Alice in Medieval Oxford

What is it about the delightful nonsense of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that gives it a such sense of timelessness? Part of its genius is the story’s ability to draw on more than contemporary culture. The story was conceived on a boat journey between two of the major landmarks of medieval Oxford, from the edge of Christ Church to Godstow.

The medieval-style title page of the manuscript that Charles Dodgson presented to the real Alice: London, British Library, Add. MS. 46700, fol. 1r.

Lewis Carroll (the pen name of Charles Dodgson, 1832–98) was a fellow of Christ Church. The original Alice was Alice Liddell, the daughter of the dean. Henry Liddell is now best known to students for ‘Liddell and Scott’, his Greek-English Lexicon that has never gone out of print.

Alice in Wonderland opens with a prefatory poem that describes how the story came into existence. On a summer afternoon, 4 July 1862, Dodgson and his friend Robinson Duckworth (1834–1911), a fellow of Trinity College, went out on a boating trip along the River Thames (known as the Isis in Oxford, from its Latin name ‘Thamesis’). They took three of the Liddell sisters: Lorina, Alice, and Edith. In the poem, Dodgson gives them generic Latin names to protect their identity: Prima, Secunda, and Tertia. They began at Folly Bridge, on the border of Christ Church, where Dodgson lectured in mathematics.

Christ Church was originally a medieval monastery, founded according to legend by Frideswide (died 727), Oxford’s patron saint. In the twelfth century, the monastery became St Frideswide’s Priory. Its canons created a shrine to Frideswide that became a pilgrimage site for everyday people with health problems that medieval physicians could not heal. When all else failed, pilgrims looked to faith for healing as a last resort. Although church reformers had destroyed the shrine, the nineteenth century had revived interest in the story.

The shrine of St Frideswide at Christ Church, Oxford, with the window by Edward Burne-Jones on the right.

When the boaters set out, Edward Burne-Jones had only just, in 1859, finished an elaborate stained-glass window based on the medieval story of Frideswide (recently adapted as its own children’s book, The Princess who Hid in a Tree). Among the objects that he depicts is a well. This points further up the river.

Frideswide’s treacle well

Alice’s journey begins when she falls ‘down a very deep well’. In conversation with the sleepy Dormouse, we would likely agree with her disbelief at his ‘treacle-well’:

‘Once upon a time there were three little sisters,’ the Dormouse began in a great hurry; ‘and their names were Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie; and they lived at the bottom of a well——’

[…]

‘Why did they live at the bottom of a well?’

The Dormouse again took a minute or two to think about it, and then said, ‘It was a treacle-well.’

‘There’s no such thing!’

Although Alice is the first known use of the phrase ‘treacle-well’, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the feature was almost certainly inspired by a real well that Christ Church had inherited from the medieval priory.

The well at the church of St Margaret of Antioch, Binsey.

Frideswide was a princess who had become a nun, and spent years in hiding from King Algar, who was aiming to abduct her. In the twelfth-century narration by Robert of Cricklade, the prior of St Frideswide’s, she fled to Bampton, but soon drew unwanted attention from locals after news spread of her healing powers. She then fled to Thornbury, an isolated location just outside Binsey. Water was a problem for her band of sisters. After they miraculously found a source, this became a site for pilgrimage:

Because the riverbed was far away, and it seemed inappropriate to her that the sisters should go there to drink water, she obtained a well by prayer. It is there to this day, providing the free gift of health to many who drink from it.

Dodgson was playing on the archaic origin of ‘treacle’, which referred not to a syrup but to medicine. The well was a subject of much interest for another member of Christ Church, Thomas Prout (1824–1909). The inscription now on the well head states that he had it rebuilt in 1874. He had a reputation for falling asleep in meetings. Be careful how you treat your colleagues: you might end up as a dormouse.

The story of Brichtiva of Northampton’s pilgrimage to St Margaret’s Well in the 1180s: MS. Digby 177, fol. 16v.

The earliest story of a pilgrimage to the well is from the early 1180s, in a Bodleian manuscript. Philip of Oxford wrote the Miracles of St Frideswide, with a delightfully graphic account of a woman’s pilgrimage to the well (ch. 45: MS. Digby 177, fol. 16v):

A woman named Brichtiva from the vicinity of Northampton had lost hearing in her right ear for a full year and ten weeks. When she had come to the church of the holy virgin to recover her health, those standing round urged her to go to the well that the blessed virgin had obtained from the Lord during her lifetime by her prayers, which is about a mile from the city.

She immediately walked there, and filled her ears with water from the well. A ringing in her ears and a tribulation of itching immediately followed. She inserted a stalk into her ear, and drew out a small portion of flesh. She had received the gift of hearing perfectly. She returned to the church, blessing God, and showed all who were present that she was cured.

The well is in the churchyard of St Margaret of Antioch, who can still be seen in a 14th-century window that the medieval canons added at Christ Church. The building that stands is from the 12th century, and still makes for an accessible break from the concerns of modern life, without even electricity to create a distraction.

Contemplating Godstow Abbey

The ruins of Godstow Abbey.

