In South Marston, just on the edge of Swindon, there’s an unremarkable-looking, medium-sized warehouse that contains a sizeable chunk of the world’s knowledge. Unlikely location as it might seem to those imagining the Bodleian and other famous libraries as crenelated holdfasts of forgotten tomes, it is in fact here, among the prefab walls and steel girders, that most of its collections are housed. The Book Storage Facility – soon to make good its new name as the Collection Storage Facility (CSF) – has for twelve years now been keeping safe more than 10 million titles, together with maps and other miscellaneous objects, on more than 150 miles of shelving. 30-ish aisles of more than 10 metres high filled with books ordered by size alone (!) are navigated by large picker-like assist vehicles that echo hollowly in the cavernous space. Despite the seemingly random placement, any book can be procured within a minute: if you order up your CSF materials in any Bodleian library by 10.30 am, you are guaranteed they will be available the same afternoon. At the same time, the CSF team works through an enormous mass of scan requests, often more than a hundred a day (more than a 1000 in the first week of Covid!). It was at this massive information management operation that we trainees got a look last week, and boy, were we impressed.
There was a time, as our wonderful CSF guide told us, when Bodleian book transit meant a horse-drawn dray going between different Oxford locations, the horse reportedly refusing to pass by the King’s Arms pub without a drink (one might think the driver had something to do with this, though). Today, vans go out twice daily from the CSF, where storage is optimised for efficiency. Books are sized (from A to E), sorted and packed onto short acid-free cardboard trays (assembled on site) in the large workroom. Then, they’re shelved several rows thick in the 70-metre long aisles of one of the four temperature- and humidity-controlled storage rooms (outfitted – for obvious reasons – with a massive sprinkler system: wet books, as we learned, can be repaired – charred books can’t). Because all items and trays are barcoded, the electronic request system is able to immediately show staff the most efficient way to fetch any item. It is people, though, who have had to input all these books onto that system: when the facility opened in 2010 (at a cost of more than 20 million pounds), 7.5 million items had to be ‘ingested’ into the facility in one go. These had been gathered together from previous storage locations, including the ‘New Bodleian’ (Weston) library and Gladstone Link, the former Nuneham Courtenay storage facility, and even deep storage in Cheshire salt mines! As a continuation of this mammoth operation (which took a mere 15 months!), two days a week new material still arrives from the Special Collections and Legal Deposit teams: indeed, once again, and in what is a stable motif in the history of the Bodleian, space is becoming a precious commodity, especially for the largest-size material! The planned new storage chambers will surely be very welcome.
The CSF, it should be stressed, does not just contain academic books: its materials are as varied as you could imagine. There’s university paperwork. There’s Mills and Boon. There are boxes of free toys that came with magazines. There are up to 2 million maps stored across multiple floors filled with planchests, some of which we got to have a look at (the relief map of Britain was a firm favourite!). There is archive material. There are busts. There are death masks. And all this mass of material is managed fulltime by only 23 people: that is, as our guide pointed out, almost half a million books per person. If that is not impressive, I’m not sure what is.
We all loved it. This visit was a privilege, and a joy, not least because of the warm welcome we received (thanks to the CSF staff!). Looking down from a platform over a vista of high shelving, a picker bleeping unseen in a distant aisle, and, when the door opens, a flash of Iggy Pop playing in the background, it’s actually a rather emotional sight: here they are, all of these books that writers poured their heart and time into, being kept safe for the future, in a warehouse in Swindon.
A steam train pulls into a station. It is late 19th century England, and floods of passengers dressed in full skirts and velveteen coats spill out onto the platform. Travellers are met by friends and relatives or hurry off to engagements elsewhere. Only one carriage remains occupied. When the crowds have dispersed and its inhabitant is found and unloaded by the station porters, it is not a person that emerges, but a camera. A camera, with all of its trimmings and trappings in tow.
This strange traveller was sent on its journey by one Charles Dodgson (1832-1898), also known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll. While perhaps best known for writing children’s stories, a recent addition to Christ Church Library sheds light on another creative aspect of Dodgson’s ‘one recreation’: photography.
One can imagine the bemused expressions of the station staff as the equipment is hauled off the train onto the platform. The logistics of taking a single successful photograph in these early days of photography were painstaking, with specialist equipment required by the carriage-load. This Oxford Tutor had taken to bringing hyperbole to life by sending his camera equipment ahead of him on the train whenever he worked outside Oxford.
The connection between Dodgson and Christ Church begins with his matriculation at Christ Church in 1851. In 1855 he became a lecturer in mathematics and while he later resigned from his lectureship due to the success of his writing career, he maintained his studentship and residency at Christ Church until his death in 1898.
The importance of photography in Dodgson’s life can be tracked by the proximity of his photographic studio to Christ Church. A priority from the beginning, in 1863 he hired the yard of a furniture store on St. Aldates to serve as a studio site, a space he used until 1871. Later, having moved to different rooms at Christ Church in 1868, Dodgson used the opportunity to build a studio even closer to home, building one from scratch on the roof above his rooms. This new studio ‘was accessed by a stairway within Dodgson’s rooms, and it consisted of a room for photography and a dressing room for his sitters.’
Dodgson’s fascination with photography began in the 1850s – the first decade in which picking up such a cumbersome hobby was possible for the (wealthy) amateur. The necessity of perfect lighting, exacting chemical treatments and statuesque sitters made this art form more of a labour of love than a relaxing pastime.
Interested in portraiture, Dodgson photographed local figures, including the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, Henry Liddell (1811 – 1898). Alice Liddell became the inspiration for a now very famous fictional Alice when she asked Dodgson to tell her a story during their famous boat trip on the River Thames. Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, the original version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, was gifted to Alice by Dodgson as a Christmas gift in 1864. The story was published in 1865, followed by Alice Through the Looking Glass in 1871.
When his imagination was above ground, Dodgson experimented with various photographic processes. Below is a brief description of the wet-plate collodion process – his favoured technique.
A glass plate is prepared by coating it with collodion and a soluble iodide.
In the darkroom the plate is submerged in a solution of silver nitrate. The binding of the silver nitrate with the iodide produces a silver halide coating, which is sensitive to light.
While still wet, the plate is taken from the darkroom to the camera in a light-proof holder.
In the camera, the holder is removed to expose the plate to light.
The plate is removed from the camera to the darkroom to be developed and fixed.
Lastly, a protective varnish is applied.
Then a young art, photography was elbowing its way onto the artistic scene – a stylistic jostling for status that must have come naturally to a process characterised by gangly tripods, endless boxes of chemicals, and sharp-edged glass plates.
Some early photography, particularly portraiture, was highly prescriptive. As with many new processes finding their feet, a large group of practitioners felt more comfortable playing by the rules to get photos ‘right’ rather than pushing any more boundaries in an already new art form.
Readers – take note. If ambushed by an insistent photographer, remember these easy rules for success!
‘[For women] Eyebrows arched, forehead round, […] hair rather profuse. Of all things, do not draw the hair over the forehead if well formed, but rather up and away. See the Venus de Medici, and the Canova’s Venus, in which the latter the hair is too broad.’
‘[For men] An intellectual head has the forehead and chin projecting, the high facial angle presenting nearly a straight line; bottom lip projecting a little; eyebrows rather near together and below (raised eyebrows indicate weakness). Broad forehead, overhanging eyelids, sometimes cutting across the iris to the pupil.’ 
