. Leonor Barroca left Portugal in 1982 as a qualified electrical engineer to follow a boyfriend to Oxford – later that year she was one of three women on the university’s MSc in Computing course. Leonor also worked briefly as a COBOL (common business-oriented language) programmer for the Bodleian Libraries.

Themes throughout the interviews, which were conducted in 2018 by author and broadcaster Georgina Ferry, include:

  • career opportunities and early interests in computing
  • gender splits in computing
  • the origins and development of computing teaching and research in Oxford
  • development of the University of Oxford’s Computing Service and the commercial software house the Numerical Algorithms Group (NAG).

The Oxford Women in Computing oral histories serve as a source for insight into nearly half a century of women’s involvement in computing at Oxford and beyond.  The collection will particularly be of use to those interested in gender studies and the history of computing.

The interviews can be listened to online though University of Oxford podcasts here.

Communications programmer Esther White in the early days of the University of Oxford’s Computing Service. © University of Oxford

 

 

Explosions and ‘dull domestic details’ in the Edgeworth Papers

As mentioned in our August blog and the recent blog post about the physician Henry Holland, the Bodleian Libraries acquired a collection of letters last year which included letters between Maria Edgeworth and Henry Holland and which has now been fully catalogued. In his memoirs, Recollections of Past Life (1868), Henry Holland recalls how he became acquainted with Maria on a visit to Ireland in 1809, after which they maintained an ‘unbroken and affectionate correspondence for more than forty years’ that would have ‘formed a volume’ in itself.

Sir Henry Holland, Bart., M.D., F.R.S., D.C.L., Oxon, &c., &c from Barraud & Jerrard, ‘The medical profession in all countries, containing photographic portraits from life’, 1873-74 (London) (image from U.S. National Library of Medicine Digital Collections)

Holland noted in that same memoir that he admired Maria’s letters for their intellectual ‘discrimination and ability’. These characteristics are evident in her letter to Henry Holland dated 25th February 1820 (MS. 16087/1). Here too we see a lively variety of everyday domestic details and ambitious intellectual forays into discussion of contemporary literature and politics on an international scale. Writing from the home of her beloved Aunt Margaret Ruxton at Blackcastle near Dublin, Maria begins with updates on the ailments of her step-aunt Charlotte Sneyd and half-sister Fanny, and goes on to describe the visit of her step mother Frances Beaufort to the latter’s parental home in Cork. Just as we have sought to identify interesting material for the readers of our online blog, Maria is anxious not to bore her high-society friend with the humdrum happenings of her daily life in rural Ireland:

And are these dull domestic details all I can tell Dr. Holland who is living in the middle of all that is gay & fashionable and learned and wise, in the scientific, literary, political, and great world in London?

In fact the letter is far from dull. Edgeworth claimed not to have Holland’s ‘intrepid industry nor your art of making eight & forty hours out of the day’. Yet over six pages she certainly makes a good go of it. She crams in her comments on the recently published Ivanhoe (‘a great proof of Walter Scott’s talents’, discussed in last month’s blog), describes her continued labour of correcting the proof sheets of her father’s ill-fated memoirs (‘Till I have corrected the last proof sheet I shall never stir’), and she offers Holland a ‘sunbaked urn’ recently found in an Irish tunnel ‘bones and all’ to satiate his antiquarian interests. Then, Maria turns to current affairs and future continental travel plans:

By a letter from my brother Sneyd [Edgeworth] who
is at Paris we hear that the Duc de
Berri’s assassination [on the 14th Feb] has created much
less sensation there than we could imagine
– If they restrict the press I think it
will fly and in its explosion overturn
the throne – In these days the press /is\ in
an over match for cannon – and It is
an engine far more dangerous to
meddle with than any of the cannon
that are “laying about”

If there be not an explosion or a
revolution in Paris before the end of
next month I shall be there with two
of my sisters Fanny & Harriet

Page of letter from Maria Edgeworth to Henry Holland, 25 Feb 1820, MS. 16087/1

Full transcription of letter from Maria Edgeworth to Henry Holland, 25 Feb 1820, MS 16087/1

Recent events had proven that stifling the freedom of press was dangerous to national order. When Britain had reinstated press censorship as part of the Six Acts following the Peterloo Massacre in the previous year (an event discussed by Maria in another letter), protests erupted across the country. Maria’s shrewd predictions in this letter proved largely correct. The assassination of Charles Ferdinand Duc de Berry (the heir to the French Bourbon throne stabbed by the anti-monarchist Louis Lavel as he left the opera) was indeed used by the French government to validate the reinstatement of press censorship in March 1820. Riots broke out in retaliation against the bill, but were soon quelled by the Royal Guard. This imposition of peace allowed the Edgeworths to proceed with their planned trip to Paris at the end of March 1820 and the Bourbons to cling onto their throne for another decade.

