Author Archives: ferguswilde

  1. Morbid Curiosities: Gothic Stories In The Library


    If you have been on a tour of Chetham’s Library before, you might have heard that the cabinet at the end of the Library’s Mary Wing used to contain a real human skeleton, rather than the books that now occupy it. To the modern mind, a skeleton seems like a fairly strange thing to find in a library, but libraries in the early modern period – besides keeping books – fulfilled a similar function to museums today, displaying ‘curios’ to excite the interest of visitors. Chetham’s Library was no exception, and our collections once included a variety of curiosities – some of them morbid, such as the hand of a mummy from Thebes – which were shown off to visitors by boys from Chetham’s hospital school. In the same spirit, and in conjunction with our new ‘morbid curiosities’ tour, we’ve gone in search of sinister stories from the archives to share with you.

    Fig 1: The death mask of Thomas Whitaker in the library.

    For almost all of recorded history, people have been fascinated by death. The famous expression ‘memento mori’ (‘remember that you must die’) originated in the ancient world and has persisted ever since, although its meaning has changed during that time. Initially intended as a reminder to enjoy life’s pleasures (as in the phrase ‘eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die’), it took on a more sombre tone in the medieval and early modern periods, and instead reminded the recipient to live a godly life to secure a place in heaven. ‘Memento mori’ jewellery incorporating skeletal imagery came into fashion in the fifteenth century, and developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries into mourning jewellery commemorating specific individuals’ deaths. It was in the nineteenth century, though, that this morbid preoccupation reached startling new heights. This period witnessed extremely high mortality, and reminders of that were very much in-vogue; photographic portraits were made of the recently-deceased, plaster death masks were taken from them (including a death mask of Thomas Whitaker in the Library), and mourning jewellery was made from their hair.

    Fig 2: The Castle of Otranto (1764).

    Unsurprisingly, this fascination with death extended to literature as well, with the development of the new ‘gothic’ genre characterised by its focus on horror, haunting, the unnatural and the supernatural. These elements had existed in storytelling for centuries; ghost stories have survived from the ancient world and the medieval period, and Shakespeare’s plays utilised ghosts, omens and the supernatural as narrative devices in ways that notably foreshadowed the genre’s development. It was in the second half of the eighteenth century that the genre truly took shape, though. Our collections include a copy of The Castle of Otranto (1764), a work widely regarded as the first gothic novel and described as such from its second edition onwards. The novel’s narrative revolves around the inheritance of a southern-Italian castle, and features paintings that seem to move, doors that close by themselves, and skeletal and ghostly apparitions. Originally passed off as a genuine translation from an Italian manuscript, the work was a success and spawned various imitators in the years that followed. This early popularity of the genre is reflected in another gothic novel found in our collections, Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (written 1803, first published 1818), which subverted the genre’s expectations through a heroine who avidly devours gothic fiction but foolishly mistakes it for real life.

    Fig 3: The ‘penny dreadfuls’.

    The nineteenth century saw the flourishing of the gothic genre, and the circulation of gothic fiction in increasingly accessible format. This phenomenon is best exemplified by the so-called ‘penny dreadfuls’, which, as their name suggests, were morbid stories sold for a penny apiece. Published weekly from the 1830s onwards, these cheaply produced booklets featured sensational narratives of body snatchers, murderers and highwaymen. They were wildly popular, especially among the working classes, and even poor working-class boys who couldn’t afford the penny a week to purchase them would form clubs, splitting the cost of the booklet and passing it from reader to reader. Despite their seemingly humble format (and perhaps on account of their broad appeal), some of the serial stories published in penny dreadfuls even shaped gothic fiction as a genre. Varney the Vampire (1845-7) introduced many of the most recognisable stylistic cues of the subgenre of ‘vampire fiction’, and paved the way for one of the most famous gothic novels ever written, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Another serial story, The String of Pearls (1846-7), introduced the famous character of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street who murdered his customers and sold their bodies to make pies.

    Fig 4: An illustration of Marley’s ghost from A Christmas Carol (1843).

    Of course, no discussion of gothic fiction would be complete without mentioning the Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843). Written and published in a hurry following the failure of Dickens’ previous serial story, Martin Chuzzlewit (1833-4), the new novel was an immediate success, selling out of its first print run in only four days. Its narrative reflects Dickens’ horror at the real conditions of working-class children, but its supernatural elements place it firmly within the gothic genre; Dickens described it as a ‘’ghostly little book’, and Scrooge’s remarkable transformation from a miserly old man into a kind, generous one, following ghostly intervention and premonition, perfectly reflects the medieval and early modern reforming tradition of the ‘memento mori’ expression. It also establishes a connection between long winter nights and morbid tales.

    By Emma Nelson.

  2. ‘Strange Knowledge of a Crow’: A Yeoman Farmer Annotates Holinshed’s Chronicle


    One of the most striking annotated books in the collection of Chetham’s Library is a copy of Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, annotated by a yeoman farmer from the North of England (Radcliffe Collection 2.H.2.15). Better known simply as Holinshed’s Chronicles, the volume is an extensive account of the history and topography of the British isles and published in 1577, with a revised edition following ten years later.

    Although they later came to be most closely associated with the name of its chief contributor, Raphael Holinshed, the Chronicles were a multi-author venture, both relying on many ancient and medieval source texts and including contributions from a number of prominent sixteenth-century scholars. The work is in two volumes, which in turn consist of different sections focussing on individual countries and their geography and history. The work, detailed and wide-ranging even as it currently stands, started out as a ‘cosmography’, a description and history of the world. Although the scope of the project diminished during the lengthy writing and publication process, it retains elements of its original ambition: the Chronicles are more than historiography and include lengthy descriptions of the topography of the countries discussed, as well as reprinting some source texts at full length. This wealth of mixed-genre materials was part of the attraction the Chronicles held for their readers – the best-known of whom, William Shakespeare, drew on the Chronicles to write his history plays.