Happily, Dodgson was not so bound by convention, and an interest in and playfulness with composition is clear in his surviving photographs. The man that wrote letters to his ‘child-friends’ in ‘mirror-writing’ experimented with reflections in his photography too. Stepladders, bannisters and the occasional window ledge are treated as photographer’s props to achieve images that attract and hold the viewers attention.
The recent addition to Christ Church Library’s collection of material relating to Charles Dodgson consists of a selection of letters written to the family of the Reverend James and Sarah Anne Thresher in March and October of 1875 regarding portraits he had taken of their children: Mary, Lucy and Elizabeth ‘Beta’ Thresher. Three out of the four letters are addressed as being written from Christ Church, and all are written in Dodgson’s characteristic purple ink. The black border around the letter dated March 17th is an example of mourning stationary, as Dodgson writes to give his sympathies for the death of Reverend Thresher’s aunt. These letters join a range of Dodgson material in the library, including manuscripts relating to his publications, original photographic prints, proof sheets and presentation copies of his various publications.
Dodgson was a prolific letter writer, writing roughly two thousand letters a year, ‘and with his characteristic fussiness in pigeon-holing every detail of his life, kept a letter register for thirty-seven years, which gives a précis of every letter sent and received, and at the time of his death contained 98,721 cross references.’ While Dodgson corresponded on all manner of topics, the main theme of these recently acquired letters concerns Dodgson’s wish to obtain some of the Thresher girls’ dresses, ‘as “properties” for [his] photographic studio’. The first letter explains to the girls’ mother, Sarah Anne Thresher, that ‘old half-worn-out’ dresses are preferable for Dodgson’s photographic purposes, as ‘new ones would look theatrical’. His hope was that these dresses could be used to ‘dress children in who come to be photographed’. We discover in a later letter that this wish came to pass, as he writes to Mrs Thresher that the ‘welcome parcel arrived safe’.
These letters are an exciting addition to Christ Church’s collection as they provide an insight into the way Dodgson thinks about his craft. We glimpse his attention to detail in the concern over the appearance of a dress that might look too ‘new’. In his first letter inquiring about the dresses, he expresses his wish that he might meet with the Threshers the following summer as he can visualise a photograph he wishes to take of Beta. He describes the pose he would have her strike with precision: ‘pulling at a rope […] the attitude I remember seeing her in one day [dragging a mutual friend across the room] – it would be a picture such as I have seldom had the opportunity of taking’. It seems that for Dodgson, photographs existed in his mind’s eye as fully formed entities – all he needed to do was assemble the moving parts. He never managed to create this particular photograph of Beta, however. There is no record of him ever photographing the Threshers again.
Despite protestations against the theatrical in the letter discussed above, such distaste was not a permanent state for Dodgson. We learn from Helmut Gernsheim’s Lewis Carroll: Photographer that Dodgson had ‘a cupboard full of costumes: some had been used in pantomimes at Drury Lane, some had been borrowed from friends, or, on occasion, even from the Ashmolean Museum’. Pantomime-like versions of gallant knights, acrobats and even Shakespeare are captured by Dodgson’s lens.
In these forays into worlds of bards, battles and the bright lights of the circus we can also spy attempts at something more serious. The playfulness of Dodgson’s approach goes some way in capturing the ‘lost realm’ of Victorian childhood, a concept that defied definition even then. What we also see in these surviving photographs is a particular moment in Victorian culture and artistic experimentation held in time, and, in the letters, the work undertaken to hold it there.
To see the photographs that Dodgson took of the Thresher children that began this chain of correspondence, see Edward Wakeling’s The Photographs of Lewis Carroll, A Catalogue Raisonné. Pages 256 to 261 show photos of the three daughters and the parents in various outfits and attitudes, and feature the dresses that came to join the “properties” in Dodgson’s photographic studio. Now a part of the library’s collection, the letters themselves are freely accessible to support study and research.
The final letter in this sequence brings us back to where we began. Dodgson asks a final favour of Sarah Anne Thresher as he writes:
Would you kindly send off my photo things to Ch. Ch. Oxford? I shall not be there till the 12th, so luggage train will be quite quick enough.
 Gernsheim, Helmut. Lewis Carroll: Photographer, (London: Max Parrish & Co. Limited, 1949) pp. 24 – 25 ‘Wherever [Dodsgon] went, he sent the apparatus in advance by rail, and when in London took it from place to place in a cab’.
 Taken from Dodgson’s journal. He writes on the 31st December 1855 his New Year’s resolutions, musing, ‘I hope to make good progress in photography in the Easter Vacation. It is my one recreation and I think it should be done well’.
 Wakeling, Edward. The Photographs of Lewis Carroll: A Catalogue Raisonné, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015), p. 4
With the holidays fast approaching, decorations have started to appear in the Libraries and a festive spirit is in the air. For some of our Graduate Library Trainees, it has been the perfect opportunity to reflect on the year so far, and talk about some of the highlights of their role.
Heather Barr, St Edmund Hall
We brought Christmas to St Edmund Hall’s Old Library this year with a display of books and archive materials with fun festive facts and college celebrations throughout the years. Our display includes beautiful wintery paintings, including one of Teddy Hall’s Front Quad in Snow (1966), given to Principal Kelly by the artist, Alexandra Troubetzkoy (see right). Our Old Library is home to the first scientific publication to interrogate the shape of snowflakes (see left): Johannes Kepler’s C. Maiest. mathematici strena seu De niue sexangula (1611) (SEH Shelfmark 4° G 18(6)).
Keplerconjectures that they must be formed as such to optimise their tessellation, like a honeycomb. Or, perhaps there is some quality in the water that causes them to freeze in their signature hexagonal shape? Most importantly, he identifies a link between the shape of snowflakes and other crystalline formations in rocks.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without some cards! We showcased Christmas cards from the Archives, collected and saved by Principal Emden during the Second World War (see right). These cards were sent from all over the world,including from H.M.S. Satellite, a naval ship in the middle of the ocean. Some have rather topical designs, such as a bull charging Hitler, or the three wise men being guided by a shining Intelligence Corps crest! Today, these cards serve a positive reminder that even in the midst of worldwide suffering and disaster, small messages of hope and love can go a long way.
Izzie Salter, Sackler Library
As term draws to a close, the Sackler Library has become quieter and quieter. Between issuing books on the main desk, my colleague and I have donned it with decorations. Crafted out of library paraphernalia – who knew archival tying tape could be so versatile – I hope this has brought some cheer to our more loyal readers, staying here until closure. To those based locally to the Sackler, do walk past the Ashmolean one evening. It looks beautiful this time of year.
My first term as a trainee has been wonderfully varied. I have been so fortunate to work on some amazing projects at the library, as well as spending time learning alongside my fellow trainees. A few highlights of this term include presenting Japanese photography books (which I have researched regularly over the past 3 months) at the History of Art Show and Tell, working with the trainees to produce Black History reading recommendations, and learning about conservation and special collections at the Weston Library. I can’t wait to see what the new year brings, after a restful Christmas break.
