‘This doomsday’: the Trevelyans in the First World War

RCT/23/1: Robert Trevelyan’s identity card for the Friends’ War Victims Relief Committee.

On 27 October, 1918, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson wrote a postcard to his friend, Robert Trevelyan, the poet, playwright, and classicist, wishing that the war could be resolved as easily as their latest postal game of chess; instead, it still seemed to ‘hang on a razor’s edge’.

RCT15/8: Letter from Robert to his son Julian written in November 1918

Trevelyan, whose papers in the Trinity archive are currently being catalogued, was in France, working for the Friends War Victims Relief Committee. Earlier in the war he had sheltered the conscientious objector, poet John Rodker, and when he himself was called up, friends such as the art historian Desmond MacCarthy wrote to the Military Tribunal attesting that his pacifism was lifelong and not merely adopted as an excuse to avoid active service. The Tribunal accepted this, and allowed him to work with the Quakers instead. Letters from Robert to his young son Julian survive in the Trinity archives, in which he describes working on a farm which bred animals to be sold cheaply to French farmers who had lost their stock in the war and visiting Sermaize-les-Bains, destroyed in the first battle of the Marne, where the inhabitants lived in wooden huts built for them by the FWVRC. He also put together a library for relief workers. He writes of his hope that ‘there will be no more wars while I am alive, or while you are alive either’.

RCT/42/9: Photograph c.1896 of the three brothers with their parents (L to R: Charles, George, Robert)

Robert and his two brothers, who all attended Trinity, provide a microcosm in one family of the range of attitudes towards the First World War. His elder brother, Charles, was a Liberal MP, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education, who resigned from the government in August 1914 in protest at British military intervention against Germany, and with others such as Ramsay MacDonald and Bertrand Russell was a founder and key advocate of the Union of Democratic Control, which strongly opposed conscription and war censorship. He thereby incurred much personal criticism in the press.

RCT14/101: Letter from George to Robert written just after the end of the war

The third brother, George Macaulay Trevelyan, later Regius Professor of History at Cambridge and Master of Trinity, was also horrified by the outbreak of war which he called ‘this doomsday’. Julian Huxley recalled in his “Memories” that on hearing the news, George ‘buried his head in his hands on the breakfast table, and looked up weeping’. However, he believed that once the war had begun it was necessary to continue fighting and to win; he wrote to Robert that he had ‘never admired Charles more’, and that the anti-war side had a ‘most useful part to perform’, but that though he accepted a share of blame for Britain he held that the German militarists must be defeated. He was judged medically unfit for military service, and so in autumn 1915 he took up the command of the first British Red Cross ambulance unit sent to Italy and served there until the end of the war, displaying notable bravery for which he was decorated by the Italian government.

All three Trevelyan brothers were convinced of the horror of war; all believed in November 1918 that everything possible should be done to ensure that such a disaster never occurred again.

Papers from the Trevelyan archive are currently on display in the Wren Library during public opening hours.




Bindings in the Spotlight (7)

Photo of Rose Adler binding 'Idylles'

This month we are featuring the French Art Deco bookbinder Rose Adler (1892-1959) and her binding for Theocritus’ Idylls in French illustrated by Henri Laurens (Kessler.a.23).  Accompanying the book, which is part of the Kessler Collection of livres d’artistes and fine bindings, are three pages of notes in Adler’s hand which relate to the details of the binding and the payment involved.

Image of notes in Rose Adler's handRose Adler 2Rose Adler 3

For a fascinating short biography of Adler, do visit another blog courtesy of the American Bookbinders Museum:



Trinity Lends to Major Anglo-Saxon Exhibition

On Friday 19th October 2018 a spectacular exhibition –  Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War – opens at the British Library in London. It will feature material ranging from the 5th to the 11th centuries and will examine the development of written English and the creation of the kingdom of England. Trinity College has lent five manuscripts to this exhibition, but more than thirty Anglo-Saxon manuscripts can also be consulted in the Wren Digital Library. We will be publishing a series of blog posts about the manuscripts loaned to the exhibition over the next few weeks.