    Another reader who was fascinated by the Chronicles and the wealth of historical and topographical information they provided was Edward Ollerenshawe, a yeoman farmer from Chapel-en-le-Frith in the Peak District. Hailing from a prominent local family, Ollerenshawe signed his copy on the title page and stated on the final page that he had read the book in 1588.

    Title page with Ollerenshawe’s signature.

    Final page with inscription by Ollerenshawe: ‘historia hec est lecta 1588’ (‘This history was read in 1588′).

    Ollerenshawe’s annotations in the Chronicles display a keen interest in a number of topics, ranging from agriculture to history and from myths to linguistics. In addition to comments on all of these subjects, his book features doodles of animals, places or objects mentioned in the printed text, such as his drawing of a bow and arrow next to a passage about Robin Hood and Little John. By illustrating his copy in this way, Ollerenshawe created a visually striking means of marking passages to which he wanted to return. Frequently, such doodles accompany references to magical or legendary items and stories, such as a drawing of a harp illustrating the tale of a harp hanging on the wall playing of its own accord. Another such illustration is Ollerenshawe’s rather charming rendering of a crow, illustrating the tale of a crow saving a miner by stealing his purse and thus luring him away from a mine that was to collapse shortly thereafter, an occurrence on which Ollerenshawe comments: ‘Strange knowledge of a crow.’ Miraculous stories such as this seem to have exercised a particular fascination for Ollerenshawe and led him to mark them with his illustrations.

    Illustration of the crow.

    This interest in visual representation of the text’s contents also informed Ollerenshawe’s most arresting additions to the Chronicles: his book features hand-drawn maps of Scotland and England, as well as a more detailed map of the area around his own home in the Peak District. His maps represent an interest in the areas that provided the setting for the history in Holinshed’s Chronicles, but they also demonstrate Ollerenshawe’s fascination with local history and a desire to see his native region represented within the picture of Britain drawn by Holinshed. His map of England, for instance, features Chapel-en-le-Frith rather prominently – arguably lass an accurate representation of the geography of England than a visualisation of Ollerenshawe’s own mental map of the country, where his hometown would naturally have taken centre-stage. His map of the North West, too, features information that would have been of practical use to Ollerenshawe, such as local market towns. In addition, he carefully includes the most important estates, halls and parks in the area, many of which still stand today, such as Lyme Park, Dunham Massey and Tatton Park.

    Image of the map of England.

    Image of local map.

    Ollerenshawe’s preoccupation with local history and topography also led him to be particularly thorough in his annotations of those passages in the Chronicles that give accounts of regions Ollerenshawe knew well, chiefly in North West England. On a page listing market days and fairs all over England, for instance, Ollerenshawe has added a date for the fair in ‘Garstan in Lanksh’ (Garstang in Lancashire) and crossed out the market date of 17 July in Chapel-en-le-Frith. He also supplies units of measurement that were in use locally and provides corrections where he disagrees with the Chronicles’ spelling of North English place names, adding his local knowledge to the bigger picture of the Chronicles.

    This Chetham’s Library copy of Holinshed’s Chronicles shows a reader’s intense engagement with a book. Edward Ollerenshawe not only read his Chronicles, but annotated and illustrated them, demonstrating his interest both in the information the book provided about the history and geography of Britain and his passion for – and detailed knowledge of – the characteristics of his native region. His annotated Holinshed is a representation of his interests and requirements as a reader, combining an interest in practical matters like agriculture with a fascination for the strange and supernatural and an interest in national and international concerns with a love for the local and with practically useful place-specific information: Ollerenshawe’s annotations are the product of a rich and complex reading life lived in North West England.

    By Ellen Werner

  3. A Bluestocking Influencer – Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

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    One of the most influential English women of the 18th century, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762), lives on at Chetham’s library in the form of three collectors’ items: a volume of her early letters, a panegyric written by an admirer after her death, and a pamphlet touching on her turbulent relationship with the waspish poet Alexander Pope.

    Born into an aristocratic family, classically educated through her own efforts and ambition in defiance of the times, she was betrothed at the advanced age of 23 by her father to an Irishman of suitable distinction (not least on account of his name – Sir Clotworthy Skeffington) whom she had never met. She described the wedding arrangements as ‘daily preparations for my journey to hell’ and eloped to marry her lover, Edward Wortley Montagu, just days before the ceremony. This spirited young woman continued to defy convention, becoming a prolific writer and a central figure both at court and in the literary and scientific circles of the Enlightenment.

    Photo of portrait of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu attributed to Jonathan Richardson 1667-1745, from Wikimedia Commons

    Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, attributed to Jonathan Richardson 1667-1745 (Wikimedia Commons)

    Travelling through Europe in 1761 and settling in Turkey, where her husband was English Ambassador at Constantinople, she recorded her experience in 58 letters in which she discusses, based on her acute observations, subjects ranging from the role of women, religion, oriental philosophy and politics to fashion, dancing girls, eunuchs, Turkish baths. These extraordinary pieces of extended writing were passed around certain circles during her lifetime but, in keeping with her wishes and the prevailing hostile climate for women who appeared in print, not published until after her death. They then appeared in 1763 as Letters of the Right Honourable Lady M–y W—y M—-e; written during her travels in Europe, Asia and Africa, to Persons of Distinction, Men of Letters etc in different Parts of Europe; Which contain, Among other curious Relations, Accounts of the Policy and Manners of the Turks. Additionally, she claimed that her letters were based on ‘Sources that have been Inaccessible to Other Travellers’, thus staking a claim to the authority of women’s writing.