[NB the Sackler Library has now been renamed to the Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library]
Jemima Bennett, New College Library
New College Library Christmas started particularly early, even by Oxford standards, as by mid-November we had begun to put together a Christmas exhibition, and our Twitter advent calendar, choosing items and writing captions. I have also spent several very enjoyable afternoons wrapping books for our Surprise Christmas Loan scheme, as well as decorating our Christmas tree, and helping create an iconic book sculpture (pictured here). This term has been a blast – a wide-ranging and really relevant set of training sessions, an excellent trainee cohort, and being able to work with such beautiful manuscripts are definitely some highlights.
Lucy Davies, Social Science Library
At the SSL, we got into the Christmas mood by celebratingChristmas Jumper Day.Wearing our best festive jumpers (and masks!), we raised £142 for Save the Children. A highlight of this term has been the training sessions every week and gaining an insight into all the different jobs within the Bodleian Libraries. I especially loved the trip to the Conservation Studio at the Weston Library! I also really enjoy seeing the variety of books that arrive from the BSF every day and talking to readers about their research.
Georgie Moore, St John’s College Library
If you are following any Libraries, Museums, or Archives on Twitter, you’ll probably have noticed the annual December deluge of Christmassy content.
Outside of term time, I’m responsible for scheduling one Tweet a week, so I have been prowling our catalogue for festive material. Drafting a Tweet was part of the application process for this Trainee position, but even still I didn’t realise quite how much thought goes into maintaining a consistent tone and diversity of content.
Here are three of the tweet ideas that didn’t make the cut in December (and why not):
1. A Christmas Carol is a festive favourite for many, but Charles Dickens also contributed other seasonal stories to volumes like Mugby Junction: the extra Christmas number of All the year round (Vet.Engl.76). The small font and lack of illustrations aren’t very eye-catching for a Twitter photograph, but these advertisements provide a wintery window into Victorian buying habits: juvenile gift books, patented pickles and miniature billiards. (see left)
2. ‘The Exaltation of Christmas Pye’ – this might be cheating, but the only reason I haven’t shared this is because I didn’t find it! There are some highly quotable moments in this 17th-century mock-sermon (HB4/3.a.5.8(23)) such as when the author elevates the invention of
Christmas plum pies to the same level as ‘Guns and Printing’.
3. The Psalter (MS 82) includes some beautiful medieval illustrations. I’d wanted to caption this ‘When the waiter brings the final bill to the table after the work Christmas do’ but given the cancellation of so many Christmas parties this festive season, that felt like rubbing salt in the wound. (see left)
Josie Fairley Keast, Bodleian Law Library
Although I enjoy handling books as much as the next librarian, a surprising highlight for mehas been working with various forms of online resource provision.(This is perhaps less surprising to anyone who has had to listen to me talk about scanning recently).Fromtracking down resources for reading lists and LibGuides to navigating copyright restrictionsandexploring the UK Web Archive,I’ve really enjoyed my traineeship so far, and I’mlooking forward to getting more involved with certain areas in the new year.During a recentweekend shift, I was entrusted with decorating the LawBod Christmas tree – picturedis our resident angel,which I’m told was handmade by a previous trainee.
Sophie Lay, English Faculty Library
J. R. R. Tolkien and Nevill Coghill have donned now their gay apparel – the former in a classic Santa hat and the latter in a crown of golden holly tinsel – and the festive season has fully hit the English Faculty Library. As Graduate Trainee, it’s my job to decorate the library with the aforementioned festive headgear, as well as paper chains, miniature Christmas trees, and seasonal rubber ducks to join our regular desk companion, Bill Shakespeare.
The end of term has also left a little more time for reflection on the past few months. I’d be delighted to share with you just one of the parts of my job that I’ve enjoyed the most since starting here at Bodleian Libraries. Not to be incredibly corny, but interactions with readers really do add a delightful element to your average desk-shift. From friendly and familiar faces to unexpected compliments to charming lost-and-found items (including returning a child’s hand-written note which read ‘momy I luv yoo’), there is so much joy to be had in interacting with readers.
I’ll leave you off with a final festive treat. I’ve done some digging through the rare book room and have uncovered a little treasure. While it’s not the genuine article, we do have a delightful facsimile of Dicken’s original manuscript for A Christmas Carol, in his own handwriting and with his own edits – including his signature looping and cross-hatching. Just holding it makes me feel more festive!
Emily Main, History Faculty Library
The end of term was definitely noticeable in the library as students started heading home for their holidays. However, the arrival of Warner Brothers and the closure of the Upper Camera for filming has made for an interesting end before the Christmas closure. As well as being dazzled by extremely bright lights when sitting at reception and dodging crowds of fans, we’ve had to implement a book fetching service for books in the Upper Camera and trundle our BSF book crates on a circuitous route through the Old Bod and Gladstone Link! I have loved getting to know the trainees and the team here and enjoyed the variety of my role. A highlight of the role for me has been answering enquiries of readers that require me to dive into a search and investigate their question, for example, in helping them to locate primary resources.
Ben Elliott, Pembroke College Library
Christmas is here, and it is time to reflect. This term has flown by, but it’s been a good one. Pembroke’s library consists of the librarian, me and the archivist and because it is a small team it has meant my traineeship has been distinctly unique and varied. For instance, I have delivered a library induction to visiting fellows from Pembroke’s ‘The Changing Character of War Centre’ which involved talking to a room of senior military officers and a UN advisor… definitely not daunting at all! As well, I have met some truly fascinating and brilliantly eccentric individuals along the way, some even coming as far as from Utah.
It’s been particularly fun getting acquainted with Pembroke’s special collections, rare books and art collection and sharing them with students through object sessions and talks… especially when a talk discusses a naturalist’s book in our collection which attempts to convince readers that the platypus is, in fact, a real animal despite it looking odd!
Working with the college art has been brilliant. Inspecting the conditions of the college oil paintings with a freelance art conservator and the college archivist was a highlight. Staring at a painting of a 19th-century fellow whilst listening to ghost stories of said fellow is a moment I never expected in this job, but an enjoyable surprise, nonetheless.
Juliet Brown, Old Bodleian Library
As the year draws to a close, it is nice to see everyone getting excited about the holiday season. The decorations have gone up in the Bod, and it wouldn’t be Christmas without the Old School Quadrangle Christmas tree in pride of place.
As everyone gets ready to head home for the holidays, it is also a nice time to reflect on my first few months at the Old Bod, and the experiences that have shaped my role as the trainee in this incredible building. I have been very lucky to work within an incredibly supportive team, who put up with my constant questions and have made me feel at home in my new role. As the Old Bod trainee, I have been very fortunate in having an extremely varied working schedule. From duties in reader services (answering enquiries, issuing and returning books, leading tours, shelving, assisting with book deliveries, completing book scans), through to the more technical aspects of the role (helping with interlibrary loans, book processing, preparing books for repair, relabelling), my role has allowed me to complete an extremely diverse range of tasks. In addition, my manager has been keen for me to take on my own responsibilities, which have included designing new posters for the Lower Gladstone Link, creating instructional sheets for the evening team and rehoming a cupboard of abandoned books.
A highlight of the traineeship is the opportunity to take part in sessions designed to expand our knowledge about the various areas that make up librarianship. We have learnt about the technical skills needed for cataloguing, the complex world of Open Access, the importance of social media skills, and discovered the digital tools available to students and researchers at the University. In addition, the traineeship has allowed us to visit the Weston (for an insight into the role of the conservation team and special collections) and even spent an afternoon at the BSF.
I can’t wait to see what the New Year brings, both in terms of training and with my role, after a very restful break at home with my family, dog and lots of good food.
