Tag Archives: Archives & Modern Manuscripts

Our Distant View: Peterloo, Rebellion and Reform

Over the past few months we have opened up the Edgeworth Papers to share tales of the Edgeworths’ domestic concerns, love affairs, and literary lives. We now turn to consider how the public political world also impacted upon the Edgeworth circle. News of one event in Manchester two hundred years ago – and widely commemorated this month of August 2019 – reached the Edgeworth family at the comparative distance of their home in County Longford.

On 16 August 1819, a large crowd gathered in St Peter’s Field, Manchester, to urge for greater parliamentary representation and listen to radical speakers including ‘Orator’ Henry Hunt (1773-1835). Following the orders of magistrate William Hulton to arrest Hunt, the cavalry of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry charged into the amassed crowd (modern estimates are there were up to 80,000). The charge resulted in the deaths of approximately 18 people (including a two-year-old boy) and the injury of an estimated 400-700 more people. The Peterloo Massacre, as it became known, was a defining moment in nineteenth-century class history. It was widely reported in the newspapers and the graphic satires of the day.

The Manchester Heroes, 1819, Hand-coloured etching by George Cruikshank on paper, 250 × 350mm, © Trustees of the British Museum

Maria mentions Peterloo in her letter to Peter Holland (1766-1855), who lived close to Manchester in Knutsford, on 27 August (MS 16087/1). The Bodleian has recently acquired this fascinating (and as yet uncatalogued) collection, comprising 145 largely unpublished letters. The collection includes 37 letters written by Maria to Holland and c.80 letters to her from his son, Sir Henry Holland (1788-1873), apparently on behalf of and in collaboration with his father. The archive also includes letters written by Henry to his father and to the writer Lucy Aikin (1781-1864). In this particular letter, Maria informs Peter Holland that she has dictated the letter to Fanny in order to save Maria’s eyesight and for his ease of reading. The letter is urgent though as she needs to know if Peter Holland is ‘dead or alive’ and his family safe following the ‘riots of mob & military’ in Manchester. We provide a transcription of the first paragraphs of the letter that relate to Peterloo.

Images of the first two pages of Maria’s Letter to Peter Holland (27 August 1819, MS 16087/1)

Transcription of first two paragraphs of Maria’s Letter to Peter Holland 27 August 1819, MS 160871

From her ‘distant view’, Maria shares her opinion on events, which she declares ‘perhaps on these occasion may chance to be the truest because the most impartial’. Maria does not support the reformist cause as it is proposed by Hunt (indeed she refers to his ‘evil designs’), and she praises the yeomanry’s ‘good intentions’, but censures their actions:

‘…their imprudent conduct they have made notorious to all the world—What an opportunity of showing that just vigor necessary to restore order they have lost by rashness – why did they not let Hunt and his followers proceed to some overt act before they began cutting and slashing? – I hope Government will forbid yeomanry to act again in any such cases – from their local feelings & from their want of discipline they are of all others the most improper to be employed.’

Maria’s concern for Holland was not only personal, but also evinces her active interest in the politics of the day. Though Maria was ‘distant’ from Peterloo, she was no stranger to political uprisings, such as the Irish Rebellion of 1798, a retaliation against British rule that resulted in the deaths of 10-30,000, which helped shape her ideas about the acceptable and proper limits of rebellion, though her progressive leanings were toward reform rather than regime change.

We should not overstate her interest in the events at Peterloo: in her letter to her Aunt Ruxton, written on 18 August (MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.56) she does not mention Peterloo at all [though perhaps the news had not reached the Edgeworths]. Yet, in several letters we find Maria and her family commenting on political stories in the newspaper whilst her sister Fanny’s (almost indecipherable) diary from our May blog, evidences the almost daily reading of parliamentary debates.

But the Edgeworth archive and Maria’s novels reveal more than just passing epistolary musings and fictional depictions of revolt and reform. Amongst the papers in the Bodleian, we find a manuscript copy of a poem entitled ‘Lines inspired by the Lord Chancellor’s Speech on the second reading [of] the Libel prevention Bill’ (MS. Eng. misc. c. 898, fols.25-6), apparently a ‘surplus copy’ of those circulated to members in Parliament. The Libel prevention bill was one of a series of measures (known as the Six Acts) Parliament passed in response to Peterloo, which hindered rather than furthered reform and focussed on curbing the rights of people, rather than – as Maria hoped – reforming the Yeomanry.

The ‘Lines…’ comment on the irony of Parliament attempting to curb the freedom of the press whilst benefitting from parliamentary privilege – that is, the legal immunity from prosecution offered to members of parliament which enabled them to speak freely in order to fulfil their duties. One consequence, however, was that they might make libellous claims without fear of legal challenge, whilst ordinary citizens were subject to increased scrutiny:

‘For still a British Senator we find
May speak (not print) the dictates of his mind,
Men in two honored houses at their ease
May talk what nonsense, or what sense they please,
Sedition there, and Libel, lose their name
There Truth & eloquence may lead to Fame!’

‘Lines inspired by the Lord Chancellor’s Speech on the second reading [of] the Libel prevention Bill’ (MS. Eng. misc. c. 898, fols.25-6)

Transcription of MS. Eng. misc. c. 898 fols.25r-26v

Parliamentary privilege was an ancient custom. But, by the nineteenth century it had taken on a new dimension. Parliamentary speech had become subject to increasing coverage and scrutiny in the newspapers although the newspapers could not (and still cannot) print anything potentially libellous said in the chamber. Nevertheless, parliamentary speeches had been turned into theatre by great orators such as Edmund Burke (1729-1727) and Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816) in the previous century, with newspapers the platform for parliamentarians to achieve new kinds of ‘Fame’ – even if that ‘Fame’ was built on shaky foundations.

