Author Archives: Ffion

Professor Hermann Ethé

As we noted in this blog on 11 December 2013, material from the Hugh Owen Archives and Special Collections were digitised last year and included in the Welsh Experience of the First World War project based at the National Library of Wales: http://cymru1914.org/. This year we shall be adding to our Special Collections website articles that place these materials in their historical context.

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Ethé (on the left with beard) with other members of staff of the University College of Wales Aberystwyth.

The first article concerning Professor Hermann Ethé, Professor of Oriental Languages at the University College of Wales Aberystwyth at the start of the First World War, and the local campaign to have him removed from the University, is now on the Special Collections pages: http://www.aber.ac.uk/en/is/collections/special-collections/ww1/.

We are very grateful to Christopher T. Husbands, Emeritus Reader at the London School of Economics and Political Sociology, for allowing us to reproduce the Hermann Ethé section from his much larger study, German-/Austrian-origin Professors of German in British universities during the First World War: the lessons of four case studies.

Hermann Ethe plaque

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Iceland’s Grey Goose Laws

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Title page of the 1829 publication

The ‘Grágás’ is the name given to a collection of laws dating from the Icelandic Commonwealth period (between 980 and 1262).  These were originally oral laws, a third of which would be recited at each annual meeting of the Alþingi – the Iceland national parliament – over a three year period.  In 1117 were they written down,  but by the Middle Ages they still only existed in two (sometimes contradictory) manuscript fragments.  The laws of the Icelandic Commonwealth were being described as the ‘Grey Goose Laws’  by the 16th century – possibly because the original manuscripts were written with goose-feather quills or bound in goose skin.

The complete laws can be categorised into six main sections:

  • Christian Laws
  • Assembly Procedures
  • Treatment of Homicide
  • The Wergild Ring List
  • The Lawspeaker’s Section
  • The Law Council Section

At Aberystwyth we have an early complete volume of the Grágás laws, published (not on anything goose-related) in 1829 with an introduction and notes by the Danish lawyer and academic J.F.W. Schlegel (1765-1836).  Schlegel was a professor of jurisprudence at Copenhagen University from 1800, and was the first person in Denmark to study and then teach the philosophy of Kant (in relation to natural law).

This volume also includes a bookplate that tells us a little about its provenance:

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Bookplate reading: EX BIBLIOTHECA / FERD. BREYMANN / LEGATA / BIBL. GUELFERBYTANAE / MDCCCLXIII

 

This tells us that the volume was previously in the private library of Friedrich August Ferdinand Breymann (1798-1863), Supreme Court Judge of Wolfenbüttel in Germany.  When he died, this volume, along with over 4700 others, were bequeathed to the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel.

 

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Frontispiece of the 1829 publication.

 

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Early Icelandic literature: a selection of books from the library collection of George Powell, Nanteos.

From amongst the many interesting materials in Aberystwyth University’s Rare Book Room, we’ve chosen some about countries Way Up North for this blog post.  To be more accurate, about Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland.  You may wonder, why would materials like these end up in Aberystwyth of all places?   The answer to a certain extent lies in the eclectic interests of a certain George Ernest John Powell, and his generous donations.

In my will, therefore, I had left to your University – as well as being quite the worthiest and most intelligent corporate body in my dear but benighted town – all I possessed ‘of bigotry and virtue’ – Letter from GP to Principal T C Edwards, 4.iv.1879

George Powell of Nanteos (1842-1882) came from a family of local dignitaries and landowners, growing up at the Nanteos mansion quite near the benighted Aberystwyth.  He eventually took over the estate and became High Sheriff of Cardigan, but before that he spent most of his adult life in London, Paris, and travelling widely elsewhere.  A detailed biography has been by compiled by the School of Art, where much of his collection is kept.

One part of the world he visited was Iceland, and like many Victorian travellers he developed a special interest in this isolated country of rugged landscapes and a romantic history preserved in sagas over centuries.  He took Icelandic lessons from Eiríkur Magnússon (a scholar and librarian at Cambridge University), and provided financial support to the Icelandic nationalist writer Jón Árnusson.  At that time Iceland was still a Danish dependency, and ancient sagas as well as folk history provided the inspiration for a strong nationalist movement in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Saga þess haloflega Herra Olafs Tryggvasonar Noregs Kongs – published by Jone Snorrasone, 1689.

 

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Little is known about the 10th century Norwegian king Olaf Tryggvason, but this saga describes him (sometimes forcibly) converting the Norse to Christianity.  In the 12th century a monk at the Þingeyrar monastery in Iceland, Oddr Snorrasson, wrote a Latin biography of the historic king – that original text no longer survives, but the work was translated into Old Norse and copies of that still exist.  From this title page we can see that it comes from George Powell’s collection.

