Tag Archives: Archives & Modern Manuscripts

Newly Available: Records of the Conservatives in the European Parliament

Image shows 5 Conservative Party leaflets for the 1989 European Elections.

Leaflets for the 1989 European Elections. [Reference: CPA CCO 508/4/12].

The records of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, documenting the work of Conservative MEPs from the time of British accession through to the 21st century, are now available for consultation at the Bodleian Library. Included in the collection are the papers of the European Conservative Group and the European Democratic Group, as well as the records of the Conservative Delegation’s leadership, election files, and administrative records. The collection, which form part of the Conservative Party Archive holdings at the Bodleian Library, has been made available as the result of a major cataloguing project which took place from 2017-2019 with the generous support of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European Parliament.

Among the highlights of the new catalogue are the papers of the Conservative Delegation leaders in the European Parliament. These includes the correspondence of Sir Henry Plumb, Chairman of the European Democratic Group from 1982-1987 and 1994-1996, and the only British politician to ever serve as President of the European Parliament. Plumb’s papers include exchanges of letters with senior politicians in Britain, Europe, and the wider world, and are a fantastic resource for studying the politics of European integration in the 1980s.

Image shows the text of a letter from Sir Henry Plumb proposing a World Food Summit, 17 Jul 1986, with responses from world leaders.

Text of a letter from Sir Henry Plumb proposing a World Food Summit, 17 Jul 1986, shown with responses from world leaders. [Reference: CPA CCO 508/1/53].

Also included in the new catalogue are the Conservative Delegation’s  meeting papers, with detailed minutes for the late-1970s and 1980s. The records of these meetings, which took place on a regular basis during sittings of the European Parliament, provide us with a interesting insight into the work of Conservative MEPs during this period, as well as serving as a source for the wider politics of the period. The files also contain a number of  documents of historical interest, including a detailed transcript of a meeting between Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Delegation in January 1980 (pictured below).

Image shows European Democratic Group meeting papers, Jan 1980, showing part of a transcript of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's meeting with Conservative MEPs on 8 Jan 1980, with covering memorandum dated 9 Jan 1980.

European Democratic Group meeting papers, Jan 1980, showing part of a transcript of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s meeting with Conservative MEPs on 8 Jan 1980, with covering memorandum dated 9 Jan 1980. [Reference: CPA CCO 508/16/5].

Of likely further interest to historians are the records of the European Democratic Group’s ‘Study Day’ conferences. These meetings were held several times a year with the aim of drawing up policies for the Conservatives Delegation, particularly in relation to the future development of the European Community. In many cases the files still contain the discussion papers debated at the meetings, which can provide us with a fascinating insight into the evolution of Conservative thinking on European integration over the course of the 1980s.

Image shows programme and guest list for European Democratic Group Study Days held in Athens, 6-10 Sep 1982.

Programme and guest list for European Democratic Group Study Days held in Athens, 6-10 Sep 1982. [Reference: CPA CCO 508/5/17].

In total, the collection includes nearly 300 boxes of archival material, with records spanning from 1971 through to 2015.  All files dating up to 1989 (excepting those restricted for reasons of data protection) are available for consultation, and going forward we plan to make additional files available on an annual basis under the 30-year rule.

For full details of the material available, please view our catalogue on the Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts platform, available here.

A ‘Christmas Dainty’: fragments of festive frolics with the Edgeworths

Since our last post, the days have got shorter, colder, and wetter. Winter has arrived in Oxford, and as frosts begin to form, thoughts turn to Christmas. When we last encountered the Edgeworths in our November Blog, Maria was busy devouring an eclectic assortment of literature with her newly-rested eyes. Little seems to have changed when she writes to her beloved sister Fanny on 22nd December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c.706, fols.17-18).

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Fanny Edgeworth, 22nd December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c.706, fols.17-18).

Transcription of MS. Eng. lett. c. 706, fols.16-18

Here, she recounts the ‘curious facts’ and inventions she had gleaned from the latest issue of William T. Brande’s periodical publication, Journal of Science and Arts. Much like her hero Lewis in the moral tale A Sequel to Frank (1822), Maria Edgeworth appears to have spent the long winter evenings leading up to Christmas reading and talking to her family about books.

As for many of us today, Christmas was for the Edgeworths a time for family. Writing to Henry and Sneyd Edgeworth on Christmas Day 1807, Maria lamented the absence of her two brothers from the festivities of ‘the most agreeable family […] I ever was in’. That family would have ensured their ‘merry Christmas’ had they been present (1).

