Tag Archives: Rare books

Never Judge a Book By Its Covers!

Whilst cataloguing books from the Old College Library we came upon a couple of pamphlets which, as you can see from the pictures below, might not have warranted a second glance. Stained, frayed at the edges, and faded by the years, they could have easily been overlooked. Appearances can be deceptive though, and a closer inspection of these two fragile books revealed their true worth.

Uncle TomIt would appear that they are one of the two earliest translations into Welsh of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This abridged translation by Y Lefiad (a pseudonym of William Williams) was published in Abertawy in 1853 just one year after the very first printing in Boston.  They are scarce items and from our preliminary research we have only been able to locate one other copy and that is just of Volume Two.
These are rare and important works then. They may be a little frayed around the edges but as Shakespeare reminds us in The Merchant of Venice, “not all that glisters is gold”, and their worth is reflected by the fact that they are now housed safely in the Rare Book Room of the Hugh Owen Library.

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Thomas Gywnn Jones 1871-1949

We have recently catalogued a small collection of Irish-Gaelic books that were donated to the University by T. Gwynn Jones, a former member of the Welsh Department at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth and holder of the Gregynog Chair of Welsh Literature from 1919 until his retirement in 1937. The collection reflects Jones’s interest in Celtic languages and his long-standing affinity with Ireland, cemented by three visits there in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

There were some really interesting finds amongst the collection including this 1922 edition of what we understand to be the first (partial) translation of Don Quixote into any Celtic language by Peadar Ua Laoghaire (Peter O’Leary).

Don Quixote T.G.J.

Also in the collection is a signed 1943 edition of: Danta eagsamla agus beanla cunta onta ag Dubglas de h-ide (Miscellaneous poems translated into English by Douglas Hyde). Hyde was the first President of Ireland, serving between 1938 and 1945 and there are a number of his books in the collection.
Other titles from the T. Gwynn Jones collection include:

Oċt sgéalta ó Ċoillte Máġaċ. An Craoiḃín Aoiḃinn; do scríoḃ ó ḃéal Tomáis Uí Ċaṫasaiġ.

Aḃráin ġráḋa ċúige Ċonnaċt / ar n-a gcruinniuġaḋ agus ar n-a ḃfoillsiuġaḋ de’n ċéad uair le Duḃglas De h-Íde (an Craoiḃín Aoiḃinn) ; ar n-a gcur amaċ anois arís agus tuilleaḋ aḃrán leó.

An gráḋ agus an ġruaim / Seosaṁ mac Grianna do scríoḃ.

Sgealta a fili na Romha

T.G.J. SignatureFurther titles from the collection can be found by searching for T. Gwynn Jones in Primo and looking for: T Jones (Thomas Gwynn), 1871-1949 former owner, in the listings. Look out for his signature in the books.

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Iceland’s Grey Goose Laws

gragas2

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:

gragas-bookplate

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.

 

gragas1

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.

 

iceland image 2

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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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!

dowsing-front

 

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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.   

isaac newton 4

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.

isaac newton 2

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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Exhibitions in January

Aberystwyth – The Great Storm 1938

(the storm 1938 january 2012)

On Level D of Hugh Owen Library

The Storm

In January and February 1938 Aberystwyth was hit by storms which caused significant damage to the Promenade, Pier and University Halls of Residence. This display shows some of the press reports and correspondence relating to events at Alexandra Hall and elsewhere.

Exhibition to mark the bicentenary of Dickens birth in 2012

Dickens

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

(dickens january 2012)

On Level F of the Hugh Owen Library

Come and take a look at a display of books by and about Charles Dickens to mark the bicentenary of his birth in the Hugh Owen Library.

Aberystwyth University Library holds a number of early copies of novels by Dickens along with the first volume of “All The Year Round” from 1859, including the initial serialisation of “A Tale of Two Cities”. Also on display are George Powell’s copy of the collected letters published by Chapman and Hall in 1880 and Camden Hotten’s 1870 biography.