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The Johnson Shakespeare

April 2014 means Happy 450th Birthday to Shakespeare. Will you be seeing the Information Services Players channelling Lear, raging at the next great storm to hit Aber?  Or finding forbidden love, leaning out of balconies, and it all ending tragically?  Well watch this space! (I have been asked to clarify that this will probably not actually happen…bah, spoilsports!).

Nevertheless, we would still like to present one of our greatest Library treasures to celebrate the occasion. This is the 1747 Bishop Warburton edition of Shakespeare, used by Dr. Samuel Johnson in the preparation of his Dictionary.  The volumes will be on display on Level D, in addition to an earlier 1725 collection by Pope and some famous forgeries of plays that William Ireland tried to pass off as ‘lost works’ by Shakespeare on Level F.

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The Warburton edition of Shakespeare (1747)…’restored from the Blunders of the first Editors, and the Interpolations of the two Last’

After being approached by a group of publishers in 1746, Johnson (and a number of assistants for the copying work) took 9 years to complete the task – in a biography of Johnson, the dictionary is described as:

“easily ranking as one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship, and probably the greatest ever performed by one individual who laboured under anything like the disadvantages in a comparable length of time” (from Samuel Johnson, Walter Bate 1977).

This copy of Warburton’s collected Shakespeare is filled with notes by Johnson, as he found examples of words to use in the dictionary – more than from any other work.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary today, the first evidence of 1,582 new words in the English language come from Shakespeare, as well as the evidence of 7,956 words used with new meanings.  His completely new words included admired, ghost, and leap-frog, and nobody would be saying that the world was their oyster, or that there was method in their madness without him.

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‘Richard III’ with Johnson’s annotations.

Johnson’s friend Sir John Hawkins described the scene during the process of collecting examples for the dictionary:

“The books he used for this purpose were what he had in his own collection, a copious but a miserably ragged one, and all such as he could borrow; which latter, if ever they came back to those that lent them, were so defaced as to be scarce worth owning.” (from Life of Samuel Johnson, 1787).

These unique volumes passed from Johnson to the  Shakespeare scholar George Stevens in 1785.  They came into the possession of scholar and serious bibliophile Richard Heber (whose libraries in Britain and abroad supposedly contained over 150,000 volumes), and at some point were also owned by a Major Charles Thoyts (whose book-plates are in all 8 volumes – the sale of his library is recorded in a Sotheby’s auction catalogue from 1815) .  In 1862 they were acquired by George Powell of Nanteos for 15 guineas, and were then left to the University.

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Written notes and book-plates showing previous owners.

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William Dowsing

A recent library discovery is a copy of Richard Rogers’ Commentary upon the Whole Book of Judges (1615) which was extensively indexed and annotated by the Civil War iconoclast William Dowsing (1596 – 1668).   A devout Puritan, land-owning farmer, and soldier, he had his own library of religious texts – his earliest recorded book purchases were some illegal separatist works printed in the Netherlands and smuggled into England.

In March 1643, at the beginning of the Civil War, Dowsing wrote an angry letter to a local Puritan preacher complaining about the “blasphemous crucifixes, all superstitious pictures and reliques of popery” (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – ODNB) he saw around the town and university of Cambridge. Opinions like this must have brought him into favour with the authorities at the time, as he had been appointed Provost-Marshall of the Parliamentary armies in the east of England.

Dowsing was directed by his superior, the Earl of Manchester, to act as ‘Commissioner for the destruction of monuments of idolatry and superstition’.  In the role he proceeded to carry out a Parliamentary ordinance recorded in the Journal of the House of Commons from 26th August 1643, “concerning the taking away of all superstitious and idolatrous Monuments out of all Collegiate, Cathedral Churches, and other Parish Churches and Chapels”.

He took this undertaking seriously – he and his deputies (all of whom were his own neighbours or relatives) visited the chapels of all sixteen Cambridge colleges, and recorded visits to eighty-two other parishes in Cambridgeshire.  They also visited over 147 parishes in Suffolk.