We don’t know how the Edgeworths spent Christmas Day in 1819. Unlike in 1807, there are no letters known to survive from Christmas Day 1819. Perhaps, like the titular character of Maria’s earlier novel Ormond (1817), it was spent feasting on a ‘festive dainty’ of goose and turkey. But the letters in the Bodleian do give us a tantalising insight into the Edgeworths’ activities in the weeks leading up to the big day.

As we discussed in our June blog post, the Edgeworth Papers are full of literary and epistolary fragments. Despite their incomplete status, these fragmentary forms provide touching, and at times comedic, insights into the everyday lives of the extended Edgeworth family. This is particularly evident in the letter fragment by Maria to her sister Fanny dated 19th December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c. 706 fol.16).

Letter fragment by Maria Edgeworth to her sister Fanny, 19th December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c. 706 fol.16)

Here, Maria slips once more into the voice of the aspirant playwright heard in her plays Whim for Whim (1795) and Comic Dramas (1817), dramatizing one particularly unfortunate incident involving her seven-year-old half-brother Michael Pakenham and an unwelcome visitor to Edgeworthstown House:

Enter Pakenham ^one corner of^ handkerchief at eye
– & in great rage – those impertinent
Sheep! – What do you think Maria – Just
now I went to drive them away from
Honora’s plot & bed & the moment I
had driven ‘em off when I turned my back
one came up & set his great head against
My behind & knocked me down
I never saw such a sheep in
my life – and he ran after
me to the steps

Among the Edgeworth papers, there is an attractive line drawing of Pakenham in April 1818 attentively listening to his older brother Francis read by his sister Honora, who gave the drawing to Maria in 1836 (MS. Eng. misc. c. 901, fol.32)

The Edgeworths’ walled kitchen garden at their home in County Longford is now carefully maintained by the Edgeworth Society. Back in 1819, the young Pakenham appears to have taken it on himself to defend the honour of the flowerbed tended by his sister Honora from the attentions of one of County Longford’s more rowdy woollen residents. Despite his valiant efforts, Pakenham’s heroic quest ended in tears, a bruised ego, and a sore behind. Maria is famed for her emphasis on a moral point to her tales. Here, perhaps, the take away is simply, ‘pick on someone your own size’.

The walled garden at Edgeworthstown House. Image courtesy of Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull.

Entertainments were commonly written and performed by large households like the Edgeworths during the festive period. Here in Oxford, we’ve been honouring this tradition of domestic entertainments by bringing one of Maria’s dramatic fragments to life. MS. Eng. misc. c. 897, fols.3-8 was written in c.1811, and is made up of a series of fragmentary scenes of downstairs and upstairs life as a group of young women prepare to visit the seaside resort of Brighton. Here is the first page of the manuscript and our transcription in which the conniving maid Miss Lapell plans to sweet talk the housekeeper Mrs Wright into putting in a word for her to take employment with young Lady Flora so as to ensure she joins the jaunt to Brighton.

A fragmentary draft of an unidentified play, c.1811 (MS. Eng. misc. c. 897 fol.3r).

Transcription of MS. Eng. misc. c. 897 fol.3r

Thanks to the inspired dramatic treatment of director Ellen Brewster, and a wonderful cast of student actors (Jemima Hubberstey, Olivia Krauze and Eugenie Nevin), Maria’s untitled and incomplete scenes were performed under the title Brighton Ambitious for a group of Edgeworth scholars from around the world as part of a workshop held at the University of Oxford this month. Maria had little success as a professional dramatist, and never realised her ambition of having a play staged professionally. But the vibrancy of her wit can been seen in this short fragment, of which we only wish we had more. The performance was filmed, and we hope to share this sparkling example of Maria’s dramatic talent online with you soon.

Almost as exciting as the run up to Christmas for our project team has been the preparation and recent opening of our exhibition in the Proscholium of the Old Bodleian Library. ‘Meet the Edgeworths’ focuses on the family’s lives at home and abroad, as well as Maria’s literary fame. Entry is free, and the exhibition is open 9am-5pm daily until 26th January 2020.