Alice and her companions ended their journey at Godstow, best known for its ruins of a medieval convent, which may hold the key to the story’s unsettling conclusion. The Abbey of St Mary the Virgin and St John the Baptist was a community of Benedictine nuns founded in 1133, not long after St Frideswide’s Priory. Today, as in Dodgson’s time, it is mostly used for picnics and inhabited by cattle. Only a handful of walls give a sense of the buildings’ scale. For anyone with even a dim awareness of the past, it is impossible to go there without thinking of the destruction that King Henry VIII inflicted on English and Welsh monasteries, which included the dissolution of Godstow in 1539.

Cornelis Metsys, King Henry VIII; Dodgson, the Queen of Hearts (National Portrait Gallery D24928; British Library, Add. MS 46700, fol. 45v).

Henry is best known for his penchant for chopping off his wives’ heads. One cannot help but draw a comparison between him and the similar behaviour of the nightmarish Queen of Hearts. In the illustrated manuscript of the early version of the story that Dodgson presented to Alice Liddell (London, British Library, Add. MS 46700), his drawing of the double-chinned Queen looks remarkably like the stereotypical depiction of Henry VIII.

‘Anglo-Saxon attitudes’ in Bodleian MS. Junius 11, p. 20.

Readers have made many hypotheses about the origins and meaning of the strange creations of Alice in Wonderland. Some of these are far-fetched, but there is no question that the medieval world was on Dodgson’s mind. He designed a presentation manuscript for Alice in the style of a late medieval book, with decorated borders and Victorian interpretations of gothic lettering. Through the Looking Glass even includes a reference to ‘Anglo-Saxon attitudes’, using an art historical term for a style of drawing visible in works such as the Bodleian’s Junius manuscript. The original Cheshire Cat might be a fourteenth-century carving at St Peter’s Church, Croft-on-Tees, where the writer lived in his teens. An awareness of different societies contributed to Dodgson’s diverse mental furniture and turned this story into a well-loved book, which itself has changed how we understand Oxford.

Decades of manuscript photography on Digital.Bodleian

from Andrew Dunning, R.W. Hunt Curator of Medieval Manuscripts

Digital.Bodleian is the online home for Oxford’s special collections in the Bodleian and college libraries. Although it is still relatively new – with a second version coming later this year – it encompasses decades’ worth of photography projects. Many of Oxford’s medieval manuscripts are represented in some form, but only a portion of these have a full set of high-resolution images such as the Bodleian studio can now produce.

A recently photographed manuscript: MS. Bodl. 264, fol. 119v
A recently photographed manuscript: MS. Bodl. 264, fol. 119v

This sometimes means that you can find multiple versions of the same manuscript. For instance, the Bodleian’s famous Romance of Alexander, MS. Bodl. 264, appears online in three different forms:

Historical images of manuscripts can be useful to researchers trying to determine what an item looked like in the past or aiming to understand the history of its interpretation. What are the origins of these different sets of photographs?

Collections on 35-mm film

Between the late 1970s and early 2000s, the Bodleian published manuscript photographs on film. Dr W. O. Hassall (1912–1994), a curator of medieval manuscripts, assembled volunteers, popularly known as ‘Hassall’s vassals’, who occupied the Schola Musicae off the Old Schools Quadrangle and compiled image descriptions. Teachers and researchers could buy colour slides and filmstrips to use manuscripts outside the library including such gems as ‘Humanistic script and illumination’, ‘Pilgrimage’, and ‘Diagrammatic and allegorical wheels’. The complete series is listed in a printed index, Colour Transparencies, 35 mm, Available from the Bodleian Library (1983).

The Bodleian Colour Transparencies catalogue (1983)
The Bodleian Colour Transparencies catalogue (1983)

These collections focus on illuminated or decorated books, and were produced either for a particular manuscript or around a theme. This inevitably promoted certain types of manuscripts, and a particular intellectual approach to them focused on illustration. Researchers were already investigating ways to apply computational methods to this collection by 1978. Libraries abroad built up collections and rented them out, such as the Bodleian Library Slide Collection at Purdue. There are a handful of manuscripts in this series that have full film coverage, but most films aimed to give only representative examples.

The library eventually produced over 20,000 slides. ArtStor of New York funded the scanning of the slide collection, which was shipped to the USA for the purpose. Images appeared both on ArtStor and the Bodleian’s LUNA Image Library, the predecessor to Digital.Bodleian, which researchers remember for both its unexpected treasures and frustrating interface. Other large libraries have developed similar projects to repurpose their old photographic holdings, such as the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

These images eventually became part of Digital.Bodleian after 2015. For example, the Laudian Acts (MS. Laud. Gr. 35), a sixth-century copy of the Acts of the Apostles in both Latin and Greek, appears in four film photographs alongside new digital photography). As well as a historical record, these images are valuable for the detailed descriptions which accompany many images and allow you to search out, for example, images of dragons.

Early Manuscripts at Oxford University

Early Manuscripts at Oxford University (originally the Celtic Manuscripts Project) was among the first experiments in digitizing medieval manuscripts. It was a collaboration between the Bodleian Library, Balliol College, Corpus Christi College, Jesus College, Magdalen College, Merton College, and St John’s College. Beginning in 1995, the project photographed almost ninety manuscripts written between the ninth and nineteenth centuries. It focused on major treasures from Oxford libraries to create wider availability for originals which are often too fragile to handle. The photographs were originally available on a separate website.

