John Wallis and the idea of a universal library

A cryptographic manuscript book by John Wallis (1616-1703) shows text mark-up at work in the early modern period. The symbols Wallis identified in this code include pairs of symbols that ‘signify that what is between is to be deleted’, and one symbol to delete that which is before it. The work by Wallis, who had decrypted letters during the Civil Wars, was a book of deciphered letters, intended to teach the skill to another generation.
MS. Eng. misc. c. 382

Louisiane Ferlier’s master class on October 14 examined books donated by Wallis to the Bodleian and other Oxford libraries. Cryptographer, mathematician, founding member of the Royal Society and controversialist, he was the Savilian Professor of Geometry from 1649 until his death, and was elected Keeper of the University Archives in 1657.
His donations to the Savilian Library (kept privately within the Bodleian) and to the Bodleian itself were the subject of Dr Ferlier’s discussion, as she examined the means and possible motives of his presentation of printed books, pamphlets and manuscript books. Manuscript publication of books of letters intercepted in cipher, which Wallis had deciphered during the Civil Wars, he presented in order, he wrote, to teach others how to decrypt codes. Other materials seemed particularly aimed to strengthen the Bodleian’s holdings of material intended to show the truth of Protestant religion.
see: Cultures of Knowledge calendar and edition of Wallis’s correspondence and The Wallis Project, an investigation of his works on grammar, on logic and on music theory.

The 18th-century Gothick: Symposium, 7 August 2013, Oxford

A one-day symposium exploring the Gothic Revival in eighteenth-century Britain. Organized by Oliver Cox (Oxford) and Peter Lindfield (University of Kassel)
Call for papers poster [PDF]
Registration will open in July [see webpage]

This symposium corresponds with co-organiser Peter Lindfield’s tenure of the Dunscombe Colt visiting fellowship at the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book. Supported by the Bodleian Library, the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies and the Georgian Group, this fellowship will facilitate a thorough examination of Oxford’s MSS concerned with eighteenth-century Gothic Revival architecture and related historical perspectives.
Peter Lindfield
Peter Lindfield writes,

Receiving the inaugural Dunscombe Colt research fellowship for the study of eighteenth-century British architecture is a tremendous privilege. I conducted research at the University of Oxford whilst completing my PhD (Art History, University of St Andrews), so I know the quality and breadth of treasures awaiting me.

My research centres upon the artistic, architectural and historiographical manifestations of the Gothic aesthetic in Britain c.1700–1840. Co-running a symposium on the eighteenth-century Gothic Revival at Oxford ties in perfectly with the theme of my fellowship. It also capitalises upon Oxford’s place within the history of the Gothic Revival, the University’s colleges being major patrons of collegiate Gothic. The symposium also marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Georgian Group’s Gothick symposium held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. I look forward, along with my co-organiser, Oliver Cox (University College Oxford), to welcoming scholars of the eighteenth-century Gothick Revival to Oxford on the 7th August 2013.

The merry bells of England. Broadside ballad printed c. 1845 by J.Paul and Co.
The merry bells of England. Broadside ballad printed c. 1845 by J.Paul and Co. [Bodleian Library Harding B 11(2407)]

The Cadiz pirates

Portrait of Elizabeth I (1533–1603)  by Wilhelm Sonmans
Elizabeth I (1533–1603)
by Wilhelm Sonmans
(c) Bodleian Libraries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Dr Anders Ingram (National University of Ireland, Hakluyt Edition Project) used copies of the second edition of Hakluyt’s Principle Navigations (1598-1600) to explore the nature of censorship in Elizabethan England. At issue was the passage describing the Cadiz Expedition of 1596, led by the Earl of Essex and Lord Howard, during which English and Dutch troops sacked the Spanish city.