    Photo of portrait Lady Montagu in Turkish Dress.  Jean-Etienne Liotard c.1756,  Wikimedia Commons

    Lady Montagu in Turkish Dress.  Jean-Etienne Liotard c.1756 ( Wikimedia Commons)

    The letters were a publishing sensation. A second edition was released the same year and even translated into French. Chetham’s copy is a first edition of that translation. One of the most interesting letters, written to Mrs S…C… in April 1717, describes an experience which would be life-changing for Montagu:

    I am going to tell you a thing, that will make you wish yourself here. The small-pox, so fatal, and so general amongst us, is here entirely harmless. . . . There is a set of old women, who make it their business to perform the operation, every autumn, in the month of September, when the great heat is abated. People send to one another to know if any of their family has a mind to have the small-pox; they make parties for this purpose, and when they are met (commonly fifteen or sixteen together) the old woman comes with a nut-shell full of the matter of the best sort of small-pox, and asks what vein you please to have opened. She immediately rips open that you offer her, with a large needle (which gives you no more pain than a common scratch) and puts into the vein as much matter as can lie upon the head of her needle, and after that, binds up the little wound with a hollow bit of shell . . . . 

    Montagu had observed the practice of inoculation. Her brother had died of smallpox in 1713 and she herself was badly disfigured from having caught it in 1715. The following year (though it was not published until 1747)

    in Town Eclogues:Saturday; The Small-Pox, she wrote of a victim of the disease:

    wretched FLAVIA on her couch reclin’d,
    Thus breath’d the anguish of a wounded mind ;
    A glass revers’d in her right hand she bore,
    For now she shun’d the face she sought before.
    How am I chang’d ! alas ! how am I grown
    A frightful spectre, to myself unknown !
    Where’s my Complexion ? where the radiant Bloom,
    That promis’d happiness for Years to come ?

    The long poem goes on to satirise the patriarchy of physicians and the society in which women were made to feel that their beauty was the only way they could contribute. Horror of this dread and prevalent disease was widespread. After observing the Turkish custom Montagu swiftly arranged for her own 4 year-old son to be inoculated and, once back in London in 1721 at the height of a smallpox epidemic, she had the procedure repeated on her daughter, this time before an audience that included the King’s physician. What we would now call clinical trials followed (on prisoners and orphans) and eventually, two of the King’s granddaughters were inoculated and the practice spread. However, by the time Edward Jenner introduced the safer use of cowpox as a vaccine in 1796, Montagu’s efforts to eradicate smallpox had fallen into obscurity.

    Medical advance and female fame have recently become a popular subject for study; scholarly debate continues on the extent to which Montagu influenced medical practice. It is certain that during her lifetime she was the object of both fulsome praise and vitriolic criticism. Her essay of 1722, ‘A Plain Account of the Inoculating of the Small Pox by a Turkey Merchant,’ and the conviction she showed by using her own children to make her case, caused shock waves. The chief objectors were the many members of the medical profession with a vested interest in traditional practices. Moreover, there was deep suspicion of what was seen as alarmingly oriental (classed with the ‘Heathen, Turk and Jew’) as well as what we might now call a gendered response; smallpox to men was a threat to life, while to women it was merely a threat to beauty.

    As well as her letters, Chetham’s Library holds a rare copy of a wonderfully overblown tribute to Montagu’s struggles.

    Photo of the preface to The triumph of inoculation; :a dream (London : Payne, 1767).

    The triumph of inoculation; :a dream (London : Payne, 1767).

    The Triumph of Inoculation; a Dream’ appears anonymously in a collection of pamphlets, but a note on the title page of the Bodleian copy names the author as Budworth Cruch, an apothecary. It tells the tale of a dreamer-narrator who finds himself in a hostile land, where ‘every object wore a melancholy aspect, and altogether formed a complete scene of disgust and horror.’ Ruler of this hell-hole, in a Gothic temple where human skulls ‘grinned horribly a ghastly smile’ was the evil goddess Variola (or,‘in the common style, The Small Pox’), supported by corrupt and mercenary doctors of the kind whose ‘scurrilous abuse’ was so ‘plentifully poured upon her ladyship.’ There suddenly appears, moving through the ‘sulphureous glare’ and ‘pestilential fumes’ and past scenes of inexpressible pain and grief, in a flash of lightning and clap of thunder, the glorious goddess, Health, who instantly transforms the gothic horrors into sweetness and light. This vision is led in by a female figure in English garb, whom the attendants address as ‘Inoculatia’. The piece concludes; ‘upon my asking (the name of) her benevolent conductress, I was waked, in a transport of joy, with the sound of ‘Montagu! Montagu!’’

    The account of the dream was published in 1767, three years after Monatgu’s death. By this time her literary and intellectual reputation had been firmly established. Best known for her verse, written in the serious form of heroic couplets, she had early in life became friendly with the poet and satirist Alexander Pope and sent him witty letters from Turkey.

    Photo of Letter to Pope in which Montagu humorously describes nearly falling in the River Hebre, then discusses legends, language, music and poetry

    Letter to Pope in which Montagu humorously describes nearly falling in the River Hebre, then discusses legends, language, music and poetry

    When Montagu returned to England the two poets collaborated comfortably at first, but Montagu found it necessary to guard her integrity as a woman poet; Pope later described her as calling out, when they were working together, ‘No Pope, no touching! For then whatever is good for anything will pass as yours, and the rest for mine.’ The gloves were off in their quarrel when, allegedly, Pope confessed his tender feelings for Montagu and she laughed in his face. More than a hundred years later this incident was dramatized in William Frith’s romantic painting of an operatic scene in which Montagu’s scars and Pope’s crooked back were airbrushed out.

