Discovering Newton

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Roubiliac Bust of Isaac Newton

Earlier this week we welcomed members of the Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers to the Library. Their visit was part of a symposium to mark the 350th anniversary of Newton’s argument that the Earth’s gravity influenced the moon, counter-balancing its centrifugal force.

Among the items on display were personal effects which belonged to Newton including his compass and ruler, the page from the admissions book recording his entry to the college, his notebook and his own annotated copy of Principia Mathematica.

 

Trinity Lends Medieval Manuscripts

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As part of its 200th birthday celebrations, the Fitzwilliam is staging one of the largest exhibitions of medieval illuminated manuscripts for several years. Colour: The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscipts combines a fantastic display of medieval artworks with the findings of a major scientific research project, www.miniare.org. The research project uses non-invasive techniques to analyse the chemical structure of the artists’ materials, shedding light on the processes and equipment required by a medieval illuminator.

Most of the 122 exhibits are drawn from the Fitzwilliam’s own collections, but three important manuscripts are on loan from Trinity College Library, all of which are available to view complete online as part of the Wren Digital Library:

The Trinity Apocalypse (R.16.2) is the most lavishly decorated English manuscript of the Book of Revelation, possibly made for king Henry III’s queen, Eleanor of Provence in the late 1250s. Bright colours are used to depict the heavenly Jerusalem.

R.16.2, f.25v
R.16.2, f.25v

Poems on the Praises of the Holy Cross by Hrabanus Maurus (B.16.3) is an extraordinary collection of poems written in grids of letters with superimposed patterns of crosses and other figures. Several of the poems are concerned with the significance of colours: the poem on display in the exhibition uses the colours hyacinth, purple, linen and scarlet to show Christ’s divinity, blood, chastity and love.

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B.16.3, f18v-19r

One of the manuscripts most central to the theme of the exhibition is John de Foxton’s Book of Cosmography (R.15.21), a manuscript written in York at the start of the fifiteenth century. The elaborate images throughout this book include nude portraits of the four elements, showing the effect of the humours on the colour of their skin: red for the Sanguine man, white for the Phlegmatic man, black for the Melancholic man and yellow for the Choleric man.

The crucial differences between the four temperaments in this book are shown with a complex combination of base colours with mixtures of up to seven different pigments for the upper layers of painting. Painstaking analysis of this manuscript has revealed the use of materials sourced from many different countries.

The exhibition will be on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum until Friday 30 December 2016, admission free. See the Colour events programme online.

 

 

 

 

Photograph of the Month

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Add P 86

This month’s photograph shows Andrew Sydenham Farrar Gow (1886–1978). A classical scholar, ASF Gow was elected a Fellow of Trinity College in 1911 but spent the years 1914 to 1925 as the Assistant Master of Eton College. Gow’s notable works include editions of Machon, Theocritus and the Greek Anthology.

The Gow collection at Trinity College Library consists of 323 books from Gow’s library, most of them published in the 20th century, on the subjects of  art, classics and literature (Gow 1-323). Gow was a friend and colleague of the poet and classicist A.E. Housman, who is best known for the series of poems called ‘A Shropshire lad’.  Housman also came to Trinity in 1911, taking the Kennedy Professorship in Latin.  The Gow collection contains 33 books by or about A.E. Housman, including one written by Housman’s sister Clemence and  illustrated by his brother Laurence Housman  (Gow 314).

Gow’s memorial is in Trinity College Chapel.

The Great Fire of London, 2 September 1666

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Views of London before and after the fire, by John Dunstall, K.15.121[18C]

350 years ago today, on 2 September 1666, an unimaginable calamity befell London.

No sooner was the plague abated in London, that the inhabitants began to return to their habitations, than a most dreadful fire broke out in the city, and raged as if it had commission to devour every thing that was in its way (Gideon Harvey, The City Remembrancer: X.15.2, f. 1r)

Opinions vary as to how the fire started, though the focus was an accident at the bakery in Pudding Street. However some Protestants believed it was arson carried out by Catholics who threw fire-balls into buildings. One man who confessed was tried and executed but later found to be innocent, for he had only arrived in London on the second day of the fire.

The fire raged at such a temperature that the inhabitants had to flee from molten streams of lead near St Pauls. The City Remembrancer continues:

September the third the exchange was burnt, and in three days almost all the city within the walls: the people having none to conduct them right, could do nothing to resist it, but stand and see their houses burn without remedy; the engines being presently out of order and useless! (X.15.2, f. 7r)

There was suddenly and unexpectedly seen, a glorious city laid waste; the habitations turned into rubbish; estates destroyed; the produce and incomes of many years hard labour and careful industry all in a few moments swept away and consumed by devouring flames . . . To have seen dear relations, faithful servants, even yourselves and families, reduced from plentiful, affluent, comfortable trade and fortune, over-night, to the extremest misery next morning! (X.15.2, f. 18v).