Digital photography of the late 1990s from Early Manuscripts at Oxford: MS. Hatton 48, fol. 25r
Digital photography of the late 1990s from Early Manuscripts at Oxford: MS. Hatton 48, fol. 25r

This collection includes many of the oldest manuscripts in Oxford libraries, such as the earliest copy of the Rule of St Benedict, written around 700 (MS. Hatton 48); St Dunstan’s Classbook, designed for teaching in the tenth century (MS. Auct. F. 4. 32); and the oldest copy of The Song of Roland, from the early twelfth century (MS. Digby 23b). It also includes some later manuscripts, such as a five-volume set of Fons memorabilium uniuersi, a humanist encyclopedia from the fifteenth century (Balliol College MSS. 238A, 238B, 238C, 238D, 238E). The project was a pioneer in providing open-access digital photography for complete manuscripts. Although the Bodleian’s studio can now produce even more detailed photographs, the images are serviceable for most scholarly purposes and remain a valuable historical record.

New digital photographs

Early Manuscripts at Oxford received government funding, but this disappeared after subsequent cuts. As at other libraries in the UK, collection digitization is now only possible through researchers who make it an element of a broader grant, publishers who produce a facsimile, or the generosity of donors. Partnering with the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, the Bodleian’s latest medieval digitization project is Manuscripts from German-Speaking Lands, digitizing nearly 600 medieval manuscripts in a project funded by The Polonsky Foundation between 2019 and 2021.

New manuscripts usually appear on Digital.Bodleian only when there is a complete set of photographs. Occasionally, part of a book will appear online to support another research project. For example, MS. Douce 180, the ‘Douce Apocalypse’, has selections from 35-mm film; a small set of images made for comparison purposes in The Apocalypse in Oxford project; and now a full set of photographs. The Medieval Manuscripts in Oxford Libraries catalogue lists each set of photographs available for a given manuscript.

Digital.Bodleian represents evolving records of collections rather than giving a single representation of a given item. The results of manuscript digitization are increasingly dazzling as photography technology improves, but they do not reduce the value of archival photographs.

The Bodleian Quarterly Record, Vol. II (1917-19); and the Legacy of a Printing Press

Corrected proof of the title page of Three Japanese Plays for Children (detail)
Corrected proof of the title page of Three Japanese Plays for Children (detail)

In 1919, the Bodleian Quarterly Record printed the following notice on the death of Charles Henry Olive Daniel, Provost of Worcester College, Oxford:
‘We regret most deeply the loss of Dr. Daniel, as a good friend of the Library. For many years (though not lately) he occupied his leisure with printing as a fine art, and the beautiful productions of the Daniel Press are well known to all lovers of books. Mrs. Daniel recently offered to present to the Library the hand-press and type used by him, and the offer was very gratefully accepted. Through the kindness of the Controller, the press has now been set up by experts from the Clarendon Press, at the farther end of the Picture Gallery, with the chase, containing the last pages set up, still in place. A small collection of some of the more interesting books printed on it has been arranged on an adjacent table. Though we have plenty of books to show, this is the first time we have been able to exhibit to visitors the means whereby they are produced.’

Portrait of Charles Henry Olive Daniel (1836–1919), Provost of Worcester College (1903–1919), by Charles Wellington Furse (1868–1904). Photo credit: Worcester College, University of Oxford. https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/charles-henry-olive-daniel-18361919-provost-of-worcester-college-19031919-224101#
Portrait of Charles Henry Olive Daniel (1836–1919), Provost of Worcester College (1903–1919), by Charles Wellington Furse (1868–1904). Photo credit: Worcester College, University of Oxford. https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/charles-henry-olive-daniel-18361919-provost-of-worcester-college-19031919-224101#

The author of a recent book on Daniel and his printing, Martyn Ould, offers this assessment of his printing origins and experience:

‘Charles Daniel learned to print in the family home in Frome, Somerset, where his father Henry was perpetual curate of Holy Trinity. All the family were involved in printing a vast number of ephemeral items: bookplates, printed items for the church, tickets for tea parties, tiny books, programmes for plays, . . . – items that his bibliographer Falconer Madan referred to as ‘minima’. [He added, “Unfortunately there seems to be no dignified and yet suitable term for these waifs and strays, here termed minor pieces. They are what remains when the majestic car of the professional cataloguer has passed by and left them strewn on the wayside. The occupant of the car calls them succinctly and comprehensively trash.”]

‘They printed on a ‘Ruthven’, a parlour press ideal for a Victorian family, but a press that could manage only small items (many of which are pasted into three volumes in the Bodleian: MSS Don. d.94 and d.95 and MS Don. e.227). Nevertheless when Charles left Frome to go up to Oxford the press went with him and it was on that press that he printed one of his rarest items, The Garland of Rachel, in just thirty-six copies. Difficulties with the printing of The Garland led him to replace the Ruthven with the Albion; this had a much larger platen which would have made it very much easier to manage the larger books and pamphlets that were to come from the Daniel Press in Oxford.

‘Daniel was not a great technical printer, but his books have great charm. He printed on hand-made papers, setting his texts – mostly poetry – from founts of some of the famous seventeenth-century ‘Fell types’ which he persuaded Press Controller Horace Hart at the University Press to sell him. He first used Fell type in A New Sermon of the Newest Fashion (1876), the second book he printed at Oxford. He also used a black letter, of which the first example entirely in black letter is The Growth of Love (1890) by his friend Robert Bridges.’

