From the Crewe Collection: Wilton Garden – ‘The greatest of English Renaissance gardens’

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Wilton Garden, ‘The greatest of English Renaissance gardens’ [ Strong, The Renaissance garden in England (1979)]
In the early 1630s Isaac de Caus created at Wilton near Salisbury a formal garden for the sophisticated, learned and hugely wealthy Philip Herbert, fourth earl of Pembroke. De Caus, a French Huguenot exile specialised in the design and construction of grottoes and waterworks and Lord Pembroke had been part of the embassy sent to Paris by Charles I to accompany his prospective bride, Henrietta Maria, to England. While he was in Paris, Pembroke resided in the Palais de Luxembourg with its magnificent formal gardens which were probably the inspiration for Wilton, one of the earliest examples in England of a garden in the French style.

Nine and a half acres of garden were enclosed by a wall and divided by a broad path. The garden with waterworks, statuary and parterres de broderie , flanked by arbours was some 400 feet wide and a thousand feet long. The River Nadder which ran across the site was included in the garden scheme and enclosed in a “wilderness” and the river provided water for the many fountains. The garden was studded with statues and a magnificent grotto at the far end of the garden was entered through a classical façade and contained spouting sea monsters, a table with hidden jets to wet the unwary, and hydraulically simulated birdsong. An elevated walkway from the grotto offered a view of the south façade of Wilton House.

Sir Roy Strong has described the garden at Wilton, as “a unique synthesis of the Renaissance Gardener’s art”, a “symbol of the halcyon days of the King’s peace” and “the greatest of English Renaissance gardens”.

The garden survived in this form until the 1730s by which time fashion had turned from the formal to the informal and a later earl of Pembroke had Lancelot “Capability” Brown sweep away the old garden and create a “natural” landscape in the English style.

The garden was illustrated in a set of engravings published by de Caus in the late 1640s. Entitled Wilton Garden the book is one of the rarest and most important books in gardening history. It is rare, because few copies are known to exist and important because it is one of a very few visual and contemporary records of an early garden scheme.

The copy of Wilton Garden in the library of Trinity College Cambridge is one of only four known copies in the United Kingdom. There are probably fewer than ten copies in the world. This book came to the library in 2016 as part of a substantial bequest of books by the late Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe. The book contains the bookplate of the Duchess’s father, the earl, later the marquess, of Crewe which suggests that the book was owned by Lord Crewe before his elevation to the marquessate in 1911. Other than this there are no indications of provenance. The book has its original binding. The text is in French and it contains an introduction, a table of contents and 27 plates. Uniquely, it contains a plate of the south front of the house before the fire of 1648. This is not known in any other copy.

Wilton House, south front
Wilton House, south front

Wilton Garden is currently on display in the Wren Library during public opening hours.

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.