Nobel Prizes at Trinity College

On 3 October 2018 it was announced that Sir Gregory Winter, Master of Trinity College, has been jointly awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, with Professors Frances Arnold and George Smith, for his pioneering work in using phage display for the directed evolution of antibodies, with the aim of producing new pharmaceuticals. The Nobel Assembly said:

‘The 2018 Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have taken control of evolution and used it for purposes that bring the greatest benefit to humankind. Enzymes produced through directed evolution are used to manufacture everything from biofuels to pharmaceuticals. Antibodies evolved using a method called phage display can combat autoimmune diseases and in some cases cure metastatic cancer.’

Sir Gregory becomes the 33rd Nobel Laureate to be a Member of Trinity College since Lord Rayleigh was awarded the prize in Physics in 1904, and is the 107th affiliated with Cambridge. A list of members of Trinity College who are or were Nobel Laureates can be viewed here. Trinity members have received the award in every Nobel category.

E. D. Adrian’s Nobel Diploma

Edgar Douglas Adrian, 1st Baron Adrian, was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize for Physiology, jointly with Sir Charles Sherrington, for their work on the function of neurons. He was a Fellow of Trinity College from 1913, and served as Master from 1951 to 1965. Each Nobel diploma is an original work of art. The diploma, awarded to Lord Adrian, displayed above depicts the Great Gate of Trinity.

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The only father and son to be jointly awarded a Nobel prize were Sir William Henry Bragg and his son Sir Lawrence Bragg, awarded the 1915 prize in Physics for their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays.  Sir Lawrence was only 25 years old at the time of the award.

Joseph John Thomson, 1856-1940

Sir J. J. Thomson was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1906, for his work on the conduction of electricity in gases, leading to his discovery of the electron. His son Sir George Paget Thomson was awarded the same prize in 1937 for his work in discovering the wave-like properties of the electron.

Sir James Mirlees receiving his award from the King of Sweden

The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was established in 1968 through a donation from the Swedish Royal Bank, and is administered by the Nobel Foundation alongside the prizes established by Alfred Nobel. In 1996 the prize was awarded to Sir James Mirrlees, who died on 29 August 2018. He shared the prize with Professor William Vickrey of Columbia University, for their research on the economic theory of incentives when information is incomplete or asymmetric.

Piero Sraffa receiving his award

Before the existence of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, an equivalent status was afforded to the Söderström medal, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. This medal was awarded in 1961 to Piero Sraffa, the leading Italian economist who was a Fellow of Trinity College from 1939 until his death in 1983.

The Fields Medal

The Fields Medal is often regarded as equivalent to a Nobel Prize in the mathematical sciences. It is awarded every four years to up to four mathematicians under 40 years of age at the International Congress of the International Mathematical Union. Four medal-holders have so far been associated with Trinity College, including two present Fellows of Trinity, Sir Michael Atiyah and Sir Timothy Gowers. The Fields Medal was awarded in 1970 to the late Professor Alan Baker for his work on transcendental numbers.

A small exhibition about Nobel Laureates from Trinity is currently on display in the Wren Library during public opening hours.

Fermat’s Last Theorem

It is now 25 years since Andrew Wiles provided the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem. A celebration of the event was held at the Isaac Newton Institute on 1 October 2018, with lectures (all now available online) by Sir Andrew Wiles, Jack Thorne and John Coates. The Wren Library provided a historical context for the day by displaying the first appearance of Fermat’s Last Theorem in print.