Maria Edgeworth’s politics are reformist rather than revolutionary and she consistently represented reform as a means of averting the suffering and violence attendant on outright rebellion. Edgeworth’s story ‘The Grateful Negro’ (written 1802 and published 1804 – one of 11 in Popular Tales) was a reformist take on the abolition debates. A fictional account of the 1760 slave rebellion in Jamaica, the story makes the case that sympathy and care for slaves would prevent violent rebellion and hence be to the economic and ethical advantage of the colonial system. While Maria was critical of abusive and neglectful landlordism, as we see in the satire in Castle Rackrent (1800) and the sentiment of The Absentee (1812) concerning Anglo-Irish rule, she did not criticise the (colonial) system itself. So too, she takes a reformist approach to the issue of slavery – the Jamaican planter Mr Edwards concludes a benevolent exercise of slavery is the best way to sustain the system which supports his livelihood and reconciles his conscience. ‘The Grateful Negro’ was also as Elizabeth S. Kim explains, a vehicle for debating the rights and wrongs of a rebellion nearer to home – the Irish rebellion of 1798.

Our investigation of the letters has uncovered a reference hitherto undiscussed to an encounter with a black woman on Irish soil. While she makes no direct reference to Peterloo in her letter composed the day after the massacre of 18 August to her Aunt Ruxton, Maria provides a short note smuggled into the top right hand corner of a scrappy one page sheet; here she describes a meeting with one Mrs Blackall. Despite interest in Maria’s literary depictions of race, there has been little or no attention to this brief mention of her encountering a mixed-race woman on Irish soil. Maria records that:

‘We dined yesterday at Mrs Whitman where we met Captn & Mrs Blackall — who is 3/4th a negress—Black all indeed. Pray when does the Bishop arrive’

In the third edition of her novel Belinda (1810), Maria erased the suggestion found in the first two editions to a mixed-race marriage, such as the one she described in this letter. Edgeworth changed the name and the reference to the skin colour of Belinda’s white West Indian suitor, Mr Vincent, in her novel: Juba, the African servant who marries the white daughter of a tenant farmer, Lucy, becomes plain James Jackson. But as her encounter with the Blackalls demonstrates, interracial couples would later feature in the Edgeworths’ daily lives.

Maria consistently argued for reform to avert the violence and cruelty she thought resulted from both sides in systems of oppression, whether in Manchester, Jamaica or Ireland. However, there is some cruelty to modern ears in the laboured pun she elaborates in this brief sentence concerning Mrs Blackall, a woman of African descent.

Maria’s Letter to Aunt Ruxton (18 August 1819, MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.56)

Transcription of Maria’s Letter to Aunt Ruxton 18 August 1819 MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.56

The Edgeworth papers are full of such interpretive cruxes. They reveal to us not only strangeness and distance but surprising connections and unexpected moments of encounter.

Looking beyond the Edgeworth papers there are a number of events this year in and around Greater Manchester to commemorate Peterloo including ‘Making the News: Reading between the lines, from Peterloo to Meskel Square’ at the Portico Library, ‘From Waterloo to Peterloo’ at Gallery Oldham, and a public re-enactment in St Peter’s Square on 16 August 2019.

Ros Ballaster and Anna Louise Senkiw

 

References

Elizabeth S. Kim, ‘Maria Edgeworth’s The Grateful Negro: A Site for Rewriting Rebellion’, in
Eighteenth-Century Fiction, Volume 16, Number 1, October 2003, pp.103-126.

 

Music Manuscript Catalogues Go Online

The Bodleian Libraries house rich collections of music manuscripts dating from medieval times to the present and include such highlights as Handel’s conducting score of Messiah, Holst’s suite The Planets and Mendelssohn’s Hebrides overture. Anyone who has used the Bodleian’s music manuscript or archival collections over the years will be used to grappling with a confusing array of different findings aids. Apart from a few old collection-level entries in the Online Catalogue for Archives and Manuscripts, we have had to rely on various paper catalogues and handlists, published and unpublished, which readers can rarely navigate successfully without help from Music section staff. These include: the published Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts (for manuscripts acquired up to 1915), supplemented by large numbers of typescript revisions to the Summary Catalogue descriptions; typescript descriptions of post-1915 acquisitions, the more recent of which also exist as MS Word files; published catalogues for the Deneke-Mendelssohn and Tenbury collections, both of which have accumulated long lists of corrections and amendments over time; boxlists for various uncatalogued collections, such as Ella and Sterndale Bennett. Such finding aids were only partially indexed so locating material has always been dependent to a large extent on the knowledge and experience of staff.

Original conducting score of Handel’s Messiah (MS. Tenbury 346, fol. 66r)

Thanks to a very generous donation, we are now well into a three-year project which aims to incorporate the content of these various finding aids into the online catalogue as well as tackle a range of music manuscripts and archives which have hitherto had no catalogue description. So far, a number of uncatalogued manuscripts and collections have been catalogued while the existing finding aids were sent off to have their contents keyed into machine-readable form for the online catalogue. The two strands of converting the existing finding aids and new cataloguing will continue side-by-side for the remainder of the project which is due to finish in the summer of 2021. By this time, if all goes to plan, all of the Bodleian Libraries’ music manuscripts and music-related archives will have entries in the Online Catalogue for Archives and Manuscripts, which is itself undergoing a system upgrade and facelift. The first collections should start to appear online in the Autumn of 2019 and will be added to gradually as catalogues are completed.

Catalogues of the Bodleian’s Music holdings

To have online access to any of this information is a major step forward for users of our collections and the beauty of an electronic catalogue is that it can be added to and improved over time.

Martin Holmes, Alfred Brendel Curator of Music

Exhibiting Maria Edgeworth and Her Fellow Literary Lions

July 1819 was a quiet month for Maria. Writing to her favourite aunt, Margaret Ruxton, on 7th July 1819 from Edgeworthstown (MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fols.52-3), Maria remarked that although the perpetual scribbler within her couldn’t ‘be happy without writing a few lines’, she had ‘nothing new, remarkable or entertaining’ to relate. Her half-brother Lovell (1775-1842) remained housebound in Dublin with festering leech bites, whilst her half-sister Lucy Jane (1805-1897) was kept ‘constantly horizontal’ to hasten her recovery from treatment for a back problem. Nevertheless, Maria ‘endeavoured to amuse’ the female company at Edgeworthstown by attending different local churches to listen to sermons. She admires a debut performance and has contempt for the bombast of a more famous preacher, one Mr Burgh. She complains that some auditors do ‘not know the difference between fine sounding sentences & sense’.