Interesting Find: Goethe’s Hair at the Taylor Institution Library
As promised, here is a longer post all about this most unusual artefact!
If you may not know already, the Taylor Institution houses a vast array of collections on Modern Languages and Literatures. We also house some amazing special collections. Including a lock of Goethe’s hair! The hair even has its own shelfmark: MS.8º.G.26. The shelfmark is an octavo. Professor Henrike Lähnemann of the University’s Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages finds this amusing. This is because the octavo refers to the original German paper slip holding the hair. Lähnemann has said that the slip is like a secular counterpart to the authentication papers which comes with saint’s relics. In the Middle Ages, they were called cedulae, where the name of the saint was noted and then tied to the relic. This placement of slip and hair in a small envelope appears to indicate the treatment of Goethe’s hair as if it were the relic of a saint. Today, Goethe’s hair continues to fascinate visitors of the library. The hair is displayed in a frame alongside a pressed violet and a portrait of Goethe, with the German paper slip and a little, ‘English’ envelope. Why does the Taylor have such a mysterious artefact, and how did the library even attain it in the first place? All will be revealed.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was considered to be the greatest German literary figure of the modern era. He was a statesman, and from 1775 joined the court of the Duke of Weimar. Goethe held several, responsible, administrative and advisory posts in the government. Yet, political duties got in the way of his writing. Eventually, Goethe left on a two year trip to Italy (without telling anyone!) in order to come to terms with his art. Upon returning to Germany, Goethe was no longer involved in public affairs. Instead, he cultivated his passions, including his plays, poems, and novels, but also his scientific studies. Goethe’s works include Faust (Part One and Two 1808 and 1832, respectively), Roman Elegies (1795), and The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774). Goethe also found the time to translate works into German, write an autobiography (Poetry and Truth, 1811-33), and also edit and publish several literary reviews!
Goethe died unexpectedly of heart failure, and left behind a vast legacy. He had a profound impact on later literary movements, including Romanticism and Expressionism. Goethe’s lifetime spanned some of the most monumental disruptions in modern history, and is often referred to as the Goethezeit or Age of Goethe.
Presumably, as was common place in western cultures, when a person was gravely ill or had died, locks of hair were shorn from Goethe’s head. The locks were then distributed to close family and friends. As creepy as it may seem to us in the 21st century, a lock of hair may have been comforting to the grieving and also act as a sign of prestige. By the end of his life, Goethe was highly celebrated, and to be seen to possess a lock of hair from the head of the man himself, certainly conveyed privilege. Those of you who are Goethe fans may have noticed this was in complete contrast to how his friend Eckermann viewed removing locks from Goethe’s head. In the final passage of Conversations with Goethe, Eckermann, upon seeing Goethe in his death bed, remembered how he ‘wished for a lock of his hair; but reverence prevented me from cutting it off’.
Clearly, the sheer, celestial monument of Goethe on his death bed, did not stop everyone from taking a small keepsake. There is no record whether Goethe gave his permission for a lock of his hair to be cut. Susan Halstead is a Social Sciences Subject Librarian at the British Library. According to her, Goethe’s reaction to such a request would have depended on who made it. Ottilie von Goethe, his daughter-in-law may have received a favourable response, as she cared for the elderly Goethe until his death. Whereas, Bettina von Arnim would have received a much dustier response. After all, her friendship with Goethe was ended, due to Bettina’s ‘insolent behaviour’ towards Goethe’s wife.
It is unclear how many people were able to obtain a lock of Goethe’s hair, but one person who did was Johannes Falk. Whilst there is no mention of Falk in any accounts of Goethe’s illness in 1823 and eventual passing, chronologies of the day were compiled by scholars collating diaries, letters and conversation in the 20th century. So, it was only people who were actually there at the time, who could have known that Goethe was convalescing. At the time, Goethe was recovering from a near fatal heart illness. It is possible that the lock of hair was cut, unbeknownst to Goethe, whilst he was enjoying a restorative sleep.
Falk (1768-1826) was a German publisher and poet. Frequenting the literary circles of Schiller and Goethe, he became a close friend of Goethe. Therefore, Falk may have been one of Goethe’s visitors when he was taken ill. One inscription accompanying the hair was possibly penned by Falk himself (see Figure 2). The inscription is simply entitled Goethes Haar (Goethe’s hair) and reads as follows:
Diese Locke(n) wurden ihm 2ten März in den Tagen seiner Genesung von der Krankheit abgeschnitten.
This lock was cut from him on the 2nd March in the days of his convalescence from illness
There is currently, no direct evidence that Falk was the true author of this inscription. To establish true authorship, handwriting analysis would have to be undertaken. Manuscripts penned by Johannes kept in the Falk Archive in Weimar, would need to be compared with the inscription. Despite this, there is still a high possibility that Johannes wrote it.
According to the testimony of John Falk, the living descendant of Johannes Falk, he passed on the hair to a daughter, who then proceeded to pass it onto John’s great grandfather. A second inscription also accompanies the artefact and seems to confirm this, with the heading of Goethe’s hair (see Figure 2). The text is in English and is as follows:
Given me by my Aunt, Mrs Gabriele Saeltzer, of Weimar, the only surviving child of my Father’s Uncle, Johannes Daniel Falk, the Satirist and Friend of Goethe. Given me at Catsclough, Cheshire on Fri Aug. 19. 1881. H. John Falk.
The inscription is on the English little envelope in which the lock of hair was kept for 58 years. It is unclear if Gabriele Sältzer was visiting Catsclough or if she was a resident. It is very possible that she was one of Johannes’ daughters, as out of the ten children Johannes had with his wife Caroline Rosenfield, only two daughters survived. If Gabriela was Johannes’ youngest daughter, she would have been in her sixties in 1881. Therefore, she must have treasured the hair for most of her life. It may be natural to assume that she wanted to pass it and other small relics such as the portrait of Goethe and the pressed violet onto the next generation. Gabriele or Falk may have added these items, intending them to be accompanied with the hair wherever it went. Presumably in a similar act of veneration, H. John Falk may have framed the three little items (see Figure 1).
A violet seems to be an odd choice to accompany the hair. But the reason for this, as Lähnemann explained, is due to the popularity of Das Veilchen (The Violet), which is a poem by Goethe. The last stanza of the poem is:
Ach! aber ach! das Mädchen kam
Und nicht in Acht das Veilchen nahm,
Ertrat das arme Veilchen.
Es sank und starb und freut’ sich noch:
Und sterb’ ich denn, so sterb’ ich doch
Durch sie, durch sie,
Zu ihren Füßen doch.
Das arme Veilchen
Es war ein herzigs Veilchen!
But alas, alas, the girl drew near
And took no heed of the violet,
Trampled the poor violet.
It sank and died, yet still rejoiced:
And if I die, at least I die
Through her, through her
And at her feet.
The poor violet!
It was a dear sweet violet!
Goethe’s poem was composed as a song for voice and piano by Mozart in 1785. Mozart’s composition would have made Das Veilchen a staple piece to be enjoyed in the 19th century drawing room. The violet is a tad masochistic, but its addition is a romantic touch, alluding to the popular ‘crush’ on Goethe.
The sketched portrait has been observed to be similar to other portraits of Goethe. In particular, in Goethes aussere Erscheingung: literarische und kuenstlerische Dokumente seiner Zeitgenossen by Emil Schaeffer, we can see striking similarities between it and the porcelain painting by Ludwig Sebbers (1826) in Figures 3 and 4.