This large Albion was the printing press which was given to the Bodleian. As reported by Philip Gaskell in the Journal of the Printing Historical Society no. 1, 1965, it is an ‘Albion (demy), serial number 539, (1835)’. The maker’s names, Jonathan and Jeremiah Barrett, executors of R.W. Cope, are cast into the staple. Cope was the originator of the Albion press in the 1820s. This cast-iron, lever-operated press was praised by commentators of the time as being simple in construction and durable.

Bodley’s Librarian in 1919, Falconer Madan, had visions beyond a static display of the press. ‘[I]t is in contemplation to print on it a Bibliography of the Daniel Press, with a Memoir of its “only begetter”, and some poems by friends. This will be the first book ever printed within the walls of the Bodleian.’ The catalogue record of this work is in the University of Oxford’s online catalogue, SOLO.

Martyn Ould writes:
‘As well as his books – over fifty in total – we’re fortunate in that two collections of proofs survive from his waste bin. Like early versions of a poet’s final polished verse, they tell us something of his printing practice. They are generally on sheets of newsprint – a suitably cheaper alternative to the expensive hand-made paper of the final book.

A corrected proof from the Daniel Press of the title page of Three Japanese Plays for Children

‘In the proof of a title page shown here he has marked several ‘typos’. The Y for an R in ‘Oxford’ is easily explained: the boxes for those two letters are next to each other in the typecase and no doubt the Y was returned to the wrong box when some other text was distributed. The missing i in ‘Children’ is less easily forgiven.

‘In three further proofs Daniel corrected some errors and toyed with the text; all was well in the published book. The proofs tell us that Daniel did not have a firm habit of reading a completed line in the composing stick before moving on to the next: what must be a first of several proofs of a forme for Three Japanese Plays for Children shows a great many errors, some of which made it through to the final book. Nonetheless, his books are today highly collectable.’

In 1949, library staff and members of the English Faculty established the Bibliography Room in the New Bodleian Library. Practical printing became a regular offering for postgraduate students, just at the time when mechanical processes of type-setting were replacing the hand-composition of type. The enthusiasts from library and faculty supported teaching and demonstration of practical printing, joined by J.R.R. Tolkien and others.

The Daniel Press Albion at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press, Old Bodleian Library
The Daniel Press Albion at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press, Old Bodleian Library

The Bodleian workshop now holds several other hand-operated printing presses, Albions and other makes, acquired from private presses and individuals. Some of the latest acquisitions were an Albion press owned by Leonard Baskin, whose archive came to the Bodleian in 2009, a proofing press owned and used by Vivian Ridler, Printer to the University, and a rolling press for printing intaglio.

Publications mentioned:
Printing at the Daniel Press (Hinton Charterhouse: The Old School Press, 2011) and The Daniel Press in Frome (Hinton Charterhouse: The Old School Press, 2011). Contact The Old School Press.

Re-blog: Papermaking at home

From the History of the Book blog, Here is an inspiring blogpost by DPhil student Luise Morawetz about making paper, starting with making the paper mould itself, and the wonderful sounds of the vat … History of the Book blogpost by Luise Morawetz

Medieval manuscripts: how we are working from home

The Bodleian medieval manuscript specialists have been working from home. Watch this film, and read below, to learn how the online catalogue of medieval manuscripts is being improved, even at a distance from the manuscripts themselves. Take a digital tour of the online resources available to everyone, starting with medieval manuscripts in digital.bodleian, and make a special trip with the Polonsky Foundation to see the Bodleian’s manuscripts from German-speaking lands in partnership with the Herzog August Bibliothek.

Bodleian-Library-MS.-Canon.-Liturg.-55-fol.-16v-detail

by Matthew Holford, Tolkien Curator of Medieval Manuscripts

So, how does a curator of manuscripts work remotely?

Good question! To be honest, we’re still working it out. A normal day used to involve a lot of contact not just with manuscripts but with reference works, many of which aren’t online. Not having access to any of those is going to be challenging. But one thing we can do is work on enhancing the records in our online manuscript catalogue.

Doesn’t the online catalogue already cover all your medieval manuscripts?

It does! But almost all the records are only brief compact descriptions. These give a summary of the textual content and languages used, a broad categorization of the decoration, information on the writing support (usually paper or parchment), and the date and origin of the manuscript. But they often don’t cover all the textual content and generally don’t have any other physical description (e.g. information about bindings) or any information about the history of the manuscripts.

Why wasn’t that information included?

  • Usability; Simply having all our catalogues rekeyed would have been of limited value, for several reasons. Many of them are in Latin, so not very user-friendly; and a lot of the information in the older catalogues needs interpretation and updating to be useful to today’s readers.
  • Accuracy about provenance; The older catalogues were often mistaken about the date or origin of manuscripts. The Bodleian’s summary catalogue of illuminated manuscripts (“Paecht and Alexander”) is much more reliable, and we’ve updated older records with reference to that catalogue where possible.
  • Accuracy about content; It’s usually possible to identify texts in the manuscripts more reliably and accurately. For example the 1922 description of MS. Bodl. 40 contains this snippet, ascribing one text to William of Ramsey:    Snippet from the Bodleian Summary Catalogue

By checking some online databases and chasing up our online bibliography for the manuscript we can see that this text is in fact by Henry of Avranches.

What does that all mean for the catalogue?