But the failure to capture the Spanish treasure fleet, and the conduct of the leaders, including the distribution of the booty, led to royal suppression of Essex’s own account of his actions. Two years later, Hakluyt included in his Navigations a “brief description” written by the doctor who travelled on the Ark Royal. The pages containing this episode were later excised from many copies of the work, and a new title page was produced omitting mention of the Cadiz expedition. Examining the physical evidence in three copies of Hakluyt’s Navigations from Bodleian collections, Dr Ingram showed that these represented different variants, and called into question the reason for the removal of these leaves: was this censorship, or action by the publishers in advance of the appearance of Hakluyt’s second volume, printed in 1599, which had found a sponsor in Robert Cecil, one of the examiners of the costs of the expedition during the controversy?

The copies examined contained: (1) The edition intact with the Cadiz episode as originally printed and a title page dated 1598; (2) The Cadiz leaves intact, but with a new title page dated 1599; (3) The leaves containing the description of the Cadiz episode replaced with a later (c. 1720) reprint, in different type and differently set.

From point-to-point to radio: Byrne-Bussey Marconi Lecture, 20 April 2013

Dr Gabriele Balbi (University of Lugano and Byrne-Bussey Marconi Fellow, 2012) will speak about the Marconi Company’s understanding of two ideas of communication (point-to-point and one-to-many) that were at the basis of two different media: the telegraph and radio broadcasting.

Saturday, 20 April 2013, 1 pm

Convocation House, Bodleian Library


McKenzie Lecture, 28 February, 2013: Xu Bing, ‘The Sort of Artist I Am’

McKenzie Lecture 2013: Xu Bing speaking at the English Faculty, Oxford, 28 Feb.
McKenzie Lecture 2013: Xu Bing speaking at the English Faculty, Oxford

The 2013 D.F. McKenzie Lecture was given by Xu Bing, an artist whose work incorporates and explores words and script. To a capacity crowd of 170 in the English Faculty lecture theatre, the artist described his fascination with the forms of graphic communication, and explained how his works, beginning with the room installation “Book from the Sky,” have explored the boundaries of script, icons and language. He showed and discussed examples of this in his work, including English words portrayed as Chinese characters, in “Square Word Calligraphy”, and a novel in icons, “Book from the Ground: From Point-to-Point”.

An exhibition of Xu Bing’s work, Landscape Landscript, appears at the Ashmolean Museum from 28 February to 19 May 2013, curated by Shelagh Vainker.

Xu Bing was introduced by Peter McDonald (English Faculty) who drew a comparison between the artist’s examination of meaning in form, and D.F. McKenzie’s famous puzzle to his students in the 1980s, asking them to deduce a book’s origin from its physical form alone. As McDonald pointed out, “In their different ways, the professor of bibliography with his blank book and the young artist with his nonsense characters were asking the same question: what constitutes a sign? Does the term apply only to the black marks inscribed on paper? What about the paper itself or the size and format of the book? And if the latter are signs, then what sense are we to make of the philosophical distinction between the sensible and the intelligible, what we apprehend through our senses and what we read with our so-called mind’s eye?”

Each year the McKenzie Trust, in partnership with the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book, presents the D.F. McKenzie Lecture, on the history of the book, scholarly editing, or bibliography and the sociology of texts.

McKenzie Lecture and other events in Oxford next week

Monday, 25 February: Oxford Bibliographical Society Lecture
Paddy Bullard (University of Kent) “Bare words not being sufficient…”: Tacit Knowledge and Early-Modern Books

All welcome. Taylor Institution at 5.15 pm


Wednesday, 27 February: Magdalen Library Talk
Dr Tom Freeman (University of Essex) ‘The Making of John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs’

Summer Common Room, Magdalen College, 5:30 pm


28 February, 5-6 pm: Annual D.F. McKenzie Lecture
Xu Bing, ‘The sort of artist I am’

“Central to all Xu Bing’s art is the theme of language: its uses and changes; misunderstandings; and dialogues within and between cultures. As a Chinese artist, Xu Bing has focused particularly on the pictorial quality of the Chinese language which, he maintains, lies at the core of Chinese culture.”