This will be followed on Wednesday February 5th 2020 by the Marilyn Butler Memorial Lecture at the Weston Lecture Theatre, Bodleian Library, Oxford. This year, Dr Clíona Ó Gallchoir (Faculty of English, Cork University) will open up the topic of Maria Edgeworth’s engagement with the dramatic and the theatre. Her lecture is entitled ‘Trap doors in private houses: Drama and Theatricality in the Work of Maria Edgeworth’. The event is free and open to the public. Do please join us for the lecture and drinks thereafter in the Rector’s Drawing Room of Exeter College, Oxford, where the distinguished Edgeworth scholar, Professor Marilyn Butler, herself served as Rector from 1993 to 2004.

As we begin to look forward to the next stages of our project, we wish you all a Merry Christmas, and look forward to sharing more stories from the Edgeworth Papers with you in the New Year.

– Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull


Footnotes

1. Frances Beaufort Edgeworth and Maria Edgeworth, A Memoir of Maria Edgeworth: With a Selection from Her Letters (London, 1867), 3 volumes, volume I, p.205.

Gingerbread from the Radolphus Ayres “Cook Oxford” Recipe Book, 29th August 1721 – Reference MS. Don. e. 89

As someone who has always enjoyed baking and has a love of all things historical, finding old recipe books is one of the most exciting things about working in archives. I love when cooking shows explore what people of the past would have eaten, and the different ingredients they would have used to create what we now consider modern classics. Working on the retro-conversion of the Bodleian Libraries New Summary Catalogue since September (you can read about our project here) has allowed me to discover a fair few recipe books, with some of the treats far more enticing than others… After some deliberation, I chose this 18th century recipe for gingerbread – a tried and tested festive favourite. I wanted my colleagues to actually taste it and thought it might be slightly more appetising than the vast range of pickles, a 14th century recipe for the plague, or mince pies that were made with veal hearts and tongues (that one I vetoed pretty quickly myself). Gingerbread seemed like a safe option, and I also thought dried ginger might perhaps be easier to source than “dragon warter” – weirdly Tesco didn’t have any in stock when I asked.

So here’s what I had to work with:

Before attempting this slightly vague bake (and figuring out how/if I was going to dip the cake in a mixture of “boyling watter and ale”), I decided to do a bit of research into the history of gingerbread. When did this delicious treat make its way into our lives? The important stuff.

So, ginger root was first cultivated in China, where they used it for “medicinal and magical” purposes. Ginger is still used today in medicine to help things like travel sickness – something anticipated by John Baret in his Alvearie or triple dictionaire of 1573-80, and Henry VIII even thought it might help build up resistance to the plague in the 16th century. In Roman times, the spice was known as “zingiber” from the Sanskrit “sringavera” and was used for cooking and medicinal purposes as it travelled in from the Silk Road from the 2nd century AD. Caravans came from China full of silk, ginger and cinnamon to a meeting point in central Asia where the Romans would be able to barter for these luxury items. They loved ginger so much that a pound of the spice was worth the same as a sheep!

Ginger supplies dried up after the fall of the Roman Empire when trade routes crumbled but the spice was then reintroduced freely across Western Europe. This was supposedly with returning crusaders, or through the Venetian explorer Marco Polo in the 13th century – there is quite a bit of ambiguity here. The Germans, Austrians and Hungarians were the first to develop honey and spice flour based doughs, adding candied fruits and nuts, and in France they used a simple spice recipe called “Pain d’espice”. In Medieval England, gingerbread simply meant “preserved ginger”, with the spice being used to cover up the taste of preserved meats in the winter. By Elizabeth I’s reign, between 1533 and 1603, gingerbread was eaten by wealthy aristocrats. The queen is even credited with inventing gingerbread men by asking for the biscuits to be decorated as important members of her court for a celebration.  By the 17th century, gingerbread was being sold at fairs and for special occasions in England but it was nothing like the gingerbread we love now. Valerie Barrett explains how it was “made from stale bread, honey, pepper, aniseed, with saffron or liquorice for colouring, and ginger… mashed together, moulded or shaped and dried until hard and brittle”. Doesn’t exactly sound appetising! Treacle was introduced later in the 17th century and the recipes began to change into the biscuits and cake we know today.

Gingerbread recipes travelled to America with the first English settlers, where they swapped the sugar for golden syrup. There are many variations of gingerbread, from the decorated gingerbread men and houses (popularised after Hansel and Gretal was published in 1812), to Yorkshire Parkin or American Hot gingerbread. If you want to explore the multitude of recipes I would definitely recommend The Complete Book of Gingerbread by Valerie Barrett, The Gingerbread Book by Steven Stellingwerf and The Book of Gingerbread by Carla Capalbo (all available to read at the Bodleian Libraries, references below). Although gingerbread is now made mostly at home or bought in supermarkets, it remains a part of the European Christmas tradition.