    Photo of painting entitled Pope Makes Love To Lady Mary Wortley Montagu 1852 William Frith (1819 - 1909).Wikimedia Commons

    Pope Makes Love To Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 1852, by William Frith (1819 – 1909) (Wikimedia Commons)

    Montagu went on to accuse Pope of stealing her verses; he retaliated in his long poem ‘The Dunciad’ implying that she was a prostitute and conflating smallpox with syphilis; she called him a toad-eater, mocked his obscure birth and hunchbacked body, and tried to erode his reputation as a clever satirist, writing: ‘Satire should, like, a polished razor keen,/ Wound with a Touch that’s scarcely felt or seen./Thine is an Oyster knife that hacks and hews;/The Rage, but not the Talent, to Abuse’. Pope upped his attacks on Montagu, ensuring that ever nastier, lewder verses of his were published anonymously.

    The third piece of Montagu memorabilia in our library touches on this stormy relationship between the two poets. Six years after their quarrel had begun, there appeared an anonymous pamphlet, ‘A Popp upon Pope: or a true and faithful account of a late horrid and barbarous whipping committed on the body of S-n-y Pope, a poet’ tells the sorry tale of how ‘Mr A Pope, a great Poet (as we are inform’d)’ was set upon by two Protestant thugs (Pope was a Catholic) who, after pretending to discuss The Dunciad with him, de-trousered him and struck so hard with a stable broom ‘upon his naked posteriors that he voided large quantities of Blood which being yellow’ was confirmed to have ‘a great Proportion of Gall mixed with it which occasioned the said colour.’ It now becomes clear that the whole piece is a clever satire which, while on the face of it commiserating with Pope and his suffering from the aftermath, then goes on to admire ‘the Wisdom of Providence, which brings this Man to the Lash, whose wanton wit has been the lashing of others’ and to hope that ‘when he returns to his senses, he will make better use of them and then may say…it’s good for me that I have been afflicted.” In other words, Pope got his just deserts.

    Photo of 'A Popp upon Pope ... Account of a late Horrid and Barbarous Whipping' (London : Moore, 1728).

    ‘A Popp upon Pope … Account of a late Horrid and Barbarous Whipping’ (London : Moore, 1728).

    It is not surprising to find that this false account – even the bookseller’s name in the imprint is fictitious – was attributed to Lady Mary Montagu. In the 1730s she went to live abroad, well away from ‘the wicked wasp of Twickenham’ as she called him. She was mightily relieved when he died in 1744.

    It would be unjust to define Montagu through this bitter dispute, even though it does tell us something about the ferocity with which unconventional women writers and thinkers were forced to defend their creativity and reputation. But for all the thousands of words from her poetic, if sometimes uncharitable, pen and despite the controversy about her contribution, she is still best remembered, as in her memorial below, as the person ‘who happily introduced from Turkey, into this Country, the Salutary Art of inoculating the Small Pox’ so that ‘by her example and advice we have softened the virulence and escaped the danger of this malignant disease.’

    Photo of Memorial to the Rt. Hon. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu erected in Lichfield Cathedral. 1789

    Memorial to the Rt. Hon. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu erected in Lichfield Cathedral. 1789

    Kath Rigby

  4. A Tale of Manchester Life: The City’s Most Famous Literary Woman and Her First Novel


    Recently, this blog has featured several posts about the literary women featured in Chetham’s Library’s current exhibition, A Woman’s Write. However, one figure not included in this exhibition is an individual who is arguably Manchester’s most famous literary woman: the author Elizabeth Gaskell. Gaskell lived in Manchester from 1832 to 1865, and her experiences of the city informed her depiction of working-class life in her novels. Today marks the 175th anniversary of the anonymous publication of her first novel, Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life, and to celebrate the occasion, we’ve gone in search of the five copies of this work which can be found on our shelves. These range from a second edition printed in 1849 to a modern edition from 1993, and each of them has something to say about this work and its reception.

    Fig 1: The five copies of Mary Barton held by the library.

    Our oldest copy of Mary Barton is a second edition printed in early 1849, only a few months after the novel’s initial publication and in response to its immediate success. This second edition corrected a number of typographical mistakes, particularly in instances of the Lancashire dialect Elizabeth Gaskell used to depict working-class life in Manchester. Gaskell herself played an active role in this process, sending several letters and a corrected first edition to her publisher, the London-based Chapman & Hall, in December 1848. One carry-over from the first edition was the novel’s anonymous publication, a tactic commonly (and often necessarily) employed by female authors, including several featured in A Woman’s Write. As a result, Elizabeth Gaskell’s name appears nowhere in our earliest copy of Mary Barton, and this anonymity actually aided the novel’s initial success; speculation abounded as to the author’s identity, which Gaskell herself even engaged in! Another noticeable carry-over from the first edition was the inclusion of a preface to the novel written by the author, which would disappear from later editions.

    Fig 2: The preface of the second edition (1849) of Mary Barton.

    Elizabeth Gaskell’s first novel was influenced by the hardship experienced by both herself and Manchester’s working class. In the novel’s preface, she noted that she ‘became anxious (from circumstances that need not be more fully alluded to) to employ myself in writing a work of fiction’; it is now known that the circumstance she was referring to was the death of her infant son, William, in 1845. Her husband, the Unitarian minister William Gaskell, suggested that she take up writing to ‘soothe her sorrow’, and Elizabeth Gaskell wrote to her friend Mrs Greg in 1849, telling her that she ‘took refuge in the invention to exclude the memory of painful scenes which would force themselves upon my remembrance’. At the same time, the preface makes it plain that the plight of the working class also moved her; while she had initially begun writing a historical work set on the rural borders of Yorkshire, she began to wonder whether there might be a deeper romance in the lives of those who she saw while out and about in Manchester: ‘care-worn men, who looked as if doomed to struggle through their lives in strange alternations between work and want; tossed to and fro by circumstances’.