There are also noted similarities in a lithograph by Grevedon, a copy of a lost drawing by Orest Adamovitsch Kiprensky (1823) in Figure 4. In both portraits, we can see the same receding hairline. However, the Kiprensky portrait differs from the sketched portrait and Sebbers’ porcelain painting as Goethe’s facial expression is more severe. It is interesting to note that one these portraits, Goethe’s hair is depicted as being quite frizzy, whilst the actual lock of hair appears to be straight. Yet, in the chalk drawing by Karl Christian von Vogelstein (1824), Goethe is depicted with much straighter hair (see Figure 5). Vogelstein’s sketch of Goethe is not as flattering as Sebbers’ and Kiprensky’s portraits. Goethe is depicted with large, liquid eyes and a prominent nose. Depending on the artist, Goethe’s appearance will differ. Overall, considering the three portraits, there are features which do bear resemblance to the sketched portrait. Therefore, the unknown artist of the sketched portrait may have been inspired by other, contemporary portraits of Goethe.
At the start of this post, I mentioned Lahnemann’s observations regarding the hair as if it were a relic of a saint. Johannes Falk and his daughter may have intended the lock to be revered as something holy and immortal. This appears to be a sentiment that Taylor librarians have also shared. In 1953, John’s grandfather, Oswald, agreed to have the hair displayed at the Taylor. The librarian at the time, Donald Sutherland, promised Oswald that the hair would be kept in a show-case in one of the reading rooms. For nearly 70 years, the hair has been either on display or (at present!) kept in the rare book room at the library. It has never been taken out of its frame, nor separated from the crushed violet or sketched portrait.
Nick Hearn, French and Russian Subject Consultant at the Taylor, adds that in the lock of Goethe’s hair the comical and frivolous seem to combine with the eternal and the hagiographical.
Our obsession with Goethe continues.
I would like to thank my colleagues at the Taylor Katie Day, Emma Huber and Nick Hearn- for their assistance. Thank you for lending me notes and forwarding some very interesting email chains.
Thank you Professor Henrike Lahnemann and Susan Halstead for your intriguing interpretations surrounding the lock of hair.
Eckermann, Johann Peter. 1839. Conversations with Goethe in the last years of his life. Hilliard, Gray, and company: Boston. Translated from the German by Margaret Fuller.
We are currently six months into our trainee year (where has the time gone?!). Every one of us is enjoying the experience so far and are even *gasp* starting to consider our careers after this year. When discussing how our work is going at our individual libraries, we have begun to realise that each library is different in its environment and history. Therefore, no two trainee experiences are going to be alike. To illustrate this best, we decided to collaborate together on a (longer than usual) post to showcase the most interesting finds or objects in our libraries. These range from interesting books to some quite unusual artefacts on display. So quickly grab your chosen beverage and get cosy as you go on the unseen tour of Oxford’s libraries!
Upon first glance, Arch.8°.F.1495 looks much like the rest of the rare books alongside which it sits at the Taylorian. Its green Moroccan binding is so dark it appears nearly black, lending its exterior a non-descript quality that reveals very little about its fascinating contents. Surprisingly, this unassuming volume contains two important incunables, Guielmi Castelli’s Due Elegie and Augustine of Hippo’s Confessiones.
I began exploring this volume’s history by researching its maker. A binder’s mark pasted over the vibrant orange endpaper in the upper right corner of the book’s inside front cover states it was bound by “J. Faulkner of 8 Queen Street, Little Tower Hill.” In a London street directory from August of 1817, I discovered a listing for a J. Faulkner at 8 Queen Street, while Johnstone’s London Commercial Guide from May of 1818 lists a “John Faulkner, bookbinder” at that same address. Thanks to an entry in the Glasgow Incunabla Project, I confirmed that Faulker’s bookbinding shop was in business from 1809 to 1833. It seems clear, then, that Arch.8°.F.1495 was bound during this period.
It is possible, though not certain, that the volume’s disparate works were brought together for the first time then in this 19th century context. The Confessions is the much better known of the two works it contains, not solely because of the controversy it caused in the 4th century when Augustine rejected paganism in favour of the rapidly spreading Christianity, but also because of his role in shaping Christian tenets of faith for centuries thereafter. During the Renaissance, amid a revival of interest in the classical “greats,” figures like Augustine were venerated and texts like the Confessions were spread throughout Europe with the aid of the newly invented printing press. The Elegies and its author are, by contrast, much less famous. Castelli, also known as Guillaume Castel, was a French poet and clergyman who lived and worked in Tours from 1458 to 1520, and his Latin text does not appear to be well known. I can only speculate about how two such different texts came to be bound together by Faulkner in London over 300 years later. It’s possible that they were joined when they were printed in the early Renaissance since they share a consistent gothic type, but a shift in the rubrication and the paper quality suggests that they were not previously bound as one. Perhaps Faulkner believed there was money to be made from a volume that combined Augustine and Castelli’s works, but more likely he had a patron who saw an educational value in combining them.
The first clue to the identity of this patron can be found, ironically, at the back of the book, in the form of a donation plate for the Fry Collection. In 1955, the daughters of Joseph Forrest Fry and Susanna Fry donated their family’s collection to numerous libraries across Oxford University. Arch.8°.F.1495 was among those that arrived at the Taylorian. Two family crests on the inside of the front cover of the volume offer further clues about the book’s provenance. The bookplate pasted in the centre of the inner cover identifies the book as having belonged to the personal library of William Horatio Crawford, a collection he would have inherited along with his family estate in the mid 19th century. After researching the Crawford family history, I ascertained that the book must have joined the collection prior to William’s death in 1888. An 1891 newspaper clipping which reads like an advertisement for those interested in purchasing incunables is attached a few pages into the book and is almost certainly a record of sorts for the sale of the Crawford collection. The second crest, that of the Inglis family, may have been attached at this point, indicating that they purchased the book in 1891. Alternatively, it may have been attached much earlier, in which case someone in the Inglis family may have been the patron at whose behest Faulkner bound the Elegies and Confessions together sometime between 1809 and 1833. Given that in 1788 a Dr. Charles Inglis founded my high school, King’s-Edgehill in Windsor, Nova Scotia, I was surprised to stumble across this possible (albeit tenuous) Canadian connection, and I plan to delve further into the relationship between Arch.8°.F.1495 and the Inglis family.
Battershall, Fletcher. Bookbinding for Bibliophiles: Being Notes on Some Technical Features of the Well Bound Book for the Connoisseurs. Greenwich: The Literary Collector Press, 1905.
Johnstone’s London Commercial Guide. London, 1818.
Hughes, Jill. “The Taylor Institution Library.” In David Paisey (ed.): German studies: British resources. Papers presented at a colloquium at the British Library 25-27 September 1985. London 1986, pp. 196-204.
Marks, P.J.M. The British Library Guide to Bookbinding: History and Techniques. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.
Pearson, David. English Bookbinding Styles 1450-1800. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press, 2005.
Saint Augustine. Confessions. Translated by Henry Chadwick. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Sotheby’s: Six Centuries of Book Binding. London: Sotheby’s, 2002.
Street directory of London. London, 1817.
Washbourne, Henry. The Book of Family Crests. Berkeley: University of California, Berkeley, 1840.