Now that I have explored gingerbread and its roots (however ambiguous), I can unveil my 18th century creation:

Although most of the ingredients were easy to acquire, I had to settle for candied mixed peel instead of simply orange peel after checking 4 different supermarkets. I also didn’t complete the last step. Unfortunately dipping the cake in ale and water made the bake soggy and un-transportable… not ideal when I needed opinions from my colleagues! The recipe itself was questionable, with the mixture not actually coming together at all until I added some warm water, though I put this down to the ingredients probably being slightly different and also the recipe being quite vague.* Either way, it got into the oven and made the house smell like caraway and coriander seeds for quite a few days!

My colleagues all agreed this was “interesting”, something I definitely agreed with. Many thought it was almost savoury in flavour and was quite dry and dense, though most enjoyed it enough to eat a whole piece and some even went back for seconds! My favourite reviews have to be “first time I’ve been unable to finish a baked good, 1/10” and “pleasingly festive, surprisingly spicy, 6/10”.

Overall rating: 6.3/10

If you want to explore the original Radolphus Ayres cookbook, you can find and request it here on the new Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts website. Look out for some more interesting things found in the Summary Catalogue conversion project in the New Year, and Merry Christmas to all who celebrate!

References

The Complete Book of Gingerbread by Valerie Barrett (The Apple Press, London, 1992)

The Gingerbread Book by Steven Stellingwerf (Charles Letts and Co ltd, London, 1991)

The Book of Gingerbread by Carla Capalbo (Ebury Press, London, 1984)

John Mariani’s American Classics: Gingerbread” in Restaurant hospitality, October 1998, 82:10, pg. 86

PBS Food “The History of Gingerbread” by Tori Avery, 20 Dec 2013, URL: https://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/history-gingerbread/

The Guardian “A Brief History of the Gingerbread House” by Antonia Wilson, 22 Dec 2018, URL: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2018/dec/22/a-brief-history-of-the-gingerbread-house

* I found out at a later date that the recipe book was published in 2006, Ralph Ayres Cookery Book edited by Jane Jakeman (Bodleian Library, Oxford, 2006), and this would’ve made the recipe conversion a lot easier!

The Archives and Records of Humanitarian Organisations

On 20th November the Bodleian Libraries hosted a workshop on ‘The Archives and Records of Humanitarian Organisations: Challenges and Opportunities’. The event was attended by archivists, curators and academics working within the field of humanitarian archives and I was pleased to be invited along to learn more about their work and write a blogpost about some of my observations.

The first talk was given by Chrissie Webb, Project Archivist at the Bodleian Libraries, who discussed her work on the archive of the international charity, Oxfam. The archive was donated to the Bodleian in 2012 and constitutes an enormous collection of over 10,000 boxes of material. Chrissie explained that the archive mostly consists of written documents, but also contains objects and ephemera, audio recordings and digital materials. Cataloguing the archive took several years and was funded by a grant from the Wellcome Trust, as the materials are of great interest to those studying the history of health and public policy, humanitarianism and the voluntary sector. Chrissie touched on a number of issues in her talk, particularly highlighting the challenges of appraising and arranging a collection of such size in sufficient detail. As a trainee the principles of arrangement are still quite new to me, so the idea of working on a collection so big is extremely daunting! The work required robust workflows and proved useful as a case study for development of the Bodleian Libraries appraisal guidelines for future collections. Chrissie also highlighted that the Oxfam catalogue was published on a rolling basis to allow the Libraries to promote the collection and prevent an end-of-project information dump of epic proportions. If you’re curious to learn more, the Oxfam archive can be explored via Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts: https://archives.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/

The second talk was about the Save the Children Fund archive and was given by Matthew Goodwin, Project Archivist at the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham. The Save the Children Fund archive shares some immediate similarities with the Oxfam archive: it was acquired by the University of Birmingham at around the same time (2011) and is being catalogued thanks to a grant from the Wellcome Trust. The archive covers the activities of the charity in the 20th and early 21st Century and while it is smaller than the Oxfam archive, it still spans over 2000 boxes of material. Matthew noted some interesting trends that he came across in the archive, such as the charity’s move away from campaign material that included intense images of child poverty and towards more positive images that highlighted the charity’s life-saving work. This is a trend that is noticeable across the sector, as many humanitarian organisations have chosen to pivot their publicity materials in this way in recent years.

