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.
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.
In 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.
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 The collection includes major works of English and French literature, rare political pamphlets and several unpublished literary manuscripts, as well as first editions inscribed by Byron, Shelly, Wordsworth and Tennyson.
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.
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.
Written 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:
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.
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’.
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.
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.