Wren Curios

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Currently we welcome around 100 people a day to the Wren Library. Tourists come to marvel at the architecture of the building, the stained glass, portraits and marble busts, and to view the special displays of manuscripts and printed books.

Visitors to the Wren Library during the 18th and 19th centuries, however, would have had a very different experience. In this period, it was not unusual for libraries to acquire items in addition to books including scientific instruments, natural history specimens and antiquities. These collections were intended to complement book-learning and had their origins in the ‘cabinets of curiosities’ which had been popularised during the 16th and 17th centuries.

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The English Globe by Joseph Moxton, 1679.
Image © the Whipple Museum (Wh.1466)

The accumulation of objects meant that the Library became, in many ways, also the city’s museum. Visitors may have seen, at various times, items as miscellaneous as a quiver of arrows allegedly used by Richard III at Bosworth, a rhinoceros’ horn, several globes and a speaking trumpet! Two more organised collections which came to the Library were those of coins from Beaupré Bell (1704–1741) and artefacts from the first voyage of Captain Cook between 1768 and 1771 given by Lord Sandwich. Scientific instruments including telescopes, dials and a barometer were transferred to an observatory established over Trinity’s Great Gate in the early 18th century.

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pavillionBecause the Library had been built to house books, items were fitted in wherever there was space. Old guide books refers to Roman inscriptions and sculpture (the Cotton Collection) in the vestibule at the bottom of the stairs; items from Cook’s Pacific voyage on the first landing; and, in the Library itself, collections of medals and coins, and Anglo-Saxon antiquities.  These were all displayed in addition to books and manuscripts.

An unusual feature of the above photograph of the Wren in the 19th century is the drapery which covered the Cipriani window on the south wall of the library. While the Victorians were happy to fill the Wren with antiquities, curiosities and other frivolities they disliked what they saw as the gaudiness of the 18th-century window in an otherwise austere building. Also, allegory was not to the Victorian taste and the window was covered for many years by large curtains which obscured, to their eyes, the slightly distasteful iconography of a partially-clad lady as the muse of the College.  This was one curiosity too many!

In the 20th century, the decision was taken to loan many of the objects to other museums which had by now been established in Cambridge. The coins, for example, went to the Fitzwilliam Museum, scientific instruments to the Whipple Museum and the Pacific artefacts to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. A few curios, however, remain here at Trinity and we will be highlighting some of them on the blog over the course of the next year. Look out for the first one on 29th December!

Further Reading:

McKitterick, D (ed.), The Making of the Wren Library (Cambridge, 1995), chapter 3.

Bromide and champagne: a new glimpse of Housman at Trinity

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A. E. Housman, portrait drawing by William Rothenstein, Trinity College Cambridge

A. E. Housman lived in Trinity College for the last 25 years of his life, following his appointment as Professor of Latin at Cambridge in 1911. A newly discovered collection of 53 hitherto unknown letters to his godson reveals much about life in College between the wars. While a student at Oxford in 1887-81, Housman developed an infatuation for his contemporary Moses Jackson, and his disappointment that the love was unrequited is often seen to have contributed to the wistfulness of many of Housman’s poems. Moses Jackson subsequently married and emigrated to India, but he remained in contact with Housman, who became godfather to Jackson’s fourth son, Gerald. Gerald Jackson kept his godfather’s letters, and they have recently been acquired from his family as a major addition to Trinity’s Housman collections.

 

The letters span Housman’s final decade, from 1927 to 1936. Gerald Jackson, born in 1900, had left university to undertake geological fieldwork in the copper mines of Northern Rhodesiaimg_9356. In 1927 he was considering pursuing a research degree in geology, and wrote to his godfather for advice on studying in Cambridge. Housman was characteristically diffident, writing that ‘it is no good asking my opinion and advice, which are valueless, as I stick to my job and know hardly anything about scientific studies here’. He nevertheless made arrangements with Tresillian Nicholas, the geologist who was about to be appointed Senior Bursar of Trinity, for Jackson to be kept a table in the College laboratory. In the end Jackson ended up studying at the Royal School of Mines, part of Imperial College London, but spent a few months at Trinity from November 1930, staying in B3 New Court. A letter from this time demonstrates Housman’s wish to be welcoming while following correct protocol with D. A. Winstanley, the Senior Tutor: ‘once you are admitted it will not be possible for me to ask you to the High Table, so will you come and dine with me in Hall on Monday, the first day I have free; and I will ask Winstanley to put off your fall in the social scale till afterwards.’

