From the Crewe Collection: Works by Richard Francis Burton

Sir Richard Francis Burton by Frederic Leighton, Baron Leighton, oil on canvas, circa 1872-1875, NPG 1070, © National Portrait Gallery, London
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Richard Burton (photograph pasted to the front flyleaf of First Footsteps)

The explorer Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) was best known for his travels in Africa, Asia and the Americas.  His observations, which he recorded in numerous books and articles, provided a remarkable insight into the lives and habits of the people he encountered. There are five works by Burton in the Crewe collection, of which two are notable for their rarity.  The first is a copy of First footsteps in East Africa, or an exploration of Harar (1856), an in depth account of the customs, practices and way of life of the peoples of East AfricaRichard Burton was a personal friend of Richard Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton) and this copy includes a handwritten letter from Burton, addressed to ‘My dear Milnes’ explaining that he has found the ‘original copy’ of appendix 4.  Appendix 4 describes the practice of female circumcision in the East Africa region.  To circumvent the censor, it was translated into Latin, but the cautious publisher left it out of all but a few copies of the book.  A website devoted to Burton and his work (burtoniana.org ) tells us with regard to appendix 4 that ‘Spink & son (1976) estimated that no more than 6 of these were printed, presumably for Burton’s personal use.  Appendix IV contains 4 pages, on two leaves, numbered as pages 593-6.  Most known copies with Appendix IV have only 1 leaf, that is two pages’.  The Crewe collection copy has two printed pages of the appendix, the rest of it (another two pages) has been completed in manuscript by an unknown hand but is tempting to think it was completed by Burton himself.

The second book is Stone Talk (1865).  Burton’s lifestyle and attitude often brought him into conflict with the mores and values of the society of the day and by the 1860s his career in the army was faltering.  It was these circumstances which gave rise to this bitter satire on Victorian society. The book was written in verse under the pseudonym Frank Baker.

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Referring to the publication of the book, his wife Isabel writes in her ‘Life’ (London: Chapman & Hall, 1893), ‘When I showed it to Lord Houghton, he told me that he was afraid that it would do Richard a great deal of harm with the “powers that were.” And advised me to buy them up, which I did.’

burtoniana.org tells us that ‘Stone Talk has been hard to find ever since it was first published. Burton … only had 200 copies printed. The majority of these (128) were for distribution to his friends and the press, and  most of the remainder were soon bought back by his wife Isabel and destroyed, ostensibly because she thought the book might damage his career’.

Books from the Crewe Collection including First Footsteps are currently on display in the Wren Library during public opening hours.

Further Reading:

burtoniana.org

From the Crewe Collection: The Rossiad, by Lord Alfred Douglas

Oscar Wilde; Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas by Gillman & Co, May 1893, NPG P1122
© National Portrait Gallery, London

The Crewe collection contains a number of early editions of works by Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900). Wilde was known to the 1st marquess of Crewe when he was Lord Houghton and a fellow member of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt’s Crabbet Club. The collection also contains works about, and relating to, Wilde published after his death.

Robbie Ross by Elliott & Fry, circa 1914
Robbie Ross by Elliott & Fry, circa 1914, NPG x12885
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Lord Alfred Douglas (1870 –1945), a cousin of Blunt, was an author and poet but is better known as the friend, lover and instigator of the downfall of Oscar Wilde. Following Wilde’s death Lord Alfred’s behaviour became increasingly erratic and led to his involvement in several libel actions and much public controversy. His relations with Robert Ross (1869 –1918), an art critic, art dealer, friend and literary executor of Wilde became particularly bitter and inflamed. Lord Alfred vindictively pursued Ross and attempted on a number of occasions to have him arrested and tried for homosexuality. Another object of Lord Alfred’s bile was Edmund Gosse, a friend of Lord Crewe and a supporter and protector of Ross.

rossiad-noteIn 1916 Lord Alfred wrote and circulated The Rossiad, a polemic directed against Ross, a copy of which was sent to Lord Crewe through the Privy Council Office. This was accompanied by a letter from Lord Alfred suggesting improprieties on the part of Gosse.

Lord Alfred’s reputation was such that a civil servant sent a note to the marquess on official paper saying:

“Lord Crewe – I suppose it would be dangerous to send any form of acknowledgement”

To which Lord Crewe replied

“No reply, of course”

Books from the Crewe Collection including The Rossiad and works by Oscar Wilde are currently on display in the Wren Library during public opening hours.

 

The Crewe Collection

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Yesterday we officially announced the arrival at Trinity of the Crewe bequest of over 7500 books. It is described by the Librarian, Dr Nicolas Bell, as ‘an extraordinary library – one of the most important private collections in Britain’ and is one of the largest bequests in the Library’s history. The collection includes major works of English and French literature, rare political pamphlets and several unpublished literary manuscripts, as well as first editions inscribed by Byron, Shelly, Wordsworth and Tennyson.

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Richard Monkton-Milnes

The books were bequeathed by Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe who died in 2014 and whose father, Robert Crewe-Milnes, and grandfather, Richard Monckton Milnes, both studied at Trinity before embarking on important political careers. The collection was built up between the 1830s and the early twentieth century. Many of the books were presented by their authors to Monckton Milnes, later Lord Houghton, who was a leading Liberal in Victorian politics as well as a writer and poet. At the time of the bequest the collection was kept at West Horsley Place, the Surrey house bought by Crewe-Milnes in 1931.

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Over the past year the collection has been transported to the Wren Library and the long process of sorting, classifying, cleaning and conserving the books has begun. The first few hundred volumes have been added to the Library’s online catalogue, selected volumes are on display during public opening hours and, by appointment, all of the books are available to researchers for consultation. A small first selection of books has been added to the Wren Digital Library.

You can read more about the collection here and here. For a family tree, click here.