Rather than simply reproduce the information in the main printed catalogues, it was decided to create an updated summary of those catalogues that was more accurate in some ways, but less comprehensive in others. The original intention was that the online catalogue would be a way into the printed catalogues, rather than replacing them completely.

But once you provide an online catalogue, users expect it to contain everything.

Exactly; and enhancing the catalogue records is now a major focus of our work at the library. Fortunately it’s something we can continue to do remotely.

How can you catalogue without seeing the manuscripts?

Enhancing the catalogue records doesn’t only result from fresh cataloguing – although that does happen, of course. We also have an ongoing programme of retroconversion – putting all the contents of the printed catalogues online, and updating them as far as possible from key secondary resources, but usually without seeing the manuscripts themselves. This is a much quicker process than fresh cataloguing – it might take a week or more to newly catalogue a manuscript, but on average only an hour to retroconvert a printed record.

So what changes will I see in the catalogue?

Here’s a film to show in more detail how the records are being upgraded.

We’re currently working on records from volume 2 of the Bodleian’s Summary Catalogue (published 1922-1937), covering manuscripts acquired by the Library before 1697. All records will include more information about the owners of manuscripts and their acquisition; all will include a bit more physical description (number of folios, page size, and binding if early); and many will include much fuller information about the textual contents and languages found in manuscripts. MS. Bodl. 90 is an example. The original record looked like this:

Old record for MS. Bodl. 90

You can see the revised record here.  You can compare the differences for yourself: what stands out for me about this record is the enormous improvement in the accuracy and detail with which the manuscript’s textual content is covered. In other records there might be less new information about contents but more about early owners. In general, as work progresses, the online catalogue will give a much better idea of the texts that can be found in our manuscripts, and of where those manuscripts were in the Middle Ages.

The Bodleian Quarterly Record, Vol. I (1914-16); and Osler’s ‘Illustrations of the book-worm’

"The Old Reading Room ('Duke Humphrey's Library') Opened Nov. 8, 1602" From BQR Vol. I, No. 2, 1914.
“The Old Reading Room (‘Duke Humphrey’s Library’) Opened Nov. 8, 1602” From BQR Vol. I, No. 2, 1914.

The Bodleian Quarterly Record began publication in the first quarter of 1914. The third issue recorded the outbreak of war in August 1914, and each of the following numbers in Volume I, covering 1914 to 1916, included printed lists of staff absent on war duty. Those absent included Miss Frances Underhill, https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley/news/2016/oct-18, one of the Senior Assistant Librarians, the first woman to occupy that position at the Library.  The BQR also recorded midnight mobilizations of staff for fire duty, when alarms of Zeppelin raids were received, though no attacks materialized.

Into the twelve numbers of the first volume Bodleian staff poured much useful knowledge: of pre-1200 manuscripts in the Library; of the seventeenth-century Bodleian catalogues of printed books and manuscripts, which influenced bibliographical knowledge and standards well beyond the Bodleian’s walls; and of early Bodleian shelfmarks (call-numbers) showing how books were collected and arranged in the early years of the library’s foundation.

The BQR was printed by the University Press. The first number, from January 1914, contained an error in describing a sonnet by Wordsworth as ‘apparently unpublished’. This number was reprinted for collectors in 1915 and the Wordsworth sonnet page included a footnote stating that, when the error was discovered, the correction was made in pencil; copies of the reprint are also corrected in pencil.

A note from Falconer Madan (Bodley’s Librarian 1912-19) commented that the BQR required 500 subscribers to support the publication costs; it transpired that there were far fewer subscribers than this, and Madan singled out for thanks Sir William Osler, Regius Professor of Medicine and one of the board of trustees — called the Curators — of the Library, for financial support enabling the Record to continue.

Osler contributed an article to the last number of Volume I. ‘Illustrations of the book-worm,’ published in issue Number 12, records a face-to-face meeting between Osler and a living individual of species Anobium hirtum (Illiger, 1807) otherwise known as Nicobium castaneum (Olivier, 1790), or the library beetle.

[A digital version of the article is here:
http://www.historyofscience.com/articles/osler-bookworm.php]

‘In October 1915 I received from a Paris bookseller, M. Lucien Gougy, three volumes of the Histoire abregie de la derniere persecution de Port-Royal. Edition Royale, MDCCL.’ In one of the volumes Osler found a living book-worm, of species Anobium hirtum,* ‘not a native of England, but met with occasionally in the centre and south of France.’

In true scientific fashion, Osler arranged for a portrait of the larva to be made by Horace Knight, natural history illustrator of the British Museum. Knight sent the picture in September 1916, apologising that he had ‘been waiting in hopes the larva would pupate, but it has not even commenced to make a case…’.

Knight’s drawing was printed in colour for the BQR.

Drawings of the book-worm, Anobium hirtum, by Horace Knight, 1916
Book-worm. by Horace Knight, 1916. From BQR Vol. I, No. 12.

In the article, Osler lists works which illustrate book-worms of various species–only partially satisfactorily, he thought. Amongst the works cited are:

Osler noticed that the habitat of the insect he had found matched the provenance of the book, in the south of France. Research connecting the history of books and manuscripts with the biological materials and evidence of animal life found in them is an area which in the past decade has gained notable contributions from Matthew Collins on the animal proteins in parchment https://www.palaeome.org/projects/dnrf-proteios, Heather Wolfe on DNA left by human readers, https://www.washingtonian.com/2019/04/25/shakespeare-dna-hiding-folger-library-vault-project-dustbunny/and Blair Hedges on the species of woodworm which damage the woodblocks made for printing images, and the wooden boards used for the bindings of both manuscripts and printed books. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsbl.2012.0926. The research is referenced in Joshua Calhoun’s new book, The Nature of the Page: Poetry, Papermaking, and the Ecology of Texts in Renaissance England.