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to her paternal Aunt Margaret Ruxton, 7th July 1819, MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.52r

 

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to her paternal Aunt Margaret Ruxton, 7th July 1819, MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fols.52v-53r

 

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to her paternal Aunt Margaret Ruxton, 7th July 1819, MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.53v

Transcript of MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fols.52-3

In the same letter, two male contemporaries of her own who had been much lionised in the press also attracted wry comment from her in similarly contrasting terms. In this blog we explore the judgements Maria and her contemporaries cast on each other’s work: not only the contrast between ‘fine sounding sentences’ and the solid virtues of ‘sense’, but also the different value placed on the ‘power’ of rendering ‘character’ and ‘story’. And we turn to consider the secret presence of Maria Edgeworth in our contemporary literary world.

As early as 23 October 1814, Maria had written to Sir Walter Scott, her fellow ‘national tale’ teller, to express her admiration for Waverley and the two shared a mutually appreciative correspondence (the Bodleian holds copies of letters from Scott to Maria at MS. Eng. lett. c. 720, fols. 147, 149-50). The other author mentioned in this letter, Lord Byron, she had also met but no ongoing connection was established.

Maria reports a comment in a note to her from Lord Lansdowne that Bryon’s historical narrative poem Mazeppa (1819) had disappointed readers due to its lack of satirical and licentious content. It is not clear that she herself had yet read this rip-roaring poem which draws on a Ukrainian folk tale of the punishment of the page Mazeppa for an adulterous affair with a Polish countess: Mazeppa is strapped to a wild horse and the poem ingeniously captures the relentless rhythm of the horse’s hoofs. The parallels with the circumstances of the poet perhaps did not require spelling out: Byron, afflicted by a club foot but a genius with the poetic foot, was notorious for his separation from his wife in 1816 and adulterous affair with an Italian Contessa he met in Ravenna while in exile in 1818.

The one meeting between Byron and Edgeworth took place when Byron was at the height of his fame and before his exile abroad. Maria and her father Richard met him at the London home of the chemist and inventor Sir Humphry Davy. Writing in his diary in 1813, Bryon admitted Richard, despite his ‘clarety, elderly, red complexion’, was ‘a fine old fellow’. But it was Maria who ‘every one cared more about’ and was the real literary talent of the Edgeworth family: ‘Whereas her father talked, not as if he could write nothing else, but as if nothing else were worth writing’. So impressed by her literary output, Byron admitted that Maria had managed to overshadow his reputation and popularity amongst readers: ‘I was the [literary] lion of 1812 Miss Edgeworth and Madame de Staël […] were the exhibitions’, the literary marvels, ‘of the succeeding year’. Maria by contrast comments wryly in a letter to her cousin Sophy Ruxton of May 1813: ‘Of Lord Byron I can tell you only that his appearance is nothing that you would remark’.

Bryon’s laudatory evaluation of Edgeworth’s literary prowess is fairly typical of her contemporary readers. Scott nicknamed her ‘the great Maria’. In this letter we see Maria beginning to mitigate her enthusiasm for Scott’s works, again through the vehicle of the report of another male correspondent. She is awaiting a copy of the third series (1819) of Scott’s Tales of My Landlord which comprised ‘The Bride of Lammermoor’ (now considered one of his finest achievements) and ‘A Legend of Montrose’. ‘Dr H’ (possibly Dr Peter Holland (1766-1855), a regular correspondent although his letters to Maria have not yet been found), she reports, says they ‘are interesting but inferior in power of character to the preceding tales’.

Maria may have preferred Scott’s ability to generate exciting and involving plot to the ‘power of character’ now recognised as the main achievement of another contemporary who placed her alongside Scott and Byron in a pantheon of literary greats. Despite her marginalised position in the modern literary cannon, Maria was once the UK’s most commercially successful novelist, as evidenced by the enthusiasm of other writers such as Byron to meet with her and the extraordinary record of income Maria Edgeworth meticulously recorded in September 1842: £11,062, 8s and 10 pennies (conversion to income now is some £668,332.85) . Compare the modest lifetime earnings for her fiction of £630 by Jane Austen (1775-1817).

Like Byron, Austen held Maria’s works in high regard. Writing to her niece Anna in 1814, herself an aspiring author, Austen went as far as to remark that ‘I have made up my mind to like no novels really but Miss Edgeworth’s, yours, and my own’. Austen continued to praise Edgeworth in her fiction. In Northanger Abbey (1818), she lauded Edgeworth’s controversial novel Belinda (1801) – along with Frances Burney’s Camilla and Cecilia – as works ‘in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language’.

Although an attentive reader of Austen’s works, Edgeworth’s opinion of Austen was mixed. In a letter to her cousin, Sophy Ruxton, of 26 December 1814, Maria comments that the family had been ‘much entertained’ by Austen’s previous work, Mansfield Park (1814). But much like Sir Water Scott, Edgeworth found Emma (1815) lacking in substance and gave up on it after one volume. Writing to Aunt Ruxton on 10th January 1816, Maria relates how she was grateful to receive a copy of the novel from the ‘authoress of Pride and Prejudice’ herself. Edgeworth was probably flattered by the kind gift—it was after all the only copy of Emma to presented by Austen to another author. But in a cutting review in a letter written later that year to her half-brother, Charles Sneyd Edgeworth, Maria complained that the novel lacked plot: ‘There is no story in it, except that Miss Emma found that the man whom she designed for Harriet’s lover was an admirer of her own—& he was affronted at being refused by Emma & Harriet wore the willow—and smooth, thin water-gruel is according to Emma’s father’s opinion a very good thing & it is very difficult to make a cook understand what you mean by smooth, thin water-gruel.’