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December’s Displays

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863)

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863)

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863)

A display of books and material by W. M. Thackeray to mark the bicentenary of his birth. Aberystwyth University Library holds a number of early editions of works written by Thackeray and we are also fortunate to own a couple of original objects relating to Thackeray which came as part of the Powell Bequest. There is a copy of an atlas owned by Thackeray while he was at Charterhouse School in 1827, sadly without annotations unlike some of his other school books, and also a later sketch of Cupid along with a short verse. It is unclear how Powell acquired these items, but presumably they came through purchase. “Novels by eminent hands” is from the Brinkley Collection. The Vanity Fair cover displayed here is a facsimile. John Camden Hotten, the notorious publisher, wrote and produced a biography of Thackeray within a few months of his death. The other works on display show Thackeray’s talent as an illustrator.

Polar Exploration

Polar Exploration

A display of books relating to Antarctic exploration in the early part of the 20th century to mark the centenary of the first arrivals at the Pole by Amundsen and Scott in December 1911 and January 1912. Also on display are first editions of books relating to Shackleton’s journeys to the area. The Library holds some parts of the official report of the 1910-13 British Antarctic Expedition, including the volume by Lyons illustrated here, with a description of blubber stoves, lengthy lists of supplies and a line drawing of the Terra Nova. The photographic work of Herbert Ponting for the expedition was particularly noteworthy. Although Scott was beaten to the Pole by Amundsen and all members of his immediate party perished during the return journey the expedition is still regarded as a classic example of endeavour and spawned some wonderful writing including Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s “Worst journey in the world”. Although Shackleton failed to reach the South Pole, his Antarctic Expedition of 1907-9 in the Nimrod earned him a knighthood and is commemorated in “The heart of the Antarctic” shown here . The Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17 was a disaster but is still remembered for Shackleton’s heroic rescue of his stranded party from Elephant Island via South Georgia.   Shackleton subsequently wrote about the expedition in “South” published by Heinemann in 1919.

Many thanks to Bill Hines for providing description and text for this blog.

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November Displays at Aberystwyth University

Dear all

Bill Hines has put together some more great collections for people to view here at the University during November.

Remembrance 

(Remembrance Nov 2011)

On Level D at the Hugh Owen Library

Captain Arthur Emlyn Hopkins

A selection of material from our archives and “The Dragon” magazine. The First World War is quite well represented in the pages of “The Dragon” – although it is quite noticeable how the initial jaunty tone of material is replaced by a more sombre note as the death toll rises. Over 150 members of the University and former students were eventually killed in action. The images on display show a few of those involved in the conflict but also include letters from the front, from prisoners of war and those interned at Ruhleben Camp. Other material provides some insight into activity on the “home front”.  A fuller list of local archival holdings relating to the conflict is available at https://archives.aber.ac.uk/index.php/

Robert Stevenson, Thomas Colby and the Bell Rock

(Bell Rock Nov 2012)

On Level F at the Hugh Owen Library

Bell Rock Lighthouse

The Bell Rock lighthouse was completed in 1811. In 1824 Robert Stevenson completed a lavishly illustrated volume on the work and presented a copy to Thomas Colby, Superintendent of the Ordnance Survey. Along with the book he enclosed a four page letter giving information on his recent visit to France to view Fresnel lamps, which had been used in mapping work by the Ordnance Survey. Part of Major General Colby’s library came to the University in 1912 through the generosity of his descendant, W.H Colby, who was a member of the College Council at the time.   Over the coming months we hope to display more treasures from this collection. Further information on Stevenson is available in Bella Bathurst’s book on the Lighthouse Stevensons, and on Colby in Rachel Hewitt’s Map of a Nation.

Lewis Carroll

(Lewis Carroll (Nov 2011))

At Thomas Parry Library

Lewis Carroll

A display of early works from the Horton Children’s Collection and other parts of Information Services. Charles Dodgson (1832-1898) was an author, mathematician and photographer. Although his first mathematics book appeared in 1860, and we display a couple of his later works “Curiosa Mathematica” and “Symbolic Logic” here, he is chiefly noted for his children’s books. The original story which formed the basis for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland came to Dodgson’s mind in 1862  – although the published volume followed a few years later. The Horton Collection includes early copies of this work along with Through the Looking Glass. The Library also holds a first edition of the Hunting of the Snark which first appeared in 1876.

(All text was supplied and written by Bill Hines)

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