Though Osler declared in 1916 that ‘Bodley is singularly free from the ravages of book-worms,’ no library can remain complacent, and Preventive Conservation is an important part of the library’s current work. In 1997 the oldest part of the Bodleian, Duke Humfrey’s Library ,was found to be infested with death-watch beetle, Xestobium rufovillosum. That part of the Bodleian was temporarily closed for eradication of the pest and for a more thorough refurbishment to lessen other environmental threats to the books kept there.

Alexandra Walker, Preventive Conservator, writes;

The Preventive Conservation section are responsible for monitoring the libraries collections to ensure the long term preservation by maintaining a stable environment. One of the ways we monitor is through a programme of Integrated Pest Management or ‘IPM’. A robust IPM programme relies on a combined knowledge of the environment, collections, buildings, cleaning routines and trapping for insects. Conservators use sticky traps, known as blunder traps, to monitor which species of insects are entering our libraries. We are on the look out for population changes in ‘library pests’; insects which like to munch on library and archive collections and furniture. These pests might include wood-borers like furniture beetle (Anobium punctatum) similar to those mentioned by Osler, silverfish (Lepisma saccharina), booklice (Liposcelis) or common clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella). By carrying out regular monitoring, we can identify problem areas and make necessary changes, before collections are affected.

*In the drawing made by Horace Knight, Osler’s new acquaintance is labelled ‘Anobium hirtum, Illigar.’ [sic, for Illiger, 1807] https://www.gbif.org/fr/species/1095270  a synonym for Nicobium castaneum (Olivier 1790)

Further notes:

Professor David Cranston tells the story of William Osler’s life, career and character.  http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/william-osler-and-his-legacy-medicine

Additional reading on library pests can be found here:
http://www.whatseatingyourcollection.com/

 

Corrections will be gladly received on entomological or other points – Alexandra Franklin, Centre for the Study of the Book

Thomas Gravemaker, Bodleian Printer in Residence 2020-21

Thomas M. Gravemaker
Thomas M. Gravemaker

We are delighted to announce that Thomas Gravemaker, of LetterpressAmsterdam, will be Printer in Residence at the Bodleian in 2020-21. Gravemaker worked for many years in publishing in the UK – at the Bodley Head and as a senior designer at Thames & Hudson – and in France, first as a studio manager in a design group, before setting up his own studio.

FindyourType_LetterpressAmsterdam

The Printer in Residence programme at the Bodleian brings a guest printer for one month each year, whose project draws together community and University members with an interest in printing and the book arts, to use the Bibliographical Press workshop in the Old Bodleian Library and the press in Blackwell Hall, at the Weston Library.

It is Gravemaker’s experience with book design, and the connection with John Ryder (1923–2001) at the Bodley Head, which provides the inspiration for the project that he will undertake during the one-month residency at the Bodleian: to set and print a small book in the spirit of Ryder’s Flowers and Flourishes (Bodley Head, 1976).  During his residency at the Bibliographical Press early in 2021, Gravemaker will also offer a workshop on using ornament, and will present a public lecture.

As a teacher, Thomas Gravemaker regularly works with students from Northumbria University (UK), Kalamazoo Book Arts Center (USA) and the RMIT University (Australia) and others. He also devotes his expertise to ensuring that there are active workshops available for students, having advised, trained and assisted – among several others – Letterpress House in Finland, the Royal Library in Belgium and the Hochschule in Karlsruhe (Germany) in finding equipment and type in order to set up their own print studios.

Thomas is a board member of the Stichting Drukwerk in de Marge (Small Press Association) in the Netherlands and a member of the AEPM (Association of European Printing Museums), of which the Bodleian Bibliographical Press is also a member.

The Ryder Archive at the Bodleian is ‘a major resource for the history of the book in the twentieth century.’ [Clive Hurst, ‘The Ryder Archive,’ Bodleian Library Record, Vol. XVII No. 5, April 2002, p. 353] It contains both archival material and printed books. John Ryder bequeathed to the Bodleian his private papers, including correspondence with designers and artists, and much private press material, notably from the Officina Bodoni, and original sketches for book designs. The Archive includes John Ryder’s remarkable collection of editions of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Previous Printers in Residence at the Bodleian have been Russell Maret, Emily Martin, and David Armes.

Watch:

Russell Maret, ‘Making third-stream books in the post-digital age’ (2017)

Emily Martin, ‘Visual metre and rhythm: the function of movable devices in books’ (2018)

David Armes, ‘Accumulating narrative: Meaning and mutation in letterpress printing’ (2019)

The irreplaceability of the physical object: examining Persian manuscripts

by Dr Karin Scheper, Conservation Specialist, Leiden University Libraries, and Bahari Visiting Fellow, Bodleian Libraries, 2019-20

Dr Karin Scheper. Photo credit: Ian Wallman
Dr Karin Scheper. Photo credit: Ian Wallman

Thousands of Persian manuscripts are held in the Oriental collections of the Bodleian Libraries, and an increasing number is available online. https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/ For the study of the texts and illustrations these digital images are invaluable, as they provide access anytime and anywhere. At the same time, the original manuscripts continue to be of enormous value because things can be learned from the material composition that can never be studied using the digital images alone. We increase our understanding of the use of manuscripts and books, and the historic context of their making, through the physical items.