Jane Austen’s Emma: a novel. In three volumes (1816) Bodleian Library 12 Theta 411-413

Nonetheless, Maria choose to keep her copy of Emma amongst the books housed in the family library at Edgeworthstown— a savvy decision, given that just two of the three original volumes Maria owned of Emma sold at auction in 2010 for £79,250. The new owner is in good company in owning only a partial set. A letter from Maria and Richard’s publisher in the Bodleian evidences, Maria’s gift text of Emma was not the only copy housed in the Edgeworth’s library (MS Eng. Lett. c. 722, fols.29-30). On 4th September 1816, Rowland Hunter wrote to Richard to inform him that he had just sent ‘a brown paper parcel’ filled with books to Ireland via Liverpool. Amongst the latest multi-volume memoirs (John Harriott’s Struggles Through Life (1807) and Memoirs of the Somerville Family (1815)), scholarly reference works (William Nicholson’s A Dictionary of Practical and Theoretical Chemistry (1808)), and writing supplies (18 pencils) was bundled a single novel— the first volume of Austen’s Emma. Whilst Edgeworth had despaired at the first volume, nearly a year later, Richard appears to have gone out of his way to order his own personal copy of the very same volume from his London bookseller.

Letter from Rowland Hunter to Richard Lovell Edgeworth, 4th September 1816, MS. Eng. lett. c. 722 fol 29r

 

Letter from Rowland Hunter to Richard Lovell Edgeworth, 4th September 1816, MS. Eng. lett. c. 722 fol 29v-30r

Transcript of MS. Eng. lett. c. 722

Austen’s reputation would eventually out-shadow that of both Richard and Maria Edgeworth as well as Maria’s fellow lioness, Germaine de Staël. The growth of Irish nationalism, coupled with less enthusiasm for female authors and characters outspoken in their political opinions in the popular form of the novel, caused Maria’s literary popularity to decline from the 1830s onwards. By 1909, Virginia Woolf found herself asking ‘whether people now read Miss Edgeworth’s novels’.

Despite her declining appeal to readers, Maria’s work has continued to inspire important works produced by subsequent generations of literary lions and exhibitors. Castle Rackrent (1800) remains a touchstone, albeit an ambiguous one, with secrets hard to disclose. An apparently slight reference to Castle Rackrent in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) unfolds a wealth of potential meanings. Daisy asks the narrator Nick Carraway
‘Are you in love with me,’ she said in my ear, ‘Or why did I have to come alone?’, to which he answers ‘That is the secret of Castle Rackrent’ (chapter 5). Of Irish descent, Fitzgerald may simply have been invoking an affinity between his own unreliable narrator, Nick and the famously unreliable narrator of Edgeworth’s novel, Thady Quirk. Thady is steward to four generations of variously ineffectual Anglo-Irish landlords of the Rackrent estate: see the sketch by Maria’s half-sister Harriet Edgeworth (1801-1889) of Thady with his favourite master, Sir Condy, a child at his knee (MS Eng 901, fol.108). The ‘secret’ revealed at the end of the novel is that the improvident Sir Condy has entailed a jointure of £500 each year on his wife. Jason Quirk, the aspirant son of Thady and manager of the estate, is poised to seize the whole and is enraged but nonetheless forces Sir Condy to sign over his estate in a deed while Thady looks on and weeps. Thady’s loyalties, like Nick’s, are always murky: we cannot tell whether they are to the ruling classes, the women abused or pursued by those men, or the outsiders/bootleggers who aspire to take their place. The ‘secret’ of such stories, the famous ambivalence of the ‘Irish bull’, stays with these never-fully-revelatory narrators.

Sketch of Thady and Sir Condy by Honora Edgeworth, MS. Eng. 901. fol.145

A modern equivalent of this ambivalent exposure of abuse of power and resistance to it first captured in Castle Rackrent can be found in the bookish heroine of Anna Burn’s 2018 Booker prize-winning Milkman. ‘Middle sister’ decides not to take Castle Rackrent with her on her evening walk when she is ‘too buzzy to read’. She ponders instead ‘teacher’s’ words about sunsets every day and the imperative to ‘uncover what we’ve kept hidden, what we think we might have lost’.

Maria’s other works are secret pleasures for many writers in the know. Antony Trollope used the plot of The Absentee (1812) in his Hibernian novel The Kellys and the O’Kellys (1848). Poems by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin (‘Maria Edgeworth in 1847’) and Vona Groarke (‘Patronage’ 1994) invoke the labour of the woman writer and the threads of influence and affinity across Irish and English kin and cultures her work generates. Mark, the callow hero of Belinda McKeown’s Solace (2011) is writing a thesis on Maria Edgeworth at Trinity College, Dublin. Over two-hundred and fifty years after her birth, despite her decline in mainstream popularity, Byron’s great if reluctant literary exhibitionist continues to inspire writers and delight readers through her displays of authorial prowess.

Ros Ballaster and Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull

How much is that Doggie in the Archive?: The Value of Dogs in the Edgeworth Papers

As we struggle through yet another rainy June in Oxford, we cast our gaze back to the more sunny events in Ireland described by Maria Edgeworth in a letter from 17th June 1819 to her paternal Aunt Margaret Ruxton (1746-1830) (MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.50-51)—written in cross style on the last page and writing around the sides to save paper. In past posts, we’ve considered some of the smaller objects that make up the Edgeworth papers—scraps and fragments that were treasured not for their intrinsic worth, but for their sentimental value. The focus of this post, Maria’s beloved dog Foster, is thankfully not housed in the Bodleian. But as Maria’s letter demonstrates, despite his diminutive size, Foster was a highly-valued member of the extended Edgeworth family.

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to her paternal Aunt Margaret Ruxton, 17th June 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.50r)

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to her paternal Aunt Margaret Ruxton, 17th June 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.50v)

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to her paternal Aunt Margaret Ruxton, 17th June 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.51r)

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to her paternal Aunt Margaret Ruxton, 17th June 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c. 717, fol.51v)

Transcription of MS. Eng. Lett. 717, fols.50-1

Like any good boy, Foster comes with his own backstory. Prior to leaving Ireland for England with her sisters late in 1818, Maria visited the family home of John Foster, latterly Baron Oriel (1740-1828)— a good friend of her recently deceased father Richard Lovell Edgeworth, and the last speaker of the Irish House of Commons prior to its dissolution by the Act of Union in 1800. On this particular visit, Maria was so taken by Foster’s King Charles spaniel that he promised her one of its puppies. When Maria returned to Ireland in June 1819, her Aunt Ruxton presented her with a new addition to the family that fulfilled Foster’s promise—a beautiful spaniel puppy, whom she named after her father’s friend.