A particularly interesting discussion evolved around the challenges presented by archives that contain graphic or distressing material and how this effects the archivists cataloguing the collections and the readers who access them. Several attendees noted that their work with collections from humanitarian and aid organisations had presented this issue. Possible solutions discussed included inserting warning notices inside boxes containing especially graphic material to warn users in advance of their contents and seating those using these materials in separate parts of the reading room to prevent other readers from accidentally viewing them. The archival community has shown an increased awareness of these challenges in recent years and in 2017 the Archives and Records Association (ARA) released guidance for professionals working with potentially disturbing materials. Their documents explore the current research around ‘vicarious’ or secondary trauma and compassion fatigue, as well as offering practical techniques for staff and detailing how to access support. Their guidance can be found here: https://www.archives.org.uk/what-we-do/emotional-support-guides.html

Regrettably I wasn’t able to attend the afternoon workshop sessions which discussed the Red Cross Archive and Museum and how the collections of humanitarian organisations factor into the work of NGOs. Hopefully as my traineeship develops I will get a chance to revisit these collections and learn more!

A new project in Archives and Modern Manuscripts: the conversion of the Bodleian’s Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts

The summer of 2019 saw the beginning of an exciting and much anticipated new project in Archives and Modern Manuscripts: the conversion of the Bodleian’s Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts into machine-readable format, ready for greater online accessibility through the newly launched Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts website.

What is the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts?


The Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts edited by Richard W. Hunt, Falconer Madan and P. D. Record (1915)

The Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts is key to accessing our collections. The ten volumes were compiled to list all of the Western manuscripts held by the Library, as a summary of the collection (they are aptly named), and a finding aid for researchers and readers. The first seven volumes, edited by Richard W. Hunt, Falconer Madan and P. D. Record, provide an overview of manuscripts acquired before 1915. The last three volumes, edited by Mary Clapinson and T. D. Rogers, were published in 1991 and describe acquisitions made between 1916 and 1975.

Together, the volumes of the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts describes approximately 56,000 shelfmarks (physical places within our archival storage), and thus a substantial part of our vast and eclectic collection. The material ranges from manuscripts acquired singly such as an Album of genealogical tables of ruling families of Europe and the Middle East from classical times to the 20th century, to large archives such as the archive of John Locke (full catalogue coming soon).

If you want to learn more about the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts and the acquisition of material at the Bodleian Libraries, alongside our interesting history, we highly recommend William Dunn Macray’s Annals of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, A.D. 1598-A.D. 1867, which you can read online here. William Dunn Macray worked here at the Bodleian during the nineteenth century.

How can you discover what’s in the Summary Catalogue now?

The volumes of the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts are accessible in paper format in the Weston library and have also been digitised to be accessible remotely. Digitised scans, in PDF form, are available via SOLO: the first seven volumes are accessible here, and the last three volumes there.  The first few Summary Catalogue descriptions that we’ve converted since the project began in September have been published in Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts. You can find details of what’s been published so far on our New Additions page.

Meet the team:

We are two archivists working exclusively on the project: Alice Whichelow and Pauline Soum-Paris. Our colleague Kelly Burchmore also devotes some of her time to the project.

Alice Whichelow – Hi! I qualified as an archivist in September 2019, gaining my qualification in Archives and Records Management from University College London. As a history enthusiast, getting to explore some of the lesser known treasures of the Bodleian Libraries’ collection is great, and getting to share them is even better!

Pauline Soum-Paris – After completing my Master of Archives and Records Management at the University of Liverpool, I became a qualified archivist in September 2019. With interests in languages, history and religions, I can only see the collection held by the Bodleian Libraries as a goldmine and I am looking forward to sharing a few of the gems I come across every day!

Kelly Burchmore – As a project archivist who qualified in Digital Curation in March 2019, I work mostly on modern collections. Therefore, through the conversion process I enjoy learning about the physical characteristics of more traditional archive material; it’s interesting to read about the binding of the manuscripts, and see the meticulous methods by which they were catalogued. It’s great to work with Alice and Pauline to share the value of this project, and indeed, the collections and items themselves.