Engraving of The Assassination of the Duke of Berry by Charon, Louis-François (1783-1831?), source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France

In the context of the UK’s recent departure from the European Union, Maria’s letter to Henry Holland reminds us of the effects that political events can have at the micro and macrocosmic level: it can mean inconvenient disruptions to carefully planned family holidays, or shake the foundations of an entire nation. Maria’s comments also help to demonstrate that Irish-continental connections were often as strong as, or could serve as a means to strengthen critique of, Anglo-Irish ones.

Much has changed since we started Opening the Edgeworth Papers a year ago and this is our final blog post. Our twitter account and blog posts have allowed us to disseminate our work around the world. Our monthly transcriptions have even appeared on Edgeworthtown’s new town centre mural. We’ve curated a successful exhibition ‘Meet the Edgeworths’ at the Bodleian Library. This month, we had the honour of hosting the second Marilyn Butler Memorial Lecture, at which Professor Clíona Ó Gallchoir (University College Cork) delivered a fascinating paper about theatricality in Maria’s works. A recording of the lecture is available online.

Edgeworthtown’s town centre mural. Images courtesy of Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull.

One of the joys, and occasionally challenges, of working on the Edgeworth family is discovering new material that has come to light. Since starting the project a year ago, we’ve had twitter followers send us information and images of previously unknown letters in private collections. Other items have appeared at auction, most notably at the Cotswold Auction Company’s sale this month. This major collection of over thirty of Maria’s previously unknown manuscript notebooks containing drafts of her novels, caches of letters to publishers, and printed books from the Edgeworth library took the field by storm when it dramatically exceeded auctioneers’ modest expectations and reached £147,000: evidence, perhaps, of the revived commercial attraction of one of the nineteenth century’s most successful authors. Thankfully, important lots were purchased by academic institutions, namely Princeton University Library and the National Library of Ireland, which will remain accessible to future generations of scholars.

Although this is our last blog post, this isn’t the last you will hear from the Edgeworth Papers Project team! On Sunday 29th March, we will be holding a masterclass on the Edgeworth Collection as part of the Oxford Literary Festival. The event is being held at the Weston Library Lecture Theatre in Oxford at 12 noon, where we will be talking about a selection of items from the archive. All are welcome, and tickets can be purchased online. You can also continue to follow updates on the project on Twitter @EdgeworthPapers. You can also access further content, including a recorded performance of a manuscript dramatic fragment by Maria, at our Great Writers Inspire Page. We hope that you will continue with us on this journey working on a fascinating collection that is only just beginning to reveal its secrets.

– Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull

Illuminated pedigree compiled by Thomas Gardiner, Monk of Westminster, showing the descent of Henry VIII from Cadwallader, Hugh Capet, Alfred and William the Conqueror, 1542/1564: MS. Eng. hist. e. 193

Notice the choice of a lion underneath Henry VIII, a symbol in heraldry symbolising courage, nobility, royalty, and strength. The Royal Arms of England contains 3 lions and was chosen by the Plantagenet kings who ruled England from 1154 until the House of Tudor.[1]

“Kynge Henry the VIJth in wysedome And ryches Equall to
Kynge Solomon he was sonne and Eyre to noble Edmunde
Erle of Rychemonde the ryght And trew Eyre to Holy
Kynge Cadwallyder / He maryed Quene Elizabethe the
Daughter and Eyre to Kynge Edwarde the IIIJth / After he
had openly in the ffelde obtayned Hys Ryghte he raigned
XXIIJth yere VIIJ monthes & XXIJ Dayes And he lyethe
Buryed in Westmynster where as he orderyd perpetuallye
to Endure the moste nobleste foundacyon that ever was
Harde of / He had by quene Elizabethe / Artur prince of
Wales / Edmunde Duke of Somersett / Elizabethe / & Kateryn /
All iiij Dyed wythe oute issu / Quene Margette of Scotlande
Quene mary of ffrance /”

“VIVAT REX HENRICUS”

Henry VIII (1491-1547) is without a doubt one of the best known English kings, mostly due to his penchant for wives, his break with Rome and the Catholic Church, and his role in the English reformation. The king reigned for 38 years, got through 6 wives, and “favoured then dispensed” of 3 chief ministers, all named Thomas.[2] But even this king, infamous now for his fickle attitude to marriage and his gluttony, had to prove his royal legitimacy in the 16th century. Henry VIII was, after all, only the second Tudor king. His father, Henry VII, had fought against the house of York for the crown, plotting their downfall from exile in Brittany for 14 years before his coronation in 1485.[3]

What is it?