    Fig 3: The cover of the tenth edition (1867) of Mary Barton.

    Mary Barton was reprinted several times in quick succession, and by 1850 the novel was already on its fifth edition. By this point, Elizabeth Gaskell was less involved in the publication process, having learnt of the fourth edition only after seeing it advertised! Our next oldest copy of Mary Barton is a tenth edition, issued in 1867 by Chapman & Hall as part of the Select Library of Fiction. This series aimed at offering ‘the best, cheapest and most popular novels’ by the best authors at two shillings apiece, a price reflected on the spine of this book. Inside its front and back covers, double-page spreads list other works available in the series, ‘sold by all booksellers, & at railway stations’. The covers themselves are much more visually appealing than before, with illustrations of the novel’s events intended to entice potential buyers. Two further changes from earlier editions are also evident: for the first time on our shelves, Elizabeth Gaskell was prominently named as the author on both the cover and title page, while at the same time, the preface was no longer printed alongside the novel. 

    Fig 4: An illustration of Mary and her father, from the 1881 edition of Mary Barton.

    Our most recent historical copy of Mary Barton was published in 1881, by Smith Elder & Co., as Mary Barton and Other Tales: the fifth in a seven-volume series of Elizabeth Gaskell’s works. In this edition, the preface was once again omitted, but for the first time the chapters received titles: the first chapter, previously known by its number, was now named ‘A Mysterious Disappearance’. Although the cover of this edition is unillustrated, the text contains four printed plates, the first of which depicts a tender moment between Mary Barton and her father from near the end of the novel. The other illustrations accompany five shorter works by the author, which were included alongside the main novel. 

    The last two copies of Mary Barton on our shelves are identical, modern critical editions of the novel published in 1993. In them, the novel is prefaced by an introduction, a pair of short notes which provide biographical information about Elizabeth Gaskell’s life and the development of the work, and suggestions for further reading, while it is followed by almost thirty pages of explanatory notes. For the first time since our second edition, Elizabeth Gaskell’s own preface has also been printed at the beginning of the novel. The copies of Mary Barton on our shelves therefore represent the novel’s journey from contemporary fiction to a literary classic, worthy of study. Despite its success soon after publication, Mary Barton is today overshadowed by Elizabeth Gaskell’s most famous novels, Cranford and North and South. Gaskell’s first novel is no less deserving of attention, though, for what it tells us about working-class life and a remarkable literary woman. 

    By Emma Nelson.

  5. Matilda Betham: An (un)Celebrated Woman


    Above: Matilda Betham, unknown artist, image taken from Wikimedia Comms.

    Mary Matilda Betham (known as Matilda to her friends and family) was a diarist, poet and author in the last years of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth. She had a keen interest in women’s rights, which was reflected in her numerous writings. Like many of the individuals whose works are included in Chetham’s Library’s new exhibition, A Woman’s Write, her life highlights the difficulties faced by women who tried to publish during this period. 

    Like her fellow author and contemporary Jane Austen, Matilda was the daughter of a rector. Born in 1777 to Reverend William Betham and his wife Mary (née Damant), she was the eldest of fourteen children. William Betham was himself an author, having written and published works on royal genealogy and the English baronetage. From a young age Matilda exhibited an interest in history and literature, reciting poetry and reading plays and histories. She educated herself in her father’s extensive library under his occasional tutelage, although she also received instruction in sewing to prevent a ‘too strict application to books’. During visits to London she learnt to speak French, and she later learnt Italian from Agostino Isola in Cambridge. 

    Unfortunately, Matilda’s growing family faced severe financial hardship. Driven by a sense of duty, Matilda left the family home and took to painting miniature portraits to support herself. While in London she was encouraged to pursue her talents by her uncle Edward Beetham, whose family was closely involved in literary and artistic circles. Matilda received instruction from the portraitist John Opie, who was tutoring her cousin Jane Beetham, and was encouraged by her uncle (himself a publisher) to realise her literary ambitions. It was around this time that Matilda developed an interest in women’s rights, and she began to ‘rally and argue about the equality of the sexes’. In 1797 she published her first work, Elegies and Other Small Poems, for which she received praise from her family, her friend Lady Charlotte Bedingford, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who wrote to her in 1802, comparing her to Sappho (another poet featured in ‘A Woman’s Write’) and encouraging her to continue writing. Between 1804 and 1816, Matilda exhibited her portraits at the Royal Academy of Arts.

    Matilda published her second work, A Biographical Dictionary of the Celebrated Women of Every Age and Country, in 1804. The result of six years’ research, it included short biographies of women who were ‘distinguished by their actions or talents’, including Cleopatra, Boadicea, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Marie de France (a medieval poet), Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth Elstob (an early Anglo-Saxon scholar) and Marie Antoinette. A copy of this work can be found in Chetham’s Library, although we know relatively little about how it got here besides the fact that it was acquired before 1862. It is the only work of Matilda’s to have entered the library.

    Above: The title page of Chetham’s Library’s copy of Matilda’s A Biographical Dictionary.