A Bahari Fellowship in the Persian Arts of the Book made possible my research focussing on the Persian manuscripts in the Bodleian collections, especially those bound in lacquer boards.

See the podcast of Karin Scheper’s 2020 lecture, ‘Islamic bindings as a window on East-West relations’.

Bookbinding traditions differ between cultures because local practices, the availability of materials and cultural cohesion influenced developments. Persian bookbinders worked within the tradition of the wider Islamic world, though they used certain techniques and materials more often or in specific ways.

Bookbinders in the Islamic world used a combination of simple techniques and strong materials that resulted in a functional, durable book. An unsupported link-stitch, a spine-lining and the endbands effectively connected the textblock and binding. This method was used consistently over many centuries for all sorts of texts and bindings, from luxuriously illustrated ones to plain textbooks used for private study, and for elaborately decorated bindings to modestly tooled covers. But when a new technique was introduced in the Persianate world, of painted leather covers which further developed into lacquered boards and gained much popularity, the traditional use of the spine-lining became problematic.

Traditionally, the spine-lining was pasted to the textblock spine to provide stability, and the endbands sewn through it for even more coherence. Then the extending sides at the joints were pasted onto the inside of the boards, to strengthen the board attachment. It used to be the bookbinder who finished the insides of the boards with a doublure of leather, silk or a decorated paper that hid these parts of the lining material.

Bodleian MS. Elliott 104
Bodleian MS. Elliott 104

With lacquer boards, however, the artisans who painted the colourful exteriors also developed decorative schemes for the interior. In most cases they painted a daffodil, iris or dahlia on a contrasting background. The presence of this painting, on the lacquered boards, caused the problem: the bookbinder could no longer adhere the extending side of the lining onto the inside of the board. The change in technique resulted in a more vulnerable board attachment, necessitating the repair of many bindings with lacquered boards in the joints. These later interventions have complicated the study of the historic development of this binding type.

The Bodleian collections appear to hold several nearly pristine bindings with lacquered boards, and my study of the original board attachments was able to shed new light on the construction. I found evidence of a different method to finish the interior joint, specifically developed for these binding types. This knowledge fills a gap in the history of Islamic bookbinding, but is also valuable information for conservators who take care of the collections and develop a treatment approach.

Bodleian MS. Ouseley Add. 183 Fihrist: https://www.fihrist.org.uk/catalog/manuscript_4800
Bodleian MS. Ouseley Add. 183. Fihrist: https://www.fihrist.org.uk/catalog/manuscript_4800

A number of the manuscripts with lacquered bindings have painted patterns on the leather spine, though the decoration of the spines is extremely rare in Islamic bookbinding. Some of the geometrical or flowery designs on these spines include the title of the volume, which seems to point at western tastes in the shelving of books; traditionally, the title is found on the tail edge of the textblock as manuscripts were shelved horizontally, the small edge outwards. A spine title suggests a changed placement on the shelf.

Other binding types of full and partial leather that were examined add to our understanding of bookbinding practices in the Indo-Persianate world. Noteworthy is a fairly large number of bindings with leather doublures that extend and cross the inner joint. The part of the leather that is pasted onto the textblock was then finished with a strip of paper that has a zig-zag cut edge, suggesting that the leather was a decoratively cut.

https://www.fihrist.org.uk/catalog/manuscript_10930
Bodleian MS. Elliott 115, showing cloth satchel. Fihrist: https://www.fihrist.org.uk/catalog/manuscript_10930

It is fascinating to gain insights into how these manuscripts were carried and handled in the past. A number of cloth bags or satchels have survived as the protective cases of manuscripts collected by the brothers Gore and William Ouseley [https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/weston/finding-resources/guides/middleeast#nineteenth] Some of these enclosures appear to be made of reused textiles and their shape echoes traditional cloth wraps for manuscripts. These may be purely functional protection for the manuscripts during their travels, yet it would certainly have enhanced the experience of displaying these objects, when a beautiful binding had to be pulled out of a colourful satchel.

Nothing can replace working with the tangible objects. Of course, the principal purpose of a bookbinding is functional, though it could be made to also add beauty and value to a manuscript. Historic bookbindings still serve these two purposes, yet for today’s users they have an important extra value. The materials may help to verify the dating of the manuscript and to localise the origin of its making. But what is more, the things we can learn from the materials, the physical characteristics and traces of use increase our possibilities to connect with past practices and help us understand a world long gone.

Between Sun Turns: David Armes, Bodleian Printer in Residence, 2019-20

Between Sun Turns in progress. Photo credit: David Armes
Between Sun Turns in progress. Photo credit: David Armes

The Bodleian’s Bibliographical Press hosted David Armes (Red Plate Press) as resident printer for one month at the end of 2019. A picture diary of his residency in Oxford provides the context for his publication, Between Sun Turns, part of Armes’s ‘text landscape’ series, responding to sights and sounds of Oxford. Armes used the equipment in the Bibliographical Press, including a Western-model proofing press (‘Vandercook’), and the more recently-acquired Inksquasher circular chase. The images detail some of the 15 passes through the press that this print, now also an accordion book, required.