Zaehnsdorf, Joseph William. The Art of Bookbinding: a practical treatise, with plates and diagrams. London: George Bell & Sons, 1890.
Jaron Lanier, Who Owns The Future?: Tom Vickers (Sainsbury Business School Library)
Honestly – I picked this off the shelf for its cover. For such a provocative title (evoking the mega-corps of cyberpunk dystopias that lurk in every popular sci-fi rendering of what’s to come) it’s a calming, quite beautiful image. It even ends up being resonant to Lanier’s argument too – a graceful representation of a collective of individuals, and of iteration, algorithmic or otherwise. There’s two pieces of media calling themselves ‘All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace’. One is the original 1967 poem by counterculture grandee Richard Brautigan and the other is a 2011 documentary by another Richard, this time Curtis that bleakly shreds the utopian visions of the 60s. This book reminds me of both, and I suspect its author knows and thinks well of both as well. It also has the crucial quality of a book about the future of having been right so far – about fake news, the erosion of democracy, and a whole host of contemporary horrors. Somehow, while reading it, I’m not as depressed about that as I perhaps should be. Lanier has a wry sense of humour about reality which you get the feeling is as much a product of his perceptiveness as the book insights, insights which Lanier makes disarmingly often in a much wider variety of topics than the stated subject fields of technology and economics. He’s honest, personal, and explains things well, and so the book is and does these things too. I have a close friend I’ve known since university who has unnervingly high scores in an Economics & Economic History degree and a subsequent career advising governments on long-term investments, and talking points in here helped me start really picking up what he’s been putting down for years in half a dozen areas of conversation. I may well buy him a copy for his 30th.
Amelia B. Edwards: Erin McNulty (Sackler Library)
While researching for a book display that I was putting together to celebrate LGBT+ History Month at the Sackler Library, I came upon the work of Amelia B. Edwards. Edwards, born in 1831, was an English novelist, journal, and traveller, who contributed greatly to the field of Egyptology, co-founding the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1882. She was also the founder of the Edwards Chair of Egyptology at University College London. Edwards died in 1892 from influenza, and was buried alongside her partner, Ellen Drew Braysher. In 1877, she published a best-selling travelogue that she had written about her journeys in Egypt, titled A Thousand Miles up the Nile.
I discovered that an 1877 edition of this work was stored in the Sackler’s Rare Book Room, where we house some of our special collections. The book contains illustrations by Edwards of various sites that she visited during her time in Egypt, and its cover is beautifully decorated. The work even has a dedicatory message and signature from the author written inside! Some pictures of the book are included below:
Unfortunately, I was not able to display this older edition, but a newer edition was also available. However, anyone with a valid University or Bodleian card can view our Special Collections materials, such as the above work by Edwards, on request; just ask at the Issue Desk. Also, feel free to come along and have a look at our LGBT+ History Month display, or visit the Sackler blog for more details: http://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/sackler/ .
[NB the Sackler Library has now been renamed to the Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library]
The Elizabethan Zoo: Emma Jambor (English Faculty Library)
One of my favourite books from the English Faculty Library is The Elizabethan Zoo (edited by M. St. Clare Byrne, published in 1926) from our Rare Book Room. The book describes a variety of normal and fantastical beasts, from the authentic rhino to the extraordinary Hydra and Mantichora. The sources for the text and illustrations come from Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, Topsell’s The History of Four-footed Beasts (1607) and The History of Serpents (1608). I particularly love the fantastical and frightening illustrations.
Tiny Books!: Evie Brown (Bodleian Library)
My interesting find in the Bodleian collections was a very ordinary transit box…full of tiny children’s books! I love to collect early additions of children’s books – there is something about the illustrations which never fails to bring a smile to my face – so this was an exciting discovery for me. Many of the books in the collection are by Ernest Aris, an early 20th century author and illustrator with an impressive CV of 170 titles to his name.
Aris’ books are beautifully illustrated, with bright and personable characters and it definitely makes a change to the traditional dusty classics and theology books held in the Bodleian!
As well as Aris’ collection of books, the box also contains some re-written classics – The Arabian Nights, Robinson Crusoe and Alice in Wonderland to name but a few – by Kathleen Fitzgerald. These are interesting as they are bound in suede with gold lettering – beautiful but makes for some grubby fingers!
The final piece I wanted to share was a beautiful book, with a cardboard cover and no binding – the pages are simply held together with string. I love the illustrations, and the tiny matchbox sized box that the book came in. I have included a picture of the book next to my Bodleian reader card to give some perspective – it really is tiny! This book is definitely my favourite as it reminds me a little of the type of things I used to love to make when I was a child, and you can’t help but smile when you see it!
I hope you enjoyed my little interesting find; it’s definitely something a bit different!
Wonders of the Stereoscope – John Jones (London: Roxby Press Productions, 1976): Rhiannon Hartwell (Bodleian Library)
Can you ever be sure you’re seeing the same thing as someone else? How do you teach another person to see what you see?
In addition to providing ample entertainment to Reading Room staff at the Old Bod, Wonders of the Stereoscope has raised a lot of interesting questions about perception and vision!So, what is a stereoscope, exactly? Stereoscopy was developed in the mid-19th century; two images, called ‘stereographs’ are developed side-by-side, showing the left- and right-eye views of a single image. When viewed through a specially-designed stereoscope lens, at the right distance and with relaxed, unfocused vision, the near-identical images should overlap until one, three-dimensional image appears.
According to Brian May (yes, that Brian May, of the band Queen), who formed the London Stereoscopic Company in the early 2000s as a result of his lifelong experimentation with stereoscopy, such images can also be ‘free-viewed’ without the use of lenses – though success with this method has been limited at the Old Bod!
Wonders of the Stereoscope is my favourite item I’ve seen come through the Old Bodleian reading rooms because of the sheer joy it provokes in the reading room team, as everyone shares in the camaraderie of learning a bizarre and intriguing new skill. The images provided by Wonders of the Stereoscope certainly don’t hurt, either – from Charles Blondin perilously balanced on a tightrope across the Niagara Falls, to a walrus in trousers kissing a man on the lips, the often hilarious variety of images provided endless amusement even before they were seen in 3-D!
Thomas Hearne, Remarks and Collections: Harriet David (History Faculty Library)
Tucked down in the local history section in the Lower Gladstone Link (the lowest level of the Bodleian, so close to the water table that it has a pump lurking discreetly in one corner) are the eleven volumes of Thomas Hearne’s Remarks and Collections, published between 1885 and 1921 by the Oxford Historical Society.
Thomas Hearne (bap. 1678, d. 1735) was an antiquary, librarian, and indefatigable gatherer-up of old books, remarkable tales, and Oxford gossip – Hearne matriculated from St Edmund Hall in 1695, and rose rapidly through the academic ranks. His Remarks and Collections are one of the great eighteenth-century diaries, a daily record of Hearne’s life, scholarly discoveries, and political vituperations spanning the years from 1705 to 1735. During this time, Hearn rose to become Second Librarian of the Bodleian, in 1712, and by 1715 had been appointed to the splendidly-named University posts of Architypographer of the Press (responsible for maintaining the standards of the University Press, then lodged in the basement of the Sheldonian Theatre) and Superior Beadle of Civil Law. A glowing future within the Bodleian seemed assured.