Jackson completed his D.Sc. in London, but Housman continued to profess ignorance whenever Jackson sent him some of his geological writings: ‘what it chiefly teaches me is the wealth of the English language, and my ignorance of it . . . full of beautiful new words, both long and short, of which my favourite is “ong” . . . The vocabulary, like the English army at Bannockburn, was “gay yet fearful to behold”.’

rs3830_tcl003404-hprHousman was a diligent and generous godfather, supporting his godson financially in order to enable him to prolong his decision of a final career. From 1932 Jackson trained in medicine at St Thomas’s Hospital, and he visited Housman in Trinity from time to time over the following years. Housman was always keen to pass on pieces of College news, and these give an air of the Combination Room conversation of the 1930s. In February 1933, Housman was appalled that ‘the Lent races are just over, in which Third Trinity was bumped by Fitzwilliam Hall, a disgrace unknown in history’, while the following month ‘the bronze Hermes in Whewell’s Court had his body painted black and his face yellow on the last night of term’. Later in 1933 Housman became ill for a prolonged period, but he had recovered sufficiently by the end of the year to eat 52 oysters on New Year’s Eve.

In 1935, following further medical problems, Housman moved from his rooms on K staircase of Whewell’s Court to B2 Great Court, a ground-floor set, ‘exceedingly comfortable, and the bathroom, which the College has equipped at its own expense, strikes the beholder dumb with admiration’. Although wisteria growing outside the window made it rather dark, the location was convenient for the Hall and for the lecture room (which is now the College bar). Before asking Jackson to send him a smoked ox tongue from Fortnum & Mason, Housman informed the trainee doctor of his own preferred medicine: ‘My walking is weak and slow, and for getting to sleep I am using diminishing doses of bromide, supplemented with champagne.’ Despite these sound preventative measures, Housman’s health continued to deteriorate, and following a period in the Evelyn Nursing Home, he briefly returned to College late in 1935, where he died on 30 April 1936. His last letter to his godson thanked him for sending a carefully chosen box of sweets to the staff of the nursing home on his behalf.

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The letters were purchased by the College through the generosity of an alumnus with particular interests in Housman. Harry Richardson Creswick was University Librarian in Cambridge, and did much to expand the UL’s holdings of Housman manuscripts in the 1950s and 60s. He kindly left a significant portion of his estate to Trinity, where it is used for the purchase of rare books and manuscripts.

For a further photograph of Housman, see this post. The autograph manuscript of A Shropshire Lad is available to view on the Wren Digital Library.

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 Ling Collection

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The Ling collection consists of 208 books chiefly in the area of linguistics from the library of Vivien Law, Fellow of Trinity College who died in 2002, at the age of 47. The books came to the library shortly after her death.

Dr Law held the only lectureship in the world dedicated to the history of linguistic thought. After her death the Henry Sweet Society for the History of Linguistic Ideas established a prize in her name for the best essay submitted on any topic within the history of linguistics. The collection of books which came to the library comprises books in English, Welsh, Swedish, Danish, French, Italian, Latin, German, Arabic, Dutch, Slovenian, Syriac, Hungarian, Ukrainian , Russian and the Indo-Aryan and Trinity College F.A VIII.34Dravidian group of languages.

Dr Law was a specialist in the area of medieval grammar (her book Grammar and Grammarians in the Early Middle Ages was published in 1997) and there are a number of books on medieval grammar in the collection. The oldest is a copy of the first ever Italian grammar Regole grammaticali della volgar lingua (dated 1524, Ling.c.119) by Giovanni Francesco Fortunio . It contains an analysis of the Tuscan vernacular based upon works by Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca and Giovanni Boccaccio. There is also a grammar of the Latin language, dated 1552, by Aldo Manuzio (1449-1515) (Ling.c.110). Manuzio was best known as an innovative printer and publisher and founder of the Aldine Press.

Ling, c.110, title page
Ling, c110, title page