Lecture Theatre 2, English Faculty, St Cross Building

Award of the Gordon Duff Prize

Micha Lazarus and Richard Ovenden
Micha Lazarus (left) with Richard Ovenden, Deputy Librarian, Bodleian Libraries, and Director of the Centre for the Study of the Book

Micha Lazarus (St. John’s) was awarded the Gordon Duff Prize for his essay, ‘Chaekus habet: the circulation of Aristotle’s Poetics in sixteenth-century England’. Richard Ovenden, Deputy Librarian and Director of the Centre for the Study of the Book, presented Dr Lazarus with the prize on 17 January, 2013.

Lazarus surveyed sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century English institutional library catalogues (including Thomas James’s catalogues of the Bodleian) and private booklists, to present an extensive list of owners of the Poetics in the period. One of these was Sir John Cheke, the first Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge University and tutor to Edward VI; the inscription “Chaekus habet” in a manuscript booklist indicated his ownership of a volume containing the work.

This detailed bibliographical study also casts light on the circulation and modernisation of Aristotelian collections in England. It emerged from Lazarus’s doctoral research, supervised by Professor Richard McCabe, on the subject ‘Aristotle’s Poetics in Renaissance England’.

The Gordon Duff Prize is awarded for an unpublished essay on a subject relating to the science or arts of books and manuscripts. The competition is open to all members of the University. The next prize will be awarded in 2014.

Tyrrell and Locke on Patriarcha non monarcha: Masterclass with Felix Waldmann, 26 Nov. 2012

In an exciting conclusion to the autumn season of masterclasses, Felix Waldmann (Cambridge) spoke on ‘James Tyrrell, John Locke, and the text of Patriarcha non Monarcha (1681): the evidence from some Bodleian copies’.
Examining three Bodleian copies, Dr Waldmann found that the pattern of annotations, corrections, and manuscript additions in these copies, from the libraries of Thomas Barlow (the subject of an earlier masterclass) and John Locke himself, contributed significant evidence touching on theories of the composition of the text, which have variously described the publication as a collaboration between Locke and Tyrrell or Tyrrell’s original work which inspired Locke’s Two Treatises of Government.
This was the second in the series of Early Printed Books masterclasses convened by William Poole (New College).

Correcting late Middle English manuscripts: Masterclass with Daniel Wakelin, 19 Nov. 2012

Medieval manuscripts masterclass

In copying late Middle English, as in copying other languages, scribes in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England drew on techniques long established in practice but seldom written down. Those techniques of the scribes, their collaborators and their readers can be reconstructed from the manuscripts themselves.

These techniques might sometimes have been ‘tacit’, as good as unthinking; but what is intriguing is the question whether correcting ever reflects conscious ‘second thoughts’ about the text corrected and about the process of copying it into a book. Sometimes scribes fix practical problems in scribal labour; sometimes they stop to emend or even collate texts in ways which suggest their reading of, or attitudes to, the language and works they copy. Correcting is thereby a crucial part both of the history of book production and of an interesting period in the history of responses to English language and literature.

Daniel Wakelin came to Oxford in 2011 as Jeremy Griffiths Professor of Medieval English Palaeography in the Faculty of English and a Fellow of St Hilda’s College. He formerly taught in the Faculty of English and Christ’s College in Cambridge.

The class will be held on Monday, 19 November at 2:15 in the Pitt Rivers Museum Lecture Room

“Leaves, feathers, pins, poetry and pity” – Masterclass with Chris Fletcher and Marinita Stiglitz, 12 Nov. 2012

Bodleian MS. Eng. c. 7967, a commonplace book kept by members of the Parkyns family

Masterclass on 12 November 2012, 2:15 pm
Lecture Room, Pitt Rivers Museum
Chris Fletcher (Keeper of Special collections and fellow of Exeter College) and Marinita Stiglitz (Bodleian Libraries Conservation) will explore a recently acquired commonplace book kept by the Misses Parkyns (and Aunt), Byron’s early friends at Newstead Abbey.
The session will look at the context of its acquisition and touch on the commonplace book as Byronic trophy cabinet, a source for life writing, literary reception and response.