On these visits they concentrated on levelling chancels, removing altar rails, removing inscriptions on tombs or in glass, and breaking “all representations in glass, wood, or stone of the persons of the Trinity or of the heavenly host” (ODNB).  Later they moved on to organs as well.  He made recordings of most of the actions in a journal (available to read online), including this entry from Peterhouse College chapel, Cambridge:

“1. Peter-House. We went to Peter-house, 1643, December 21, with officers and soldiers, and in the presence of Mr. Hanscott, Mr. Wilson, the President Mr. Francis, Mr. Maxey, and other Fellows, Dec. 20, and 23.  We pulled down two mighty great angells, with wings, and divers other angells, and the 4 Evangelists, and Peter, with his keies on the chappell door and about a hundred chirubims and angells, and divers superstitious letters in gold.”

and the entry for the parish church in Madingley, Cambridgeshire:

“133. March 6 …There was 31 pictures superstitious, and Christ on the cross and two thieves by him, and Christ and the Virgin Mary in another window, a Christ in the steeple window. Ordered the steps to be levelled and 14 cherubim in wood to be taken down…”

Dowsing spent many hours reading and indexing Rogers’ book – 2 hours a night over two months and 16 pages every evening. One annotation on the evils of long hair notes that Judge Popham at Bury Assizes in the late 16th century ordered a member of the Grand Jury to have his hair shorn, since it was a disgrace to Queen Elizabeth!

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The Librarian Connection

The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings….Also through here passes a spiral stairway, which sinks abysmally and soars upwards to remote distances.

– from ‘The Library of Babel‘ by Jorge Luis Borges.

Here at Aberystwyth University there have always been librarians, assisting students and staff to find what they’re looking for and ensuring that all the resources needed for teaching, learning and research are available.  The latest rare book display at the Thomas Parry Library includes a number of volumes and papers owned by the University that are associated with famous historical librarians.

Plot’s Natural History of Oxfordshire (1677) with notes by Henry Ellis

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Henry Ellis  became Principal Librarian of the British Museum in 1805, and remained in that position until 1856 – he was an accomplished antiquarian and scholar.  His assistant, and direct successor in the post at the British Museum was Anthony Panizzi, who doubled the number of books (making the collection the largest library in the world) and push through many reforms.  

Ellis had previously argued against some of these reforms in a parliamentary committee – he stated that if the museum were not closed for three weeks in the autumn, the place would positively become unwholesome, and that to open on Saturdays would be a mistake as that was when the most mischievous part of the population was abroad (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).   This copy of Plot’s Natural History of Oxfordshire was owned by Ellis during his time as a student at St John’s College, Oxford in the 1790’s.

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Sir Isaac Newton

At the Hugh Owen Library there is a collection of rare volumes relating to the famous physicist and mathematician, Sir Isaac Newton. These include an early edition (1721) of Newton’s own Opticks in which he overturned the accepted theory of the time – that ‘pure’ light from the sun was white or colourless. Through analyses of light’s behaviour through prisms, he proved that just the opposite was true, and that light is composed of seven different colours. Also on display is a 1760 edition of his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica – a seminal work laying out in mathematical terms the laws of motion and an account of universal gravitation.   

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We also hold a copy of Bernhard Varen’s Geographia Generalis, a 1672 edition that Newton published himself – in it Varen discusses the general principles of geography as a scientific subject using the knowledge of the time. This includes mathematical facts about the dimensions and motions of the earth, as well as their practical applications in navigation and map-making.

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Recently a book from Newton’s own library has come to light. This is William Baxter’s Glossarium Antiquitatum, published 1719, and acquired when Newton was Master of the Mint – later bookplates indicate that this volume was in Newton’s possession when he died.

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Gleaning From a Denbigh Grocer

Back in the 1890’s Thomas Roberts, a grocer and provision dealer from Denbigh, presented the University with two 16th century Bibles, one being a New Testament published by Christopher Barker in 1589 and the other a “Breeches Bible”, so called from the translation of Genesis ch3 v7.   Whilst these are interesting in themselves they also demonstrate the variety of historical evidence provided by such volumes, ranging from the marking of particular texts, annotated family trees, and bookmarks on tithe disputes, to binders waste taken from earlier printed volumes. It is likely that these bibles were donated to the University by Thomas Roberts in response to an appeal which went out from Principal T F Roberts in 1897. (Another Denbigh trader, E. T. Jones, Ironmonger, presented a series of 1820 pamphlets from the radical publisher William Hone around the same time). The 1589 New Testament was produced by William Fulke, the Master of Pembroke College Cambridge, as part of his confutation of the Rheims New Testament which had been produced by English Catholics.

Roberts Bible

The other volume is a copy of the Breeches Bible which has also been dated to 1589. Family bibles were often used to record births and deaths of successive generations and the Breeches Bible includes an interesting set of annotations for the Davies and Lloyd families from the 1680’s and 1690’s. The Fulke New Testament had obviously been well studied over the years with numerous page turnings marking significant texts. The volume also included a watch paper from Robert Jones, a Ruthin watchmaker of the early 19th century, and a short pamphlet setting out arguments against tithes. Although the binding is fragile there is some binders waste from an earlier black letter printed volume.

Breeches Bible title page

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