Watch David Armes’s lecture, ‘Accumulating Narrative,’ from December 2019, hosted by the Centre for the Study of the Book and the Oxford Bibliographical Society

David Armes
David Armes

Each year the Bodleian hosts a visiting printer who produces a work on-site, and shares their printing experience and artistic vision with students and the public. The library invites applications from printers who can bring the Bodleian’s workshop and equipment into fruitful dialogue with some of the outstanding special collections of the library. Previous Printers in Residence have been Russell Maret in 2017, who printed with a new typeface of his own design, Hungry Dutch , an echo of the type-founding in the 1670s century, near to the Bodleian site, introduced for the use of the University press under the direction of John Fell. In the following year Emily Martin, Resident Printer in 2018, produced a book, ‘Order of Appearance: Disorder of Disappearance,’ that re-imagines stage directions in a book like the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, cross-cutting the meetings of characters on a stage through a slice-book format, and handing the playwright’s control over to the reader.

From research to craft: printing Luther’s theses and teaching letterpress

Type set in 2016 for printing Martin Luther's 95 theses; Thesis 88
Type set in 2016 for printing Martin Luther’s 95 theses; Theses 88 and 89 (roman numerals) Photo: Charlotte Hartmann

The letterpress workshop housed at the Bodleian Library has long been used for experimentation and practical teaching to academic learners at all levels. It’s now equally a site for engaging the public and schools in activities that increase their understanding of, and appreciation for, the Bodleian Libraries’ unique collections. Participatory workshops are the key method that the Bodleian Bibliographical Press uses for helping visitors to feel a connection with ‘old books’, and, through that connection, to engage with research at the University. The workshop offers public courses for adults throughout the year, and offers workshops through the library’s Education team, to schools and adult SEND learners. Planning and teaching these workshops and courses requires an understanding of how the techniques of hand-press printing can be demonstrated and also a facility for tailoring tasks to the abilities of the participants of all ages and abilities.

While teaching to academic students and teaching to the public might be regarded by some as two separate functions of the workshop, it is useful to see how academic research projects can enrich the practice of the workshop for all learners. In our experience of working with one academic project, this yielded two unexpected aspects which influenced the course that the workshop has taken over recent years. Luther’s 95 Theses, earth-shaking in terms of religious history in 1517, proved to be influential again 500 years later in our own small corner of Thomas Bodley’s ‘public library’ at Oxford. We made a re-evaluation of the type of learning that takes place, for all users of the workshop, and expanded the audiences for the workshop by connecting with special interest groups in the community around a topic of current interest.

Undertaking an exercise for Professor Henrike Laehnemann and postgraduate students from the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, in printing Luther’s 95 theses as a broadside, (described in this blogpost by Charlotte Hartmann), we were challenged to extend the ambitions of the press technically. The length of Luther’s text nearly exhausted the Bodleian’s relatively generous supply of type, and in the end the single side of the broadside was printed in two parts, which needed to be printed to very exacting standards to appear in four parallel columns.

A challenge was posed by the 16th-century printer’s expedients to make Luther’s words fit into the original pamphlet length; having carefully divided the text from the pamphlet version into two halves, it became clear that the second half of the pamphlet contained more abbreviations. The 16th-century printer of the pamphlet had been trying to save space as he approached the end of the setting, to make it fit within 8 pages on a single sheet of paper. The print run of the Bodleian’s broadside version was much longer than usually attempted for any publications at the workshop – 200 – making 400 passes of the sheets through the press, as two halves of the text were set and printed in sequence.

Richard Lawrence is an Oxford printer with his own workshop, who teaches printing at the Bodleian to students and the public. He oversaw the type-setting and printing of the Luther Theses broadside, and comments,

The Luther Theses broadside is the largest text printed on the Bodleian’s hand-operated presses, and having copies of this broadside in the workshop has set an important standard for the kind of work that can be undertaken, and a model for collective contribution to a larger project.

We learned from this that a technical challenge is a key factor in encouraging learning. This project required a large amount of type-setting by untrained type-setters. Contrary to an idea that the role of a class might be to deliver the theory of type-setting in a lecture, and participants might learn from just a small amount of practice, the Luther Theses project showed that only added practice enabled participants to use their new skills more fully, to recognize and correct errors, and to become competent and creative. For learners with the stamina and ability to undertake a lot of type-setting, this is a key factor in their development, and is now something we look out for and encourage in the public classes.

The 2017 Luther anniversary, focussed around Luther’s use of the printing press to get his message across, also encouraged us to get the presses moving out of the workshop on several occasions; for a re-enactment of Luther’s famous fixing of the theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg; a ‘Print your own Theses’ open event at the workshop in May 2017; for the book launch of a Reformation pamphlet reprint by the Taylorian Library (Oxford’s library for Modern Languages); and by lending presses to St Edmund’s Hall, one of Oxford’s colleges, for a Research Day open to the public. This approach, seeing the presses as mobile, has encouraged further use of the presses in the public areas of the Bodleian’s Weston Library, and a small press has been refitted with a mobile stand to enable its use at different venues. The Reformation projects as a whole drew new audiences to the printing press – English and German community members celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Bonn-Oxford town twinning, and postal requests for copies of the 95 theses after images had been posted on social media.