Writing excitedly to her Aunt shortly after Foster’s arrival at Edgeworthstown, Maria recalls in her letter the superlative devotion of her ‘dearest, most amiable bestbred’ dog to his mistress. Among the Edgeworth papers, there is a pencil portrait by Colonel Stevens of a regally-posed Foster reclining in front of Edgeworthstown House (MS Eng Misc c.901, fol.90) , Maria’s description of her new puppy evidences his valued position as the family’s model pet— one who never ‘stirs til I open my eyes’, is as ‘clean as a silken muff’, is friendly enough to withstand the playful grasp of Maria’s seven-year old half-brother Michael Packenham, and entertains the whole family through his comedic reaction to tasting the snuff intended to relieve his ‘Démangeaison’ (itching). Much like Lady Frances Arlington’s dog in Maria’s novel Patronage (1814), who distracts the audience when he performs tricks during a private theatrical performance, Foster clearly succeeded in stealing the hearts of the entire extended Edgeworth family.

Pencil portrait by Colonel Stevens of Foster in front of Edgeworthstown House (MS Eng Misc c.901, fol.90)

Maria clearly valued Foster for his companionship. She could, after all, ‘speak forever’ on ‘the subject’ of her puppy. Yet there is some comedic value in the fact that Foster was a King Charles spaniel. This ‘royal breed’, as Maria refers to it, of toy spaniel has been associated with the English Monarch since Lucas de Heere painted a pair curled at the feet of Queen Mary I in 1558. In her letter, Maria takes great pride in telling her aunt how ‘My Fosters [black] mouth proved his noble descent’ from the rare, prized breed owned by English aristocrats. Indeed, Maria shockingly recalls how King Charles Spaniels were valued so much by ‘Late the Duke of Norfolk’ that he reportedly fed their puppies to his ‘German owl’, and deceived Queen Charlotte with a worthless ‘cur’, mongrel, to ‘to preserve [his] […] exclusive possession’ of the breed. Yet Foster was the gift of, and named after, an Irish politician who had stalwartly fought – from within William Pitt’s government— for Irish economic prosperity and peace during the long years of struggle over the Union of Great Britain and Ireland.

Whilst Maria’s references to Foster’s aristocratic breed may be ironic, his name choice demonstrates the value Maria placed in his namesake as an individual. In Maria’s fictional works, dogs are often named after the characters with whom they share personality traits. In Maria’s earlier novel, Belinda (1801), for example, West Indian white creole Mr Vincent names his dog after his black servant Juba in recognition of their shared loyalty to their master (‘Well, Juba, the man, is the best man – and Juba, the dog, is the best dog, in the universe’). Similarly, in her moral tale for children, The Little Dog Trusty (1801), the story’s blameless titular canine is renamed Frank after the narrative’s equally well-behaved child (‘Trusty is to be called Frank [to] […] let them know the difference between a liar and a boy of truth’) (MS Eng Misc c.901, fol.140). By naming her dog after John Foster, Maria can be seen as complimenting the former speaker for his amiable qualities and loyal character. Indeed, Maria was writing her Father’s memoir with her new dog Foster by her side, and she may well have been thinking of two independent-minded landowning men important in her life—men who had sought to provide the kind of guidance and care to the poor and neglected local Irish tenants described in the second part of this letter, and painted by her half-sister Charlotte (MS Eng Misc c.901, fols.58-60).

‘Vignette for Dog Trusty’ by F.M.W., 1842 (MS Eng Misc c.901, fol.140)

Sketch by Maria’s half-sister Charlotte, ‘After dinner at a Bog’ (MS Eng Misc c.901, fol.58)

Sketch by Maria’s half-sister Charlotte, ‘Irish laborers from the life’ (MS Eng Misc c.901, fol.60)

Early in her letter, in a compliment to her aunt who had raised Foster from a puppy, Maria remarks on his amiability, observing that she is ‘pledged to believe that education does more than nature’. Her belief in the benefits of a good education is evidenced in the scenes of rural labour and education among ‘troops’ of young children with which she furnishes her aunt at the end of the letter and which are also found frequently in her fiction. Virtue is something that must be ‘fostered’ in the young. And we see that in the story of Lovell’s (foster) care for a fatherless Irish boy in his school at Edgworthstown who is described working happily alongside his fellows haymaking in the closing (densely crossed) paragraphs at the end of Maria’s letter.1 The boy’s father has been executed having gone to the bad and fallen among thieves. Maria reports the neighbourhood view that his son, brought up to virtue in his mother’s family, might have influenced him against such criminality. Lovell prompts the boy’s schoolfellows to undertake small amounts of labour so that they can club together and provide him with a suit of clothes in place of the rags he has to stand in. Poverty, insurgency, discontent, were on the doorstep of Edgworthstown House. Maria concludes her letter by remarking that her father would have been proud to see the family applying the principles of generosity, care and educational improvement he took seriously as his duty of landowning care. Maria may in fact be gently mocking ‘proofs’ of value in external marks of ‘breeding’ and the tendency to translate them from the animal kingdom to the human. Certainly the particular brand of benevolent patriarchalism the Edgeworths wielded over their tenants as Anglo-Irish landowners feels uncomfortable and condescending to modern readers. But Maria is sharp and funny enough often to see those contradictions and make room for them in her letters. And in the end, her beloved doggo, bred by a man whom she greatly admired, was naturally the best pupperino in all of Ireland.

– Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull

 

Footnotes

1. Lovell established a remarkable co-educational school for one hundred and twenty Protestant and Catholic boys in Edgeworthstown based on his father’s theories of education in 1816. Before closing in 1833, the school attracted notable literary visitors including William Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott. For more, see Brian W. Taylor, ‘Richard Lovell Edgeworth’, The Irish Journal of Education (1986) XX: 1, pp.27-50.

Curating the UK Web Archive’s Mental Health Collection

The UK Web Archive’s Mental Health, Social Media and the Internet collection  seeks to document the changing conversation surrounding mental health, social media and the internet by capturing UK-based websites for posterity.

Developing the Mental Health Collection

As well as including webpages which highlight the negative impact of social media on mental health, the mental health collection also serves to document online initiatives including web pages and social media platforms which are changing the conversation and helping to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health. Examples of sites within the mental health collection include:

  • HeadsTogether, a mental health initiative setup and run by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry incorporating a campaign to change the dialogue surrounding mental health and raise funds to provide new mental health services.
  • The Mix provides an important source of mental health information and advice for people under twenty-five, tackling topics such as anxiety and depression, self-care and counselling.
  • The Mental Health First Aid England Instagram account (mhfaengland) serves to raise mental health literacy through a series of eye-catching posts including: photographs, drawings and info graphics which promote self-care and good mental health.
  • The Mental Health Foundation is a UK charity which aims to help people to understand, protect and sustain good mental health as seen through their online Twitter page

Help us grow our collections

The mental health collection can become a richer resource with your help. You could see your site suggestions preserved in the UK Web Archive by nominating them here.

Online Enthusiast Communities in the UK Web Archive

There is a saying that ‘variety is the spice of life’ and this is certainly true when you think of the types of hobbies and interests the UK public engages in. There are the hobbies we have all probably heard of such as train spotting or metal detecting and there are the more obscure ones such as Poohsticks or Hand Dryer appreciation.  Websites are a useful tool for enthusiasts to communicate and share their passion with the world. At the UK Web Archive (UKWA) the Online Enthusiast Communities  collection aims to:

‘Capture how UK based public forums are used to discuss hobbies and activities and serve as a place for enthusiasts to converse with others sharing similar interests.’

This collection includes such a diverse and wonderful selection of websites and forums. I can honestly say that curating this collection has truly been a joy – there are probably very few jobs that allow you to look at The Letter Box Study Group (a website about the history and development of British roadside letter boxes) as part of your tasks for the day.

Differences I have noticed

As a curator you get to explore lots of sites and you begin to notice differences and similarities between websites. It is interesting to see the variety in website design and levels of expertise and to me it feels like this is reflected in the websites that are archived.

I have noticed lots of online communities using a variety of website builders. The huge diversity in tools appear to have made it easier to create more professional looking sites with ease. Compared to older sites, you notice:

  • the increased use of images
  • cleaner feel
  • neutral backgrounds
  • minimal text
  • occasional e-commerce sections

However, it is nostalgic to see some of the older more ‘blocky’ sites, as I do remember the days of dial-up internet access and early web sites. To me, forums tend to have a similar feel and the designs does not deviate greatly from each other.

I have also found how often a website updates intriguing. Some are regularly updated whereas others appear to have been untouched for several years. This may reflect that many websites are run by volunteers balancing other commitments. Regularity of updates is an important factor as it will contribute to deciding how often we capture the site – it is the skill of a web archivist to judge this accordingly however these frequencies can be updated.

Some of my Favourite sites

One of the joys of curating this collection is that you get to experience sites that are really unique that you would not normally explore. I wanted to highlight a few of the sites that particularly caught my attention, specifically from the ‘Miscellaneous’ sub section as this is my personal favourite.

Pylon of the Month

Pylon of the month (February 2018) from Sweden. Image Credit: Kristin Allardh, 2018

This is a site dedicated to electricity pylons highlighting a monthly winner. These could include current pylons or historic images and entries can come from the UK and beyond. Images are usually accompanied by some interesting history or facts.

Modernist Britain

Odeon cinema Leicester, Leicestershire. Image Credit: Richard Coltman, 2010

This site is beautifully designed and celebrates modernist architecture in Britain. There are fifty illustrated images with accompanying information about the history of the buildings and photographs taken by Richard Coltman.

Cloud appreciation society

A Lenticular cloud. Image Credit: © José Ramón Sáez, 2019

This site was launched in 2005 with the aim of ‘bringing together people who love the sky’. It has an international membership with members submitting images from all over the world. They also run events, cloud related news and in 2019 they are contributing to the non-profit FogQuest project.

The online enthusiast community is also very witty, there are some fantastically named sites and forums such as:

  • Planet of the Vapes – a forum about vaping
  • DIYnot Forum – a forum about DIY
  • Frit-Happens! – an online community for glass blowing and glass crafting

Curating the online enthusiast collection has been incredibly enjoyable. Having to actively seek new sites has made me more aware of the variety of hobbies and diversity of interests the public engage in.

As this collection develops, more sites relating to the variety of hobbies and interests will be captured and persevered for future generations explore, enjoy and research. However, due to the size, complexity and technological challenges of archiving all UK websites, some may get missed or we just do not know about them . If there is a site that you think should be included then you can nominate it on the ‘Save a UK website‘ page of the UKWA.

Developing collections on Gender Equality at the UK Web Archive

The Gender Equality collection

The UK web archive Gender Equality collection and its themed subsections provide a rich insight into attitudes and approaches towards gender equality in contemporary UK society and culture. This was previously discussed in my last blog post about the collection, which you can read here.

Curating the collection

A great deal of the discussion and activity relating to gender equality occurs predominantly in an online space. This means that as a curator for the Gender Equality collection, the harvest is plenty! The type of content being collected by the UK Web Archive includes:

Of course there is some crossover, not only regarding the type of content but also within subsections of the gender equality collection.

This image is made available and reproduced by CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0. [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/legalcode]

Specifically, I find the event sites in the collection really interesting. As well as documenting that the event(s) even existed and happened in the first place, they can give us a snapshot of who organised the event, as well as who the intended audience were. Also, the collection exhibits the evolution of websites related to gender equality over time (which can be very speedy indeed when it comes to sites like twitter accounts!), and the changing priorities, trends, initiatives and more that can tell us about attitudes towards gender equality in the UK. These kinds of websites are being created by and engaged with by humans right now.