    In the years that followed, Matilda’s literary career flourished. She published a second book of poetry in 1808 and several shorter works anonymously in magazines, and gave public recitals of Shakespeare in London. In 1816 she published the Lay of Marie, a poem with scholarly appendices, inspired by the life of the medieval poet Marie de France. This poem was Matilda’s best-received work, but its publication was beset by difficulties. Advertisements for the poem misspelt both the heroine’s name and its author’s, many of the printed books were damaged by mildew, and the costs of publishing and advertising the work drove Matilda into severe financial hardship. Forced to abandon her literary career, she returned to the country and tried to support herself by painting miniature portraits again, hindered by the shabby state of her clothing. She later recalled sleeping in room without furnishings or a bed, keeping herself warm by covering herself with old clothes. In 1819, she was placed in a mental asylum by her family. 

    Matilda was released the following year. She claimed that she had suffered a ‘nervous fever’ due to the stresses of publishing the Lay of Marie, and that she had been unjustly committed without any sort of examination or treatment. Following her release she returned to London and kept her address secret from her family. She received financial assistance from the Royal Literary Fund and returned to her literary pursuits, directly championing women’s rights. In a letter to the MP John Cam Hobhouse, she urged him to continue working for ‘general suffrage’ in parliament to improve women’s conditions. In 1821 she published A Challenge to Women, which defended Queen Carolina against the charges of adultery levelled against her and called on women to support her by signing a petition. The following year she was once again committed to the asylum by her family, but she continued to pursue her literary ambitions after her release. She published Sonnets and Verses in 1836, and A Dramatic Sketch in 1838. However, she also suffered from several setbacks. Her play Hermoden, written in the late 1830s, was lost and was never published. She tried to publish Crow-quill Flights by subscription in the early 1840s, but when the promised money failed to materialise she was forced to apply for additional funding. Many of her manuscripts were lost in a fire, and she was unable to secure copies of poems she had previously sent to her friends; as a result, several of Matilda’s works are now lost. Nevertheless, she maintained a circle of friends into her old age, and a young man of her acquaintance remarked that he ‘would rather talk to Matilda Betham than the most beautiful young woman in the world’.

    Above: Portraits of famous women in Matilda’s A Biographical Dictionary.

    Matilda died in London on 30th September 1852 at the age of seventy-five. Over the course of her life she had published at least nine works, and won acclaim from those in her literary circle. Her poetry and miniature painting earned her some financial independence, but she nevertheless faced hardship throughout her life. After her death she was included in Six Life Stories of Famous Women and Friendly Faces of Three Nationalities, both written by her niece Matilda Betham-Edwards, but today she is little-known. Hopefully, A Woman’s Write can bring inspirational women like Matilda to light and celebrate their remarkable achievements.

    By Emma Nelson.

  6. The Accedence of Armorie: Sixteenth-Century Paint by Numbers

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    The top shelf of the last press in Chetham’s Library, press Z, is home to a copy of Gerard Legh’s Accedence of Armorie (shelfmark Z.1.64). Having accessed the book in this remote location, the enterprising librarian is rewarded with a beautiful book: Legh’s work illustrates the basics of blazon, the symbols and colours depicted on coats of arms. The Library’s copy of the Accedence  (a word defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as meaning ‘fundamentals’ or ‘first principles’) has been carefully coloured in by one of its early readers, whose efforts have turned the title page into a vibrant work of art. It is possible that the artist was Thomas Tyndale, whose signature can be seen on folio 96r. In addition to the woodcuts and hand-colouring, the book also includes a foldout illustration of a particularly elaborate coat of arms, flanked by the mythical figures Hercules and Atlas.

    Signature of Thomas Tyndale, folio 96r.

    The book is a good example of the interaction between printed books and handwritten additions by readers. Manuscript culture did not simply disappear with the advent of printing in Europe in the fifteenth century: rather, manuscript and print coexisted for many years, and many early printed books relied on professionals or readers to ‘finish’ the book, for example by filling in initial letters or colouring in images.

    Foldout illustration of a shield flanked by Hercules and Atlas.

    Legh’s work similarly invites its readers’ cooperation: for example, the book is printed in black and white, but because colour is an important part of a coat of arms, detailed instructions for readers are included, specifying which part of any coat of arms should be depicted in which colour. To achieve this, the book includes small letters in every section of the images, each of which stands for a colour. The letters and corresponding colours are all listed carefully in a table at the back of the book, rather like in a modern ‘paint by numbers’ set. 

    Table of colours.

    The table uses the Anglo-Norman French widely spoken at court in the Middle Ages, when blazon was originally developed. For instance, ‘O’ stands for ‘or’ – the term still used for ‘gold’ in modern French. Similarly, ‘V’ is for ‘vert’ (French for ‘green’) and ‘A’ for ‘argent’, ‘silver’. The reader of the Chetham’s Library copy has carefully followed these instructions, colouring in every coat of arms up until folio 50r.

    Last page with hand-colouring.

    At this point, the reader seems to have lost interest or was unable to complete the project for an unknown reason, and the subsequent coats of arms all remain uncoloured. Nevertheless, the Accedence of Armorie shows how closely some readers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries engaged with their books as they carefully completed the work begun by author and printer to create a coloured copy of the work.

    First page with uncoloured coats of arms.

    While metallic colours like gold and silver have turned very dark due to oxidization, most other shades retain their original vibrancy. The first shield described in detail, for instance, the mythical shield of Perseus, depicting the head of Medusa, includes a bright pink border and a deep blue background. Other images show shields with animals like goats and elephants, all carefully hand-coloured by the reader.

    The shield of Perseus with the head of Medusa, fol. 29r.