Later that same year, however, Hearne was to be ousted from all these posts. So ‘inraged’ was John Hudson, then Bodley’s Librarian, that Hearne records ‘he had the Lock & Key of the Library Door altered on purpose to exclude me from going in and out when I pleased, my own Key being now perfectly useless’ (Remarks and Collections, vol. V, pp. 137-8). Hearne didn’t just get himself fired from the Bodleian – his boss literally changed the locks to keep him out.
This dramatic fall from grace was the result of awkward political and social affiliations. Hearne was a committed and vocal nonjuror (he refused – except on his initial entry to the University – to swear the required oath of loyalty to William and Mary) and Jacobite. Even in the distinctly conservative atmosphere of early eighteenth-century Oxford, his outspoken loyalty to the Stuarts was an embarrassment for the University, which took measures – however inelegant – to protect itself. Hearne’s account of his dismissal, which involves him taking care to read out John Hudson’s ‘false spellings’ (‘Upder Library Keeper’) verbatim, throwing the Vice-Chancellor into a ‘Passion’ (Remarks, vol. V, p. 181), does not show Enlightenment Oxford at its most dignified.
Hearne endured, however. Denied access to Bodleian manuscripts, and refusing – especially towards the end of his life – to spend so much as a single night away from Oxford, he nevertheless refashioned himself as an independent publisher, printing scholarly editions of pre-Reformation texts for a list of dedicated subscribers. And, all this time, he was making a daily entry in his Remarks. They record much valuable bibliographical information, several vigorous (if often one-sided) feuds, and many local curiosities: Hearne was evidently a collector of old people as well as old texts, and the volumes are peppered with his accounts of the remarkably aged, and with their accounts, as told to Hearne, of lost buildings, noted ancestors, and Oxford history. They also give a vivid sense of a stubborn, punctilious, and learned man, as ready to note down ‘Strange lights in the air […] in and ab[ou]t Oxford’ (Remarks, vol. V, p. 181), or a student riot occasioned by a bull-baiting at Headington (the students wished to tie a cat ‘to the Bulls Tayl’; locals objected. The fate of the cat is not recorded (Remarks, Vol. IX, p. 295)), as to chase down early editions of Leland or record the falling prices of Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (once ‘a common-place for filchers’ of Burton’s learning, now ‘disregarded’; even Isaac Newton’s works, Hearne reflects, may ‘also in time be turned to wast paper’ (Remarks, Vol. XI, p. 298)).
Hearne died in his lodgings in St Edmund Hall in 1735. He kept his old set of keys to the Bodleian until his death.
If you may not know already, the Taylor Institution houses a vast array of collections on Modern Languages and Literatures. We also house some amazing special collections. Including a lock of Goethe’s hair! The hair is kept in a frame alongside a pressed violet and a portrait of Goethe, with the German paper slip and a little, ‘English’ envelope.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was considered to be the greatest German literary figure of the modern era. He died unexpectedly of heart failure, and left behind a vast legacy. Goethe had a profound impact on later literary movements, including Romanticism and expressionism. His lifetime spanned some of the most monumental disruptions in modern history, and is often referred to as the Goethezeit or Age of Goethe.
It is unclear how many people were able to obtain a lock of Goethe’s hair, but one person who did was German publisher and poet Johannes Falk. At the time, Goethe was recovering from a near fatal heart illness. It is possible that the lock of hair was cut, unbeknownst to Goethe, whilst he was enjoying a restorative sleep. According to the testimony of John Falk, the living descendant of Johannes Falk, he passed on the hair to a daughter, who then proceeded to pass it onto John’s great grandfather.
In 1953, John’s grandfather, Oswald, agreed to have the hair displayed at the Taylor. The librarian at the time, Donald Sutherland, promised Oswald that the hair would be kept in a show-case in one of the Reading Rooms. For nearly 70 years, the hair has been either on display or kept in the rare book room at the Library.
Personally, I find the hair absolutely fascinating. As creepy as it may seem to us in the 21st century, a lock of hair may have been comforting and also act as a sign of prestige. By the end of his life, Goethe was highly celebrated, and to be seen to possess a lock of hair from the head of the man himself, certainly conveyed privilege. Nick Hearn, French and Russian Subject Consultant at the Taylor, adds that in the lock of Goethe’s hair the comical and frivolous seem to combine with the eternal and the hagiographical. I quite agree, as the hair has never or rarely been separated from its accompanying items. I have written a longer piece, providing more details on the hair and its associated paraphernalia. I will post this soon!
In my first blog, I mentioned the twice-daily deliveries of books from our Book Storage Facility in Swindon to the Old Bodleian site- as well as other Bodleian Libraries. Something exciting arrived in a recent delivery:
The Yellow Fairy Book (ed. Andrew Lang) was called up from the closed stacks. This was not interesting in itself (although it is a first edition and has a nice cover) until we opened up the book and saw that the last borrower had left their slip in there.
That’s right- the J.R.R. Tolkien used this very book! The book mustn’t have been touched for several decades and so the slip has remained in place.
I contacted the Bodleian’s Tolkien Archivist, Catherine McIlwaine, who was able to confirm this. She explained that Tolkien looked at the book ahead of giving his famous Andrew Lang lecture at the University of St Andrews on 8th March 1939. The lecture was published as an essay entitled ‘On Fairy Tales’ in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, alongside contributions by contemporary academics such as C. S. Lewis and Dorothy L Sayers who also went on to have literary success.
Library records show that Tolkien consulted the book, among others, on the 27th February 1939. He was obviously working hard, preparing for the lecture, just ten days prior to delivering it (this makes me feel less guilty about all those essays hastily put together days before they were due!).
I went to Weston Library, which houses the University’s Special Collections, to look at the library records and see what else Tolkien looked at on the day. At the time Tolkien visited the library, the basement space underneath the Radcliffe Camera was a closed stack where only staff were allowed. Librarians would fetch any books stored there for readers to consult in the reading rooms. (The area is now called the Gladstone Link and is open to readers to use as a study space and to find books on the shelves themselves.)
MS. Library Records b. 618 ‘Camera Basement and Underground Bookstore Volumes fetched for Bodleian Readers’ & the inside of the book where you can see Tolkien’s name was recorded. The shelf mark ‘93 e.71’ is ‘The Yellow Fairy Book’.
The librarians recorded number of items requested each day, the time each book was requested, the shelf mark of the book, name of the reader and the seat number where they were sitting. Books were then fetched and delivered to the desk. I checked on our catalogue to see what items the shelf marks referred to.
At 10:30am Tolkien requested to see: The Olive Fairy Book, ed. by A. Lang (1907) The Book of Dreams and Ghosts, by A. Lang (1897) The Lilac Fairy Book, ed. by A. Lang (1910) The Green Fairy Book, ed. by A. Lang (1892) Favourite Fairy Tales (Fairy tales retold) 1907 The Brown Fairy Book, ed. by A. Lang (1904) The Crimson Fairy Book, ed. by A. Lang (1903) The Violet Fairy Book, ed. by A. Lang (1901) The Yellow Fairy Book, ed. by A. Lang (1894)
Later on, at 11:30am, he requested: Fairy Gold, a book of old English Fairy Tales chosen by Ernest Rhys (1907) The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies (compiled in 1893) by Robert Kirk Essays in Little by A. Lang (1891) Perrault’s Popular Tales, ed. by A. Lang (1888) The Magic Ring, and other stories from the Yellow and Crimson Fairy Books, ed. by A. Lang (1906) English Fairy and other folk tales, selected and edited by Edwin Sidney Hartland (1893)
As well as for use in his upcoming lecture, the stories in these books would no doubt have inspired Tolkien with his own fiction. The slip we found was left in the book at the beginning of The Dragon of the North a story about a courageous youth who defeats a man-eating dragon. He manages this feat with a magic ring, stolen from a witch maiden. Amongst many of its powers, if placed on the third finger of the left hand, it turns the wearer invisible. In the end, the ring is too powerful, and the youth learns that ‘ill-gotten gains never prosper’ when the witch retrieves the ring and punishes him for his deception. There is a eucatastrophe- the term Tolkien coined to describe happy endings in Fairy Tales- as the youth is rescued and made king.