Pierre de Fermat famously wrote down his last theorem in the 1630s in the margin of a bilingual Greek and Latin edition of the Arithmetica of Diophantus of Alexandria. The copy with his annotation no longer survives, but Fermat’s son incorporated the conjecture into a new edition of Diophantus which he published in Toulouse after his father’s death, in 1670. Following the Diophantine proposition to divide a square into two other squares, Fermat’s observation reads:

Cubum autem in duos cubos, aut quadratoquadratum in duos quadratoquadratos & generaliter nullam in infinitum ultra quadratum potestatem in duos eiusdem nominis fas est dividere cuius rei demonstrationem mirabilem sane detexi. Hanc marginis exiguitas non caperet. It is impossible to separate a cube into two cubes, or a fourth power into two fourth powers, or in general, any power higher than the second, into two like powers. I have discovered a truly marvellous proof of this, which this margin is too narrow to contain.

The simple proposition took more than 350 years to prove, and became the subject of a bestselling book by Simon Singh in 1997.

Diophanti Alexandrini Arithmeticorvm libri sex, et De nvmeris mvltangvlis liber vnvs. Cvm commentariis C.G. Bacheti v.c. & obseruationibus D.P. de Fermat senatoris Tolosani (Toulouse: Bernardvs Bosc, 1670). Trinity College Library, T.17.21.

The diagram below is taken from a collection of Fermat’s mathematical writings compiled by his son Samuel de Fermat and published in 1679. This page shows the end of a long letter from Blaise Pascal to Fermat in which he discusses the problem of the division of a stake between two players whose game is interrupted before its close. The table shows the value of shares when two gamblers play, putting 256 pistoles at stake. ‘The numbers of the first line are always increasing. Those of the second do the same. Those of the third do the same. But after that, those of the fourth line diminish. Those of the fifth, etc. Which is strange.’

Varia opera mathematica D. Petri de Fermat, Senatoris Tolosani. Accesserunt selectæ quædam ejusdem epistolæ, vel ad ipsum à plerisque doctissimis viris Gallicè, Latinè, vel Italicè, de rebus ad mathematicas disciplinas, aut physicam pertinentibus scriptæ. (Toulouse: Johannes Pech, 1679). Trinity College Library, T.11.45.




‘A man of no ordinary attainments’: The Life and Work of Robert Leslie Ellis

Robert Leslie Ellis, likeness from a portrait by Samuel Lawrence

Almost forgotten today, the English polymath Robert Leslie Ellis (1817-1859) was lauded by his contemporaries as a ‘prodigy of universal genius’ and an ‘ideal of a University man’. Having been privately educated at Bath, reading Xenophon and Virgil and solving equations from the age of 10, Ellis went up to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1836, where he became a pupil of George Peacock and William Hopkins. A great academic career beckoned; he helped D. F. Gregory to found the Cambridge Mathematical Journal in 1837, graduated Senior Wrangler in 1840 and was elected Fellow of Trinity shortly afterwards. During the 1840s, Ellis published major papers on functional and differential equations and probability theory and took on the co-editing, with James Spedding and Douglas Denon Heath, of Francis Bacon’s Works. From 1847, Ellis’s health deteriorated and in 1849, aged 32, he returned home from a grand tour as an invalid, having been struck by rheumatic fever at San Remo. The rest of his short life was spent at Anstey Hall, Trumpington, where he saw much of his friends John Grote and William Walton, to whom he dictated his thoughts on topics ranging from etymology and bees’ cells to Roman law and a projected Chinese dictionary.



John Dryden: First Poet Laureate

John Dryden by Sir Godfrey Kneller

Three hundred and fifty years ago this year, Jonathan (John) Dryden (1631-1700), was appointed by Charles II as the first official holder of the position of Poet Laureate. Trinity College has educated two other Laureates since then: Laurence Eusden (1688-1730) and Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92).

Dryden was born in Aldwinkle and raised in Titchmarsh, both in Northamptonshire.  Later he was educated at Westminster School and then became an undergraduate here at Trinity between 1650 and 1654. In 1661 he became a Fellow of the College and in 1663, he presented a number of manuscripts to the College Library. These included a volume containing Bishop Robert Grosseteste’s sermons (R.8.16) and the beautiful album of Greek and Turkish Costumes (R.14.23) now known as the Dryden Album.