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William Sancroft, Lex Ignea (1666), one of several sermons on the subject of the Great Fire preserved in the Wren Library. K.15.121[18]

‘The severity of it will yet more appear from all the dreadful circumstances which attend and follow it. Could you suppose your selves in the midst of those cities which were consumed by Fire from heaven, when it seized upon their dwellings, O what cryes and lamentations, what yellings and shriekings might ye then have heard among them! (Edward Stillingfleet, A Sermon Preached before the Honourable House of Commons, 10 October 1666. I.8.43, ff. 12v-13r)

Sir Christopher Wren, who designed the new St Pauls Cathedral (as well as Trinity’s Wren Library) including many churches which had been destroyed in the fire, also proposed a new street plan for London.

K.15.121[18B]

A map or grovndplot of the Citty of London, and the suburbes thereof, that is to say, all that is within the Iurisdiction of the Lord Mayor or properly calld Londo[n] by which is exactly demonstrated the present condition thereof since the last sad accident of fire. The blanke space signifeing the burnt part & where the houses are exprest, those places yet standi[n]g. (1666) (K.15.121[18B])

The 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London is to be commemorated in a new exhibition at the Museum of London.

Conservation of ‘Histoire Naturelle des Singes et des Makis’.

monkeyWritten and illustrated by Jean Baptiste Audebert, this large, 19th century French book includes 63 full-page engravings of beautifully represented monkeys and lemurs. The book recently arrived at the Wren Library as part of the Crewe collection, bequeathed by Mary Innes-Ker, Duchess of Roxburghe to Trinity College. The binding was in fairly poor condition and handling of the book risked further damage. Conservation treatment was requested by the Librarian.

The leather spine had fallen into pieces and the remaining leather and the covering marbled paper on the boards were both scratched and torn, especially along the edges. The boards were still attached to the text-block by the laced-in cords ; however, the missing leather along the joints and torn inside hinges made the attachment vulnerable.

The text-block was wavy and dirty along the top edges and several pages had large water stains.

The conservation treatment, which took place at the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Book and Manuscript Conservation Workshop, aimed to restore the accessibility of the book while considering its historical and aesthetical values.

Firstly, the entire text-block was dry cleaned using a smoke-sponge. The two title pages were removed from the book and washed in warm de-ionised water. They were then left to dry under weight.

The visually disturbing water stains that covered some engravings were reduced by humidifying the stain edge and drying it immediately with a heated spatula through filter paper to avoid spreading the discolouration and distorting the paper.

The worn and delaminated vellum corners were repaired with new toned vellum and wheat-starch paste. The vellum was previously lined with paper which allows the piece of vellum to be moulded easily around the corner.

After removing the spine linings and any old adhesives, the spine was pasted, re-shaped slightly and lined with a strip of Japanese paper to consolidate the sewing. The board attachment was strengthened with a strip of aerolinen adhered onto the spine and extending onto the boards. The two title pages were then re-attached to the text-block by sewing them through the aerolinen.

New back-bead headbands were made with linen threads to reinforce the sewing structure.

A hollow back made of Heritage Archival paper was adhered to the spine and the book was re-backed with a piece of calf leather toned to match the remaining leather on the boards. Finally, the original leather label was pasted onto the spine and gold lines were tooled to imitate the original spine.

And finally, some full page images from the conserved book:

 

With thanks to Gwendoline Lemée.

Roubiliac in the Wren Library

Portrait of Roubiliac by A. Soldi
Roubiliac by A. Soldi
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Wren Library houses a magnificent series of portrait busts by Louis François Roubiliac, the leading sculptor in England in the mid-18th century.

By Wren’s time, there was a well-established tradition of furnishing libraries with painted and sculptural portraits. The subjects of these portraits would often be ancient and modern authors, great men worthy of emulation and providers of inspiration. This can be seen in the Wren in the series of plaster and wood busts placed on top of the bookcases on either side, one side ancient, one side modern. Together with representations of authors, portrait busts were also made of illustrious former members of College as a means of honouring them as well as helping to construct a sense of the College’s institutional history. It is in the series of busts which line either side of the Wren at floor level, each on a plinth, that we find the glorious workings of Roubiliac.