This item, an illuminated pedigree, is a family tree/genealogy which served to provide evidence of Henry VIII’s legitimacy as king of England. It expresses the line of succession to Henry all the way back to the Welsh king Cadwallyder (633-682), also known as Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon. Cadwallyder ruled as king of Gwynedd from around 655 to 682 AD, when he is said to have died of a plague. There is not much information recorded on the Welsh king, aside from the fact he was the “laste kynge of that blode,” before the pedigree begins connecting him to Henry VI, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. There is no doubt left as to who the pedigree was attempting to legitimise.

The pedigree traces Henry’s lineage through such other rulers as Hugh Capet (d. 996), King of the Franks between 987 and 996, as well as William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy. William ruled England between 1066 and 1087 after he had “slayne kynge harolde in the felde” and was succeeded by his son, William Rufus. The roll does not add much illuminating detail about each ruler, though tends to mention how they came to power, how they died, and any notable religious houses they founded.

The pedigree is dated internally as 1542, though on the outside is written “Pedigree of the Kings by Thomas Gardiner, Monke: 1564”. Alongside stitching and evidence of extra parchment being glued together, this may suggest that elements were added at different times, possibly by different people. The main author and artist of this piece does, however, seem to be Thomas Gardiner (or Gardyner), who was possibly the same monk of Westminster who wrote a chronicle of English history from Brutus to Henry VIII, called The Flowers of England.

Matthew Payne and Julia Boffey explored the life of Gardiner in their 2017 paper “The Gardyner’s Passetaunce, the Flowers of England, and Thomas Gardyner, Monk of Westminster.”[4] According to this research, Gardiner was born around 1479 in London. His father was a skinner and his mother may have been “the illegitimate daughter of Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford and the brother of Edmund Tudor, whose marriage to Margaret Beaufort produced the future Henry VII; Gardyner was thus, after 1485, the date of Henry’s accession, the king’s step-cousin once removed.”[5] This, if the same person, brings an interestingly personal element to this pedigree.

In around 1493, Gardyner was admitted a novice at Westminster Abbey. He studied at Oxford between 1497 and 1499 and even added a year at Cambridge. Displaying such intellectual prowess was probably part of the reason why he was chosen to create the pedigree. When he returned to Westminster in 1501, he was ordained a priest. Payne and Boffey point out that although the exact purposes of his book and the pedigree are unknown “their function as part of a programme of pious royal promotion seems unquestionable”. They were undoubtedly there to extol Henry VII and Henry VIII’s virtues as great kings, “proclaiming the justice of their claims to the crown.”[6]

Why did he need this?

Henry VIII undoubtedly led in a very different fashion to his father, Henry VII, who was known to be reserved and did not involve himself in foreign affairs. Much more ostentatious, Henry VIII was known for his lavish banquets and greed, and his inability to reconcile his own opinions and actions with the Catholic Church. By breaking from tradition and waging war in France and Scotland, Henry VIII would have needed documents like this to ensure the people knew he was rightly in power, and there was nothing they could do about it.[7]

You can view and request this item through the new Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts webpage.

[1] Garai, J., The Book of Symbols (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973); Jamieson, A. S., Coats of Arms (Pitkin Publishing, 1998)

[2] Cheshire, P., Kings, Queens, Chiefs and Rulers (London: Star Fire, 2003),  p. 132

[3] Ibid,  p. 129

[4] Payne, M., and J. Boffey, “The Gardyner’s Passetaunce, the Flowers of England, and Thomas Gardyner, Monk of Westminster,” The Library 18.2 (2017): 175-190

[5] Ibid, p. 177

[6] Ibid, pp. 178-182

[7] Brewer, J. S., and J. Gairdner. The Reign of Henry VIII from His Accession to the Death of Wolsey: Reviewed and Illustrated from Original Documents (London: John Murray, 1884)