R.3.10, f.1r

Trinity also owns an early manuscript copy of Dryden’s The Indian Emperour (R.3.10) which was first performed in London at the Theatre Royal, Bridges Street in 1665 and brought him his first real success as a playwright. Trinity’s copy was owned by Elizabeth Newton Puckering in 1665 and donated to Trinity College in 1691 by her husband Sir Henry Puckering (formerly Newton). The play was first printed in 1667.

Plague closed the London theatres in late 1665 and Dryden moved to Wiltshire where he continued to produce new work including a play, Secret Love, the influential essay, Of Dramatick Poesie and the poem Annus Mirabilis which considered two events of 1666: the second Anglo Dutch war and the fire of London. The success of these works, especially Annus Mirabilis, may have been influential in his appointment as Poet Laureate. It became (and remains) the expectation that people appointed to this role write verses for significant national events and occasions. One of the best-known examples is Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade. Dryden became one of the major figures in Restoration culture but was dismissed as Laureate following the accession of William and Mary in 1689 because, as a convert to Catholicism, he refused to swear the Oath of Allegiance to them. He remains the only Poet Laureate ever to have been dismissed.

Poetry by Dryden, Eusden and Tennyson as well as many other poets associated with Trinity college is included in the anthology Trinity Poets, edited by Adrian Poole and Angela Leighton, published in 2017.

For other posts which refer to Dryden see A Turkish Souvenir: The Dryden Album and Anglo-Ottoman Contact and  Hail! Bright Cecilia!


Recent Additions to the Wren Digital Library (VII)




B.9.7, S. Athanasii Tractatus

B.9.7, p.1

This volume, written by Emmanuel Bobeni of Monembasia, is the manuscript the Library has owned for the longest time and was given to the college by John Christopherson, Master and Bishop of Chichester who died in 1558 . It was mentioned by Thomas James in Ecloga Oxonio-Cantabrigiensis as being at Trinity in 1600. Trinity’s manuscript collection was further developed in the first quarter of the 17th century by major donations from Archbishop Whitgift in 1604, Edward Stanhope in 1608, Thomas Nevile in 1611-12 and George Willmer in 1608-14. Together, these four men donated a total of 329 manuscripts.

B.5.1, Bible

B.5.1, f.245v

This 12th-century Bible was once at St Alban’s Abbey in Hertfordshire. The featured page shows the beginning of the Eusebian canons. Eusebius was a scholar who lived in Caesarea and who devised a way of comparing the texts of the four Gospels. The system was typically displayed within architectural-style columns headed by the name of the Gospel. Eusebius divided each Gospel into numbered sections and recorded similar passages in parallel across the columns, enabling cross-referencing.

B.1.30, Isidore

B.1.30, p.47

On the page illustrated here from a volume of the works of Isidore, the scribe has written the letter Z backwards. This would seem to be in order to accommodate the rest of the lettering in red (Zacharias & Elisabeth ambo) within the column. It may be compared with the Z for Zacharias, which was written correctly on p. 19 of the same volume.

Fragments of a 10th-century service book were originally bound in with this manuscript. They can be viewed here.

B.2.35, St Iohannes Chrysostomus super Epistolam ad Hebraeos, etc

B.2.35, f. 43r

This 12th-century volume contains a number of folios where repairs made to the vellum are evident. These repairs were made prior to the writing of the text and the scribe has written around them. There are other examples on f.11r and f.51r.

Parchment was made from animal skin (usually cow or sheep). Its production involved several stages: washing and soaking the skins, scraping away excess hair and then stretching the membrane on a frame in order for it to dry. Holes in the skins sometimes split when the skins were stretched. Since parchment was expensive these holes were usually mended by the parchment maker. The shape of the mending holes on this page indicates that the repair was made by the parchment maker (and not the scribe) as the holes made by the needle have been pulled into oval shapes as part of the drying process.

