Tag Archives: Hugh Owen Library

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.


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.

Johnson Shakespeare 2

‘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.

Johnson Shakespeare owners

Written notes and book-plates showing previous owners.


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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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Christmas drama performances from the 1890s

For December the Special Collections display on Level F in the Hugh Owen Library takes a look back to the 1890s and the early years of the Aberystwyth University Dramatic Society.

A dramtic scene from Much ado about nothing set against back drio of trees, 4 cast members are shown in a variety of poses.

A scene from Much Ado About Nothing 1893

The display is made up of a variety of photos and copies of the college magazine, giving a glimpse into the history of the university and the local area.

The display includes some academic staff from the early years of the University in dramatic garb, including Profs Ainsworth Davies who co-wrote the College Song Edward Edwards and Herman Ethe.

Two pictures, the left shows Edward Edwards from a scene in The Rivals he is in costume and dramatically grasping his head. The picture on the right show the cast of The Rivals shown is a mixture of staff and students in costume. They are arranged in two tiers, some standing some sitting.

Left – Edward Ewards from a scene in The Rivals 1897.
Right – The cast of The Rivals 1897.

Bill Hines the Collection Curator who arranges these displays writes;  In the early years of the College performances by the Dramatic Society formed a rare bonding opportunity in the restricted social round for academics and students, both male and female! The College Magazine gave a full write up to these performances and we are lucky to hold a series of photographs from plays such as “The Rivals” and “The Librarian”.

12 of the cast members from The Librarian from 1894. The picture shows a mixture of female and male staff and students in costume, they are arranged in two tiers some sitting and others standing.

The cast of The Librarian from 1894.

Other displays currently on show include one on Alfred Russel Wallace the evolutionary theorist on Level D of the Hugh Owen Library and in the Thomas Parry Library there is a collection of beautiful horn books.

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The Student newsletter and Moscow 1812

Come along and see our unique Special Collection displays in Hugh Owen Library. This month we’ve got two collections: On Level D is a display of The Student newsletter from the late nineteenth century while on Level F you’ll find material on Moscow 1812, a turning point in the Napoleonic wars.

The Student

Although UCW Magazine which began in 1878 was intended for student use it was seen by some as rather dry in content and an attempt was made in 1894 to develop a newsletter for the Common Room, called The Student. This wallsheet provides a fascinating picture of student activity a century or more ago, long before the days of Courier.

Moscow 1812

A display featuring contemporary accounts of this turning point in the Napoleonic Wars along with some later representations in music, literature and art.

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New Displays for July

Hugh Owen Library

On Level D – New rare books display celebrating the work of the Royal Society

Come and see our new display of rare and early works from the Royal Society on Level D, Hugh Owen Library.

These rare jewels of early materials include works by Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton and John Evelyn and a splendid illustrated volume by Nehemiah Grew on the early collections of artefacts built up by the Society.

The Royal Society received its Charter from Charles II in the summer of 1662 so we are celebrating 350 years of the Society.

Come along and view our unique collection!

On Level F – The Powell Music Archive – Come and view some of our most interesting manuscripts

The Hugh Owen Library is offering a unique opportunity to view some of the most interesting manuscripts from the George Powell Music Collection.

Two manuscripts and one printed item from this collection are on display on Level F in the Hugh Owen Library:

O Spiritual Pilgrim by Gustav Holst (1874 – 1934)

Trio Sonata Op.2, no.3 by Arcangelo Corelli (1653 – 1713)

Missa Solemnis by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)

The Music Collection itself consists of over three hundred volumes of printed music, together with working scores and manuscript copy letters, including letters from Beethoven, Mozart and Mozart’s widow Constanze. The collection is currently being catalogued in the Hugh Owen Library.

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New Library Displays

Hugh Owen Library

On Level D – Nicolas de Fer – A Royal Cartographer

Nicolas de Fer (1646-1720) was one of the great map makers of the late 17th century, proclaimed as Geographer of the King of Spain and the Dauphin. The Library is fortunate to own a large part of his key work – Les Forces d’Europe, which was originally published between 1690 and 1695 and then reissued in 1705. The full work included maps of fortified towns in France, the Low Countries, Germany and around the Mediterranean along with some views. The maps in our collection were acquired by Professor Rudler and later bequeathed to the Library.


On Level F – The Death of a Prime Minister

On 11 May 1812 the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, was assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons. On display are some contemporary accounts of the event and the  subsequent trial of his killer John Bellingham, drawn from the Annual Register and Gentleman’s Magazine for 1812.

Thomas Parry Library

Two Literary Anniversaries

1812 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Joanna Baillie, the Scottish poet and dramatist, who died in 1851. On display we have an early edition of her complete works, published in 1853, and an original letter from our archives.

The poet Robert Browning was born on 7 May 1812 and died on 12 December 1889. On display are some early works by him and also a volume of poems presented to him by Sir John Hanmer, a Victorian politician who represented Shrewsbury and then Flintshire for many years.

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by | May 23, 2012 · 1:25 pm