Nominate a website!

The endeavour of the UK Web Archive never stops – if you would like to help grow the Gender Equality collection (or indeed, any other collections) click here to nominate a website to save. Go on…whilst you’re at it, you can explore the UK Web Archive’s funky new interface!

 

Image reference: Workers Solidarity Movement (2012) March for Choice

 

Sixth British Library Labs Symposium

On Monday November 12, 2018 I was fortunate enough to attend the annual British Library Labs Symposium. During the symposium the British Library showcases the projects that they have been working on for their digital collections and issues awards to those who either contributed to those projects or used the digital collections to create their own projects.

According to Adam Farquhar, Head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library, this year’s symposium was their biggest and best attended yet: a testimony to the growing importance of digitization, as well as digital preservation and curation, within both archives and libraries.

This year’s theme of 3D models and scanning was wonderfully introduced by Daniel Prett, Head of Digital and IT at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, in his keynote lecture on ‘The Value, Impact and Importance of experimenting with Cultural Heritage Digital Collections’. He explained how, during his time with the British Museum, they began to experiment with the creation of digital 3D models. This eventually lead to the purchase of a rig with multiple camera’s allowing them to take better quality photos in less time. At the Fitzmuseum, Prett has continued to advocate the development of 3D imaging. The museum now even offers free 3D imaging workshops open to anyone who is in possession of a laptop and any device that has a camera (including a smartphone).

Although Prett shared much of his other successful projects with us, he also emphasized that much of digitization is about trial and error, and stressed the importance recording those errors. Unfortunately, libraries and archives alike are prone to celebrate their successes, but cover-up their errors, even though we may learn just as much from them. Prett called upon all attendees to more frequently share their errors, so we may learn from each other.

During the break I wandered into a separate room where individuals and companies showcased the projects that they developed in relation to the digital libraries special collections. A lucky few managed to lay their hands on a VR headset in order to experience Project Lume (a virtual data simulation program) and part of the exhibition by Nomad. The British Library itself showcased their own digitization services, including 360° spin photography and 3D imaging. The latter lead to some interesting discussions about the de- and re-contextualization of artworks when using 3D imaging technology.

In the midst of all this there was one stand that did not lure its spectators with fancy technology or gadgets. Instead, Jonah Coman, winner of the BL Teaching & Learning Award, showcased the small zines that he created. The format of these Pocket Miscellany, as they are called, are inspired by small medieval manuscripts and are intended to inform their readers about marginalized bodies, disability and queerness in medieval literature. Due to copyright issues these zines are not available for purchase, but can be found on Coman’s Patreon website.

The BL labs symposium also showed how the digital collections of the British Library can inspire both art and fashion. Fashion designer Nabil Nayal, who unfortunately could not accept his BL labs Commercial Award in person, for example, had used the Elizabethan digital collections as inspiration for the collection he presented at the British Library during the London Fashion week.

Artist Richard Wright, on the other hand, looked to the library’s infrastructure for inspiration. This resulted in The Elastic System, a virtual mosaic of hundreds of the British Library books that together make-up a sketch of Thomas Watts. When you zoom in on the mosaic you can browse the books in detail and can even order them through a link to the BL’s catalogue that is integrated in the picture. Once a book is checked out, it reveals the pictures of BL employees working in the stacks to collect the books. It thereby slowly reveals a part of the library that is usually hidden from view.

Another fascinating talk was given by artist Michael Takeo Magruder about his exhibition on Imaginary Cities which will be staged at the British Library’s entrance hall from 5 April to 14 July 2019. Magruder is using the library’s 19th and early 20th century maps collection to create new and ever changing maps and simulations of virtual, fantastical cities. Try as I might, I fear I cannot do justice to Magruder’s unique and intriguing artwork with words alone and can therefore only urge you to go visit the exhibition this coming year.

These are only a few of the wonderful talks that were given during the Labs symposium. The British Labs symposium was a real eye opener for me. I did not realize just how quickly the field of 3D imaging had developed within the museum and library world. Nor did I realize how digital collections could be used, not simply to inspire, but create actual artworks.

Yet, one of the things that struck me most is how much the development of and advocacy for the use of digital collections within archives and libraries is spurred on by passionate individuals; be they artists who use digital collections to inspire their work, digital- and IT-specialists willing to sacrifice a lunch break or two for the sake of progress or individual scholars who create little zines to spread awareness about a topic they feel passionate about. Imagine what they can do if initiatives like the BL labs continue to bring such people together. I, for one, cannot wait to see what the future for digital collections and scholarship holds. On to next year’s symposium.

 

Archives Unleashed – Vancouver Datathon

On the 1st-2nd of November 2018 I was lucky enough to attend the  Archives Unleashed Datathon Vancouver co-hosted by the Archives Unleashed Team and Simon Fraser University Library along with KEY (SFU Big Data Initiative). I was very thankful and appreciative of the generous travel grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that made this possible.

The SFU campus at the Habour Centre was an amazing venue for the Datathon and it was nice to be able to take in some views of the surrounding mountains.

About the Archives Unleashed Project

The Archives Unleashed Project is a three year project with a focus on making historical internet content easily accessible to scholars and researchers whose interests lay in exploring and researching both the recent past and contemporary history.

After a series of datathons held at a number of International institutions such as the British Library, University of Toronto, Library of Congress and the Internet Archive, the Archives Unleashed Team identified some key areas of development that would enable and help to deliver their aim of making petabytes of valuable web content accessible.

Key Areas of Development
  • Better analytics tools
  • Community infrastructure
  • Accessible web archival interfaces

By engaging and building a community, alongside developing web archive search and data analysis tools the project is successfully enabling a wide range of people including scholars, programmers, archivists and librarians to “access, share and investigate recent history since the early days of the World Wide Web.”