What you can expect from us:

The conversion of these Summary Catalogue descriptions into machine-readable form for online discovery is now well-underway, and new descriptions will be added regularly to Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts over the course of 2020 and 2021. We will be using this blog to keep you updated on what we find, sharing blog posts about items and collections from the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts which have sparked our interests. Likewise, if you have used the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts and have suggestions regarding items that fascinated you, do let us know in the comments. So, keep an eye out and enjoy!

What’s The Catch? Before Daniel Meadows’ Free Photographic Omnibus there was his free photographic studio, Moss Side

The first version of the catalogue for the Archive of Daniel Meadows, photographer and social documentarist, is available here. Meadows is distinguished for his tour of England in the Free Photographic Omnibus, 1973-1974, amongst many other works. This was a project he returned to in the mid 1990s to rephotograph those he had met and taken pictures of around England in the 1970s, culminating in his series of National Portraits: Now & Then, which have been exhibited both at home and abroad.

The portraits and related material from Meadows’ archive, such as national and international press coverage, are currently on display for a special exhibition in Blackwell Hall, where admission is free and everybody is encouraged to come and see. But for now, let’s take a look at what drove (pun unintentional) Meadows to tour England in a double decker bus for fourteen months.

dirt, smoke, rain and people

Meadows was born and raised in Great Washbourne, Gloucestershire, and although his time spent as a photography student at Manchester Polytechnic did not negate his appreciation of where he came from, it is clear that Meadows revelled in instilling his independence and resourcefulness in new environments. In January 1972 he rented a dilapidated barber’s shop in Greame Street, Moss Side and converted it into a photographic studio in which any local people who wandered in could have their picture taken, free of charge.

In a typescript, arranged with prints interspersed from his studio at Greame Street, titled ‘What’s The Catch?’, Meadows writes

‘Before coming to Manchester I had always lived in the most isolated and luscious countryside that this country had to offer. Moss Side Manchester is the extreme opposite, and yet, far from yearning for the sight of a cow or the smell of freshly-mown hay, I have come to love it for what it is; dirt, smoke, rain and people.’

On the next page, referencing the coming and going of the people, he writes

‘This is what I particularly like about the shop. As an [sic] habitual photographer of street life I am used to a constantly changing environment . A shop environment, then, seems to be contrary to the candid picture-making of the street. The opposite is true; the shop is merely an extension of the street and the people come in and go out in the same way as they walk the paving stones.’

(MS. Meadows 46, folder 1, ‘What’s The Catch?’)

Daniel Meadows outside his free photographic shop on Greame Street, with Moss Side residents, 1972.
MS. Meadows 46, folder 2. [photographer unknown]

‘I feel that, as a photographer who lives in the area, it is my job to make a record of a way of life which is to be destroyed’

Rather than Meadows actively seeking out photographic subjects for the Greame Street studio, he would take photographs of anybody and everybody who asked.  This is a significant characteristic Meadows would retain throughout the tour of the Free Photographic Omnibus. Through the nights of the tour, Meadows would develop the film and produce two copies of the portrait: one of these copies was always given to the person photographed.

As a student, Meadows’ sincere interest in the people and their everyday lives resonates, and his integrity is there in black and white. Meadows writes in July 1972 that

‘The reason for making photographic portraits of the inhabitants of Moss Side is that, with the demolition of the terraced houses, the population will be dispersed since many of the tenants will not be able to afford the increase in rent […] More than just the Victorian Terraces will go: a close knit community will be split up. I feel that, as a photographer who lives in the area, it is my job to make a record of a way of life which is to be destroyed.’

He goes on to write that Moss Side

‘[…] is, however, not alone in it’s plight among places where the quality of life is threatened by necessity for social change […] Over-population and environmental pollution are the poisons of the age and never before has man been forced into the situation of having to decide what kind of a future he wants for himself and his children. […] The free photographic studio was a pilot scheme for a much larger undertaking, namely to purchase a reconditioned second hand double decker bus for around £250 and travel up and down the length of the country making a record of the quality of life in England in 1973-1974.’

(MS. Meadows 50, folder 1, a circular entitled ‘Details of proposal’ distributed for help with sponsorship for the bus, July 1972)

Daniel Meadows standing in front of his newly purchased (second hand!) Bus on 24 July 1973
MS. Meadows 54. [photographer unknown]

A year later, on 24 July 1973, Meadows purchased the second hand double decker bus from Nottingham, and the journey of the Free Photographic Omnibus’ would begin.

 

 

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 Honora Edgeworth (1791-1858) 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.