It looks like Tolkien must have returned to consult The Yellow Fairy Book at least once more, as the slip suggests he sat in seat 23 of the Upper Reading Room- whereas the records from the 27th February state seat 22. He obviously liked that particular area of the reading room (I must say, it has a nice view of the Radcliffe Camera through the window!)
Here’s me, sitting in seat 23 in the Upper Reading Room, pretending to be Tolkien!
It was pretty thrilling to open up the book and find the Tolkien slip; and interesting to trace his steps and see what other books he used, during the period when he would have been writing Lord of the Rings. It makes him feel more real, somehow, to know that he used the library just like us!
It also makes me excited for the upcoming exhibition, curated by Catherine McIlwaine, entitled Tolkien: Beyond Middle Earth which will open at the Weston Library in June 2018.
In exciting (albeit belated) news, Saturday 7th February was National Libraries Day! In this age of austerity and self-service, where both public and private institutions are stretched, and arguably at risk of undervaluing the social importance of access to and curation of
culture, an annual celebration of libraries: libraries academic, libraries special and libraries public, and of course of the staff and volunteers who keep them running, using their
enthusiasm, specialist knowledge and research skills to bring readers and books together. It was a day for exhibitions, author visits, talks, special events and shelfies; to find out more, check out where you’ll find juicy library-related news items, including a speech by
John Lydon (yes, that one).
To mark the occasion, here’s my account of one of the reasons the Bodleian Libraries are key members of the global research community: legal deposit.
The Bodleian Libraries form one of six Legal Deposit (LD) Libraries in the UK; the others
being Cambridge University Library, the British Library, the National Libraries of Wales and of Scotland, and Trinity College Dublin. Each of these libraries is entitled to receive a print or digital copy of every item published in the UK. Every published item received is to be
preserved as far into the future as possible, so that a centuries-long cultural record of the
nation will always be available to scholars, authors, publishers and others who need it.
A Clever Deal
Legal deposit began in 1610 as an agreement between Thomas Bodley and the Stationers’ Company; his new library in Oxford would be stocked with everything published under royal license, and in return the Bodleian would keep these works for the benefit of future generations. In 1662, the Royal Library and Cambridge University Library gained the same privilege, forming the basis of what would later become the Copyright Act; this was
continually built upon in law to become the system of legal deposit as we currently know it.
My Place in Perpertuity
The BLL receives those LD books related to law, so one of my weekly jobs is to process these items. When the books start coming in on Thursday, on my copy of the VBD (see my previous post) I record which books I’ve received, which are missing and any conflicts.
These occur when more than one library has an interest in a particular title; a book on the Civil Rights Movement and law, for example, might be selected by the Vere Harmsworth
Library as well as us. The conflict list is emailed round to the librarians who selected the books in question, who decide where they will go based on reading lists, the perceived needs of readers and so on. I count them for our stats, then tattle and edge-stamp them.
Some of the books arrive with blue flags; these have minimal-level catalogue records and need updating. In the Aleph cataloguing module, I bring up the MARC21 record and search for similar ones, from the British National Bibliography, the Library of Congress, WorldCat, or Copac, and I pick the one that best conforms to RDA standards. Next, I save the
downloaded record as “Provisional”; it’s lovely when no error messages come up, which means I chose a good, sound record. Lastly, I hand all the books over to the cataloguing team, who use the record I downloaded as a base to work from.
Books to cross my desk recently have covered topics as diverse as oil and gas law,
cybersecurity, hate crime, the use of torture in counter-terrorism, the regulation of
tobacco; last week’s list even included a monograph we didn’t eventually get about the
legal status of whales vs. elephants.
Legal Deposit and the Bodleian
It’s estimated that overall, the Bodleian libraries receive 80,000 physical LD monographs per year, and 78,000 serials. All these resources have to go somewhere, and the creation of shelf space is an ongoing concern; Sarah and Hannah’s November blog post on the BSF gives an idea of the problem’s scale.
Overall, however, our LD entitlement benefits the Bodleian libraries immensely, in
allowing us to provide access to a much wider range of scholarly works than if we relied upon purchases and donations alone. Oxford’s libraries provide a uniquely thorough
resource for research, and it is satisfying as a librarian to take my small part in preserving the UK’s intellectual and cultural heritage in perpetuity. Were he alive today, Bodley would surely be awed at the quantity of legal deposit material being added daily to Oxford’s
collections; and it all started with his one canny idea.
I decided to allow my inner geek have a trip out, and so we went to the talk at Magdalen College Library ‘Classifying the world: John Wilkins and the invention of a universal language’, by Tabitha Tuckett, who is one of the librarians there.
John Wilkins was a clergyman and scientist from the seventeenth century who decided to try and make up his own language, to be understood by all, and his method of doing so was essentially to classify the world. As Wikipedia says, it was “brilliant but hopeless”.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I mostly associate language invention with Tolkien, and my immediate mental image of an invented universal language is something like Esperanto. Wilkins’s invention of a universal language was different to both.He did not base his language on other European languages, rather, he believed that the way to achieve a language to be characterised by ease and usefulness was to base it on a logical system of classification. He would use categories and subcategories to create building blocks for conveying meaning, and attach phonemes to each building block to create words.
In the seventeenth century there was a movement to try and bring about a universal language, to create a language that could be understood by all. This movement was in part brought about by the decline in Latin as a lingua franca, and also by the increase in travel to parts of the world where the people spoke languages nothing like the European ones.
Wilkins developed a system of hierarchical classification, which he intended to be both spoken and written. The gist I got was that Wilkins’s aim was to arrange all human knowledge into categories, like Linnaeus would later do (with more success) with plants. He tried to arrange all of human knowledge into categories. Wilkins started with a broad concept, represented by one letter, and then added suffix after suffix to narrow it down. He had forty broad categories (genuses), ranging from God to disease to stones. Each genus could then be divided into sub categories, to aid the defining of them. Stones, for example, could then be divided into vulgar stones, middle prized, or precious; dissolvable and non-dissolvable. And vulgar stones could furthermore be sub categorised into greater or lesser magnitude, and so on.
His work then becomes of interest to linguists. I found the relationship between Wilkins’s language to his script and pronunciation quite hard to grasp. He developed a script, all squiggles, represented meaning directly. This means that his words could be written without ever being spoken, and his language was more of a classification scheme than a language that Tolkien might have made up.
I found it extremely interesting, especially how his language was limited by the inability to classify the extent of human knowledge. It was also limited by issues with tense and voice, and was a very brusque way of communicating. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to see how even attempting to add a classification system to the world could create a comprehendible language.