The project has a three-pronged approach
  1. Build a software toolkit (Archives Unleashed Toolkit)
  2. Deploy the toolkit in a cloud-based environment (Archives Unleashed Cloud)
  3. Build a cohesive user community that is sustainable and inclusive by bringing together the project team members with archivists, librarians and researchers (Datathons)
Archives Unleashed Toolkit

The Archives Unleashed Toolkit (AUT) is an open-source platform for analysing web archives with Apache Spark. I was really impressed by AUT due to its scalability, relative ease of use and the huge amount of analytical options it provides. It can work on a laptop (Mac OS, Linux or Windows), a powerful cluster or on a single-node server and if you wanted to, you could even use a Raspberry Pi to run AUT. The Toolkit allows for a number of search functions across the entirety of a web archive collection. You can filter collections by domain, URL pattern, date, languages and more. Create lists of URLs to return the top ten in a collection. Extract plain text files from HTML files in the ARC or WARC file and clean the data by removing ‘boilerplate’ content such as advertisements. Its also possible to use the Stanford Named Entity Recognizer (NER) to extract names of entities, locations, organisations and persons. I’m looking forward to seeing the possibilities of how this functionality is adapted to localised instances and controlled vocabularies – would it be possible to run a similar programme for automated tagging of web archive collections in the future? Maybe ingest a collection into ATK , run a NER and automatically tag up the data providing richer metadata for web archives and subsequent research.

Archives Unleashed Cloud

The Archives Unleashed Cloud (AUK) is a GUI based front end for working with AUT, it essentially provides an accessible interface for generating research derivatives from Web archive files (WARCS). With a few clicks users can ingest and sync Archive-it collections, analyse the collections, create network graphs and visualise connections and nodes. It is currently free to use and runs on AUK central servers.

My experience at the Vancouver Datathon

The datathons bring together a small group of 15-20 people of varied professional backgrounds and experience to work and experiment with the Archives Unleashed Toolkit and the Archives Unleashed Cloud. I really like that the team have chosen to minimise the numbers that attend because it created a close knit working group that was full of collaboration, knowledge and idea exchange. It was a relaxed, fun and friendly environment to work in.

Day One

After a quick coffee and light breakfast, the Datathon opened with introductory talks from project team members Ian Milligan (Principal Investigator), Nick Ruest (Co-Principal Investigator) and Samantha Fritz (Project Manager), relating to the project – its goals and outcomes, the toolkit, available datasets and event logistics.

Another quick coffee break and it was back to work – participants were asked to think about the datasets that interested them, techniques they might want to use and questions or themes they would like to explore and write these on sticky notes.

Once placed on the white board, teams naturally formed around datasets, themes and questions. The team I was in consisted of  Kathleen Reed and Ben O’Brien  and formed around a common interest in exploring the First Nations and Indigenous communities dataset.

Virtual Machines were kindly provided by Compute Canada and available for use throughout the Datathon to run AUT, datasets were preloaded onto these VMs and a number of derivative files had already been created. We spent some time brainstorming, sharing ideas and exploring datasets using a number of different tools. The day finished with some informative lightning talks about the work participants had been doing with web archives at their home institutions.

Day Two

On day two we continued to explore datasets by using the full text derivatives and running some NER and performing key word searches using the command line tool Grep. We also analysed the text using sentiment analysis with the Natural Language Toolkit. To help visualise the data, we took the new text files produced from the key word searches and uploaded them into Voyant tools. This helped by visualising links between words, creating a list of top terms and provides quantitative data such as how many times each word appears. It was here we found that the word ‘letter’ appeared quite frequently and we finalised the dataset we would be using – University of British Columbia – bc-hydro-site-c.

We hunted down the site and found it contained a number of letters from people about the BC Hydro Dam Project. The problem was that the letters were in a table and when extracted the data was not clean enough. Ben O’Brien came up with a clever extraction solution utilising the raw HTML files and some script magic. The data was then prepped for geocoding by Kathleen Reed to show the geographical spread of the letter writers, hot-spots and timeline, a useful way of looking at the issue from the perspective of engagement and the community.

Map of letter writers.

Time Lapse of locations of letter writers. 

At the end of day 2 each team had a chance to present their project to the other teams. You can view the presentation (Exploring Letters of protest for the BC Hydro Dam Site C) we prepared here, as well as the other team projects.

Why Web Archives Matter

How we preserve, collect, share and exchange cultural information has changed dramatically. The act of remembering at National Institutes and Libraries has altered greatly in terms of scope, speed and scale due to the web. The way in which we provide access to, use and engage with archival material has been disrupted. All current and future historians who want to study the periods after the 1990s will have to use web archives as a resource. Currently issues around accessibility and usability have lagged behind and many students and historians are not ready. Projects like Archives Unleashed will help to furnish and equip researchers, historians, students and the community with the necessary tools to combat these problems. I look forward to seeing the next steps the project takes.

Archives Unleashed are currently accepted submissions for the next Datathon in March 2019, I highly recommend it.

Celebrating the Life of Clement Attlee

Photograph of Clement Attlee, n.d. [MS. CRA. 99].


Join the Attlee Foundation and Bodleian Libraries on the 25
th of October in the Weston Lecture Theatre to celebrate the life and legacy of Clement Attlee.

The event will commence with a lecture given by John Bew on the political thought of Clement Attlee. A  Professor of History and Foreign Policy at the War Studies Department at King’s College London, John Bew is also the author of five books including the award-winning biography Citizen Clem: A Life of Attlee (2016), which received the Orwell Prize for Political Writing, the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography and the Best Book in the U.K.

A list by Clement Attlee of his “best appointments”, n.d. [post 1951] [MS. CRA. 10].


The lecture will be accompanied by a display of items from Clement Attlee’s personal archive. Covering the years 1945-1951, the display offers viewers a unique insight into the life and work of Attlee, forming a celebration of his achievements in both personal, political and public arenas.

Booking Information:

This event is free but places are limited so please complete the booking form via our website  to reserve tickets in advance. All bookings are subject to a £1 booking fee.

Doors open at 6.15pm. The lecture begins at 6.30pm, and will be followed by a drinks reception.