Wren Library interior
Interior of the Wren Library showing the busts at floor level on wooden plinths

While figurative sculpture for the interior of the Library had been envisaged by Wren, this was not realised to any scale until the middle of the eighteenth century when it became part of a wider project to ‘define and articulate Trinity’s intellectual affiliations and identity’ [1]. Enter Roubiliac.

By the 1750s he had established his reputation as one of the best sculptors in England. He was appreciated not only for his mimetic skills but also for his inventiveness, the latter which enabled him to stand out from rivals like John Michael Rysbrack and Peter Scheemakers. Probably the first thing that impresses as you gaze upon one of Roubiliac’s busts [in the Wren Library] is a delightful synesthesia conjured up in the immediacy of encountering the subject of the bust as if in person, a person who emerges from marble that, far from being cold and static, seems to flow around the contours of the face, hair and upper torso, and is suffused with warmth. There is a pleasing symmetry to the busts, from the head out to the shoulders and in again to the socle at the base. As Malcolm Baker expresses it in his invaluable chapter on the portrait sculpture in the Wren, they are created to be viewed as works of art in their own right and not merely as sculptures with a public function.

It is thus not surprising that it is to Roubiliac that the Master, Robert Smith, and Fellows of Trinity turned when they were embarking on a programme to develop the College’s iconography. This programme was guided by Smith’s own interests, particularly in the sciences, and was by no means confined only to the Library, or only to works of sculpture, but encompassed various forms of portraiture arranged throughout the College. There is no evidence to suggest a coherent plan, however. In the Library, the busts were either donated or commissioned by former members or friends of College, at the instigation of Smith; the combination of busts that resulted was down, in the end, to who he succeeded in persuading.

The busts in the Wren Library comprise:

10 by Roubiliac, the earliest being those of Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, Francis Willoughby or Willughby and John Ray. These are placed in pairs at either end of the Library. Later additions include Isaac Barrow, Richard Bentley, Baron Trevor, Lord Whitworth, Sir Robert Cotton and Sir Edward Coke. There are also two by Scheemakers and one by John Bacon.

Each bust is inscribed with the name of the sculptor, sitter and donor, and a date.

The final resting place of all 10 Roubiliac busts in the Wren Library was not established until into the 19th century. While we know that the busts of Newton, Bacon, Ray and Willoughby had been placed in the Library in the 1750s, and the bust of Cotes by the first decade of the following century, guidebooks and accounts do not mention the other busts until the 1830s, and so these had probably been placed elsewhere in College.

The Roubiliac busts

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roubiliac

 

References:

1. Baker, Malcolm. ‘The portrait sculpture’: in ‘The making of the Wren Library’, edited by D. McKitterick, p. 110.

Further reading:

Esdaile, K.A. Roubiliac’s work at Trinity College Cambridge.

Esdaile, K.A. The life and works of Louis Francois Roubiliac.

Bindman, David. Roubiliac and the eighteenth-century monument.

Photograph of the Month

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Add. PG.18

This photograph shows bathers at Trinity during the Long Vacation in 1894. The three terms at Cambridge are separated by three vacations (Christmas, Easter and Long Vacation). The Long Vacation is aptly named since it runs from mid June until the end of September. During this time no undergraduate teaching takes place. The Long Vacation is also known as the Research Period.

 

Shelley and the Birth of Frankenstein

Two hundred years ago, Percy Bysshe Shelley made a tour of Europe with his lover and future wife Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and her step-sister Claire Clairmont, who was pregnant with Lord Byron’s child. Their sojourn in the Alps quickly become notorious for two reasons: one night in June, the group challenged each other to write the scariest horror story, and the first seeds of the novel Frankenstein were sown. And the following month, on 23 July 1816 Shelley caused a scandal by publicly declaring himself an atheist when signing the visitors’ book at the Hôtel de Londres in Chamonix. The offending page from that hotel visitors’ book has just resurfaced in the Wren Library as part of a new bequest.

Visitor book

The visitors’ book was ruled with several columns, allotted to date, name, place of birth, and the starting-point and destination of the visitor’s journey. Shelley entered his name on 23 July 1816, born in Sussex and travelling from London ‘à l’Enfer’ – to Hell. In the space for comments, where an earlier visitor has commented on the divine majesty of the Alps, Shelley writes, in Greek, ‘eimi philanthropos, demokratikos, atheos te’: ‘I am a lover of mankind, a democrat and an atheist’. A later visitor wrote beneath this a verse from the Psalms: ‘The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God’.