    Although the Chetham’s Library copy of the Accedence of Armorie demonstrates such intense focus on the part of one reader, it also bears marks entirely unrelated to the text of the book. On a page containing a kind of index towards the end of the text, a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century reader has written:

    ‘As Fier [‘fire’] cannot fries [‘freeze’], for it is not his kind

    So trew [‘true’] love cannot lose the constancy of the mind’ 

    Manuscript verse at the back of the book.

    Perhaps this was the work of a different owner, or perhaps the diligent colourist became distracted by a love affair and turned to recording romantic verses rather than completing his work on the Accedence of Armorie. Either way, this single book demonstrates two distinct ways in which readers in the past engaged with their books: while one reacted to the text, having closely observed the author’s instructions and the purpose of the book, the other used the book more or less as we would use a notepad, in a way that is not tailored to the text, but rather simply makes use of empty space on a random page. The result is a unique and beautiful copy of Legh’s work, bringing together printed texts and two very different kinds of readers’ marks.

    By Ellen Werner.


  7. An English Renaissance Feminist: Cancelled

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    Above: Portrait by Lady Mary Wroth, by John de Critz 1620.

    Just before International Women’s Day 2023, there emerged from the shelves of Chetham’s Radcliffe collection a rare copy of The Countesse of Montgomeries Urania, published in 1621.

    Beyond the unassuming cover lies the first romance or novel written by an English woman. The very circumstances of its publication are intriguing. John Marriott and John Grismand, publishers, entered Urania into the Stationers’ Register on 13th July 1621, a mere three days after they had been released from the Marshalsea prison, having been fined for promoting an allegedly scurrilous poem by George Withers. Publishing was, then as now, a risky business.

    This volume looks innocent enough, and even dull, but 5 months after it was released its author was writing to the Duke of Buckingham to ask for a warrant to have any sold copies withdrawn; she seems to have been intent on cancelling herself. It is possible she did not intend it for publication since there was an aristocratic stigma against those, especially women, who circulated their work in print. But in her letter requesting its withdrawal she blamed ‘strong constructions that have been made of my book’ that were ‘as far from my meaning as is possible.’ Urania appears to have been a succès de scandale.

    Chetham's Library copy of Urania.

    Chetham’s Library copy of Urania.

    Who was this woman who disregarded convention to the point of endangering her reputation? Mary Sidney was a contemporary of Shakespeare and bright star of the Elizabethan court. She was born in 1587 into a literary and political family which included the poets Sir Philip Sidney (her uncle), Mary Sidney (her aunt) and Robert Sidney, the Earl of Leicester (her father), Sir Walter Raleigh was also a first cousin. Mary herself was not only a scholar but an accomplished musician and dancer. After Queen Elizabeth’s death she became a close associate of Queen Anne, the wife of James I, for and with whom she sang and danced in popular masques.

    This glamorous young girl was married at the age of sixteen by arrangement, as was the custom of the time, to Sir Robert Wroth, well-connected, a sportsman, but allegedly a spendthrift, gambler and drunkard; it was said that he hunted while she danced. She was already eminent enough to have several literary volumes dedicated to her by the time she was in her twenties, the only book worthy of her husband’s patronage was a Treatise On Mad Dogs.

    Within a few months he was complaining to her father of his wife’s demeanour towards him. Ben Jonson, although praising Wroth publicly, wrote that Mary was ‘unworthily married on a jealous husband.’ Although Wroth did refer to Mary in his will as his dear and loving wife, his death from gangrene in 1614, followed by the death of their only son, meant that Mary was deprived of property and heavily in debt.

    Either before or after her husband’s death, Mary began an affair with the married William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, her first cousin and childhood friend with whom she shared a passionate interest in art and literature. This time the liaison was Mary’s own choice, even though Herbert was said to be ‘immodestly given up to women.’

    One of Herbert’s mistresses, Mary Fitton, has been suggested as a model for the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and Herbert himself has been claimed by some to be the Fair Youth. All did not end well for Mary Wroth; soon after she left the court as a result of the Urania scandal Herbert appears to have abandoned her, never acknowledging the two children they had together.

    William Herbert was not a self-effacing man. His statue outside the Bodleian Library in Oxford celebrates his generous gifts of manuscripts, books and money.

    Bronze statue of William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke (1580–1630) in front of the main entrance to the Old Bodleian Library. Photo by Frank Schulenburg.

    By 1621 Mary was well-known and respected for her poetry and for Love’s Victory, a pastoral ‘closet drama’ to be read rather than performed, in which four different couples are paired up, each signifying a different kind of love (flawed, chaste, comic and true). She had already transgressed traditional boundaries by writing in a secular vein, with an emphasis on female agency and desire. Now, in Urania, she produced a complex romance in 400,688 words, ending with a sequence of sonnets and with almost a thousand characters, hundreds of intersecting tales, mostly about love, though also incorporating political themes.

    The central story is of Queen Pamphilia’s love for her cousin, the Emperor Amphilanthus, whose name means ‘lover of two.’ Pamphilia, Greek for ‘all-loving’, takes pride in her constancy to him, even as he repeatedly becomes entangled with other women. Though the references are coded, this is thought to echo Wroth’s own love for Herbert. She used her vivid imagination to fictionalise the world she knew, often adding melodramatic flourishes to real events, and including songs and poems as part of the story.

    When Urania was published, some elements of aristocratic society would have rejected the book as shameful gossip by a woman whose error consisted of writing a book containing her thoughts. She was criticised by some powerful noblemen for depicting their private lives under the guise of fiction and was accused of ‘taking great liberty … to traduce where she please.’