The entire Wren Digital Library can be viewed here.





Bindings in the Spotlight (6)

Suidas Graece, VI.18.25, upper cover

Jean Grolier (c.1489-1565), originally from Lyons, is remembered today as a bibliophile who put together an extensive collection of books with specially commissioned fine bindings. Most of his books were printed in Italy (often Venice) or Basle and the bindings were usually from Milanese and Parisian workshops.

This Milanese binding in morocco, decorated with medallions or plaquettes, was an early 16th century addition to Grolier’s collection. Plaquettes are impressions made in relief. The stamps are produced by casting in a mould from a wax model. The first plaquettes were produced in Italy from the mid-15th century and were used for decorating presentation book bindings, but also for larger items such as furniture.

Grolier was the first to apply plaquettes to book bindings for a private library and his collection contains some of the best examples of this form of decoration. Grolier’s books were also the first to be decorated by medallions made by contemporary artists. The upper cover has Abundance and a Satyr by Fra Antonio da Brescia (1487-1513) and the lower cover has The Judgement of Paris by the artist signing Io.F.F. The plaquettes retain some of their original colouring and are surrounded by a tooled, gilt lozenge.

The volume was given to the Trinity Library in memory of alumnus and manuscript collector, Henry Yates Thompson (1838-1928).

Suidas Graece, VI.18.25, lower cover

John Norden’s Maps of Cornwall

We have recently digitised Speculum Brittaniae (O.4.19) and in so doing were reminded of a piece of historical detective work undertaken in the 1970s.

In the late 16th century, the cartographer John Norden (c. 1547-1625) began a project to produce a survey of every county in England as a series called Speculum Britanniae. The project was never fully completed. Norden presented the manuscript copy of his Cornish survey containing maps and descriptions to King James I. This manuscript (now catalogued as Ms Harl 6252 in the British Museum) has long proved an enigma: bound within it is a series of engraved, printed maps. These maps were a later replacement for the original manuscripts maps, but the whereabouts of the original manuscript maps was unknown. In the 1970s this puzzle was solved by William Ravenhill of the University of Exeter.

At some point after 1642 – probably during the Civil War – the manuscript presented to the King was removed from the Royal Library and the maps were separated from the text. The antiquarian, Roger Gale (1672-1744) later purchased these maps and kept them together with another early manuscript copy of Norden’s survey that he acquired around 1696.

In 1728 William Pearson, working for the bookseller Christopher Bateman, produced a printed edition of Norden’s survey of Cornwall. He used as his basis the royal manuscript (Ms Harl 6252), but because the maps had been removed and were by that time in the possession of Roger Gale, he borrowed them from Gale in order to copy them and produce a series of engraved maps for the printed edition. A contemporary, Thomas Hearne (1678-1725), of the Bodleian Library, wrote:

The mapps in Norden’s Cornwall, lately printed, Mr Bateman borrowed of Roger Gale, Esq. They were returned to Mr Gale again … These Mapps without doubt belonged originally to the MS. That Mr Bateman hath and printed from …

Four copies of the printed edition were made on vellum, as well as 200 other copies on paper. Trinity College Library possesses one of the vellum copies (X.15.51 [1]) as well as two copies of the edition printed on paper (X.16.47 and Grylls 5.108).

Bateman then had a set of the engraved maps coloured and bound with the original manuscript (Ms Harl 6252). As part of a large bequest in 1738, Gale presented his composite copy to Trinity College. It was this manuscript that William Ravenhill, following various leads over 200 years later, realised contained Norden’s original manuscript maps.

Hundred of Penwith

Further Reading:

William Ravenhill, ‘The Missing Maps from John Norden’s Survey of Cornwall’, Exeter Essays in Geography (1971)