Visitor book close-up

Shelley’s public declaration of atheism in this book quickly became infamous, and many came to the hotel in order to inspect the book. Underneath Shelley’s name is written ‘Mad. M. W. G.’ – Madame Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, the future Mary Shelley – and a further name, now crossed out, was Claire Clairmont. It was very likely to have been Byron who underlined Shelley’s name along with ‘the fool’ in the Greek text, in order to vent his frustration at Shelley’s outrage, and who crossed out Claire Clairmont’s name. A later visitor cut this page out of the visitors’ book, and it found its way into the collection of Richard Monckton Milnes, the remarkable Victorian MP and bibliophile whose library was recently bequeathed to Trinity College by his grand-daughter Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe. Several very rare Shelley editions are included in the bequest, and this page had been pasted inside the front cover of his epic poem The Revolt of Islam.

Mont Blanc seen from Chamonix, from Narrative of an Ascent to the Sumhmit of Mont Blanc (London, 1828), by John Auldjo, a Canadian-born student at Trinity College who became a noted Alpinist.
Mont Blanc seen from Chamonix, from Narrative of an Ascent to the Sumhmit of Mont Blanc (London, 1828), by John Auldjo, a Canadian-born student at Trinity College who became a noted Alpinist.

Before they arrived at the the hotel in Chamonix, Shelley had taken Mary Godwin and Claire Clairmont to visit Lord Byron at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva, where he was staying with his personal physician, John William Polidori. On one night in June 1816, Byron challenged each member of the group to write a ghost story. Polidori’s efforts were later expanded into The Vampyre, the first vampire novel, and Mary Godwin’s story was published in 1818 as Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. This page shows the first appearance of Frankenstein’s monster, in the Alps.

Shelley returned to England in the autumn of 1816. The following year he began work on an epic poem inspired by his observations of the French Revolution. First published as Laon and Cythna, the work became better known in its revised version as The Revolt of Islam, and is a highly sophisticated parable of revolutionary idealism. Shelley drafted much of the text on a boat on the Thames near Marlow in Buckinghamshire. Trinity College Library houses one page from the neat copy which Shelley prepared for his printer, showing part of Canto IX. It forms part of a substantial collection of autographs, the Cullum Collection. Laon and Cythna was quickly withdrawn after publication, amid fears of prosecution for blasphemy, and was reissued with a new title and many altered lines in 1817.

Wittgenstein’s Letter to the Garden Committee

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The papers of the eminent philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein are available via the Wren Digital Library. Outwith this archive, however, is a curious letter he addressed to the Garden Committee of the College in 1934, of incidental interest because of his studied objections to their plans for the Fellows’ Garden.

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View of the Garden

The area of land to the west of Trinity College and alongside Queen’s Road was bought for the college in 1871 (it had been leased for about 60 years before that). At the time it was known as the ‘Roundabout’ because of the circular walks within it, but from then on it was designated as the Fellows’ Garden. Designs were provided by the landscape gardener William Brodrick Thomas (1811-98) who also designed the ornamental lake at Sandringham and the Garden Committee was set up to oversee the implementation of these plans. They included retaining the already established avenue of elms and the ‘roundabout’ path, but adding flowering shrubs and ornamental trees.

Wittgenstein's Garden Plan
Wittgenstein’s Garden Plan

Summer grasses in the Fellows’ Garden were traditionally left uncut, but in 1933 some experimental paths were cut through the long grass. Ludwig Wittgenstein – by this time a fellow of Trinity – in a letter to the secretary offered (presumably unsolicited) opinions and advice on this decision. Affronted by the line of the paths, he suggested re-positioning them as well as making adjustments to the shape of the flower beds and the position of trees. He also criticised the planting schemes “… the kidney shaped bed with the dahlias in it looks very bad because of the border of Veronica round the dahlias. This fringe makes it look like a gaudy birthday cake.”

No response is known!

The Fellows’ Garden is open to the public once a year as part of the National Gardens Scheme and also during the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival.

Birdsong in the Fellows’ Garden

 

Further Reading:

Jane Brown, Trinity College: a garden history (Cambridge, 2002)

Photograph of the Month

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This photograph shows Abram Samoilovitch Besicovitch (b. 1891) mowing Trinity College lawns during the Second World War. Originally from Russia, Besicovitch came to Cambridge as a lecturer in 1927, was made a fellow in 1930 and was later appointed Rouse-Ball Professor of Mathematics (1950-58). He died in Cambridge in 1970.

For further biographical information see the Trinity College Chapel Website.