    Edward Denny, Earl of Norwich, who claimed to recognise his family in Urania, accused her of slander in a satiric poem, calling her a ‘Hermaphrodite in show, in deed a monster’, and declaring ‘Thy witt runs madd not caring who it strike.’ She fired back with her own poem, later suppressed, calling him a ‘lying wonder.’ Other men, however, praised her work. Henry Peacham named her ‘an inheritrix of the Divine wit of her immortal Uncle’, while Ben Jonson lauded her in a sonnet, and claimed that by copying her works he not only became a better poet, but a better lover. There is evidence that other aristocratic women writers read and commented on Urania, at the time of its publication and later in the 17th and early 18th century.

    Women of any class in the time of Mary Wroth were expected above all to be silent and obedient, as illustrated in contemporary religious works, legal treaties and literature. Mary was a radical in her time merely for writing a work intended for public consumption, since the act of composing a novel violated the ideal of female virtue. She was a pioneer in freely adapting a traditional romance form to accommodate the experience and perceptions of a Jacobean woman. In mixing fact and fantasy the text draws attention to contemporary issues, such as the hitherto unquestioned ‘traffic’ in women, who were acquired and exchanged as the property of men. Urania is now in the 21st century seen as a valuable text for feminist readings of the early modern age, providing insights into the complex and often contradictory nature of women’s place and role in society.

    Chetham’s library edition of Urania is one of only twenty-nine surviving 17th century copies. It remained out of print until the appearance of a scholarly edition in 1995. Our 1621 copy is unusual in that it does not include the elaborately drawn frontispiece by the engraver Simon van de Passe, which depicts the ‘Throne of Love’, an idealised vision of relations between the sexes.

    There remain some uncertainties about Mary Wroth’s intentions for her book. Although it is named in honour of her friend, Susan Vere, the Countess of the title, none of the seventeenth-century copies includes the usual commendation by friends, or author’s dedication or letters to readers. The end of each of the first two parts of the book are marked with an elaborate printer’s ornament and announcement, but strangely there is no definitive conclusion; at the end of Part 3 Wroth breaks off the happy ending in mid-sentence (all things are prepared for the journey, all now merry and contented and nothing amisse; griefe forsaken, sadness cast off; Pamphilia the Queene of all content; Amphilanthus joying worthily in her; And …) The printer has left the last page blank, perhaps in the hope that he might eventually receive material to complete the volume.

    Chetham’s copy begins with a handwritten inscription: The Countesse of Montgomeries Urania written by the Honourable the Lady Wroath: Daughter to the right noble Robert Earle of Leicester and Neece to the ever famous and renowned Sr Phillip Sidney knight ; and to ye Most Exelent Lady Mary Countess of Pembroke late deceased. Unlike the novel, the sonnets have a definitive ending. Mary Wroth went on to compose a second volume of Urania between 1620 and 1630, running to a mere 240,000 words, half the size of the first part. It survived only in manuscript until its publication in 1999.

    Chetham’s Library copy of Urania.

    This sequel generally follows a second generation of characters descended from those that appear in the first volume, and it occupies a world stage, containing epic encounters between Christianity and Islam. This, together with the first Urania, Love’s Victory and 105 sonnets, comprise the canon which has enjoyed a dramatic increase in interest in the last twenty years and is the subject of international scholarly debate. Mary Wroth lived privately and worried by debt until her death in 1651 or 1653 (documents disagree). How differently might her life have turned out if she had not found it necessary to withdraw from public life after the launch of Urania!

    By Kath Rigby

  8. Lucy Hutchinson and the Civil War

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    Given our recent theme focusing on women in the library, the time seems right to tell, if only in brief, some of the remarkable stories of their lives and achievements. Our first choice lights on the talented and scholarly Lucy Hutchinson (1620-1681). Born on 29 January 1620, Lucy is most noted for her Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson, a biography of her husband John Hutchinson, the parliamentarian governor of Nottingham Castle during the English Civil War. Chetham’s Library is fortunate in having one of the early publications of this work, it should however be noted that it was not published until 1806, 125 years after her death, by her descendant Reverend Julius Hutchinson.

    Photograph of engraved portrait of Lucy Hutchinson

    Engraving of the oil painting of Lucy Hutchinson from our copy of Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson, 1806.

    Her other achievements include being the first person to translate Lucretius’s first-century BC philosophical work on the nature of existence, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) from Latin; however her work was published only in 1996 after being in the possession of family members, and subsequently in the British Museum, before being rediscovered. The reasoning for her translation of this document has been debated by historians, as parts of its hedonistic and effectively atheistic nature are at odds with Lucy’s staunch puritanism. The fact of Lucretius denying the existence of an immortal soul would have sat very ill with her theology. Lucy herself states that her reason was to better understand and engage with the then widely read classical work, even though she herself denounced it as ‘pagan mud’.

    These sentiments were echoed in her Order and Disorder, a poem very much against Lucretius, and which has been described as ‘a Biblical epic as ambitious as Paradise Lost‘, but which was for some time wrongly credited to her brother. Despite these achievements Lucy has received little attention until the 20th and 21st centuries and is steadily gaining the recognition she deserves.

    Lucy was one of ten children born to Sir John and Lady Lucy Apsley. Her father was Lieutenant of the Tower of London and the family had rooms in the Queen’s House. Lucy notes in her Memoirs that her mother was responsible for giving medical aid to prisoners in the Tower who could not afford a physician. Her mother also funded the chemistry and apothecary pursuits of noted prisoner Sir Walter Ralegh. Ralegh would often make his own medicines from the lieutenant’s herb garden, and Lucy’s mother would study them in order to further her medicinal knowledge. Julius Hutchinson notes this may have contributed to Lucy’s own medical knowledge which would be put to good use in the future.

    Even as a child she stood out intellectually: at four years old she was an avid reader and by seven she had eight academic tutors. Writing in her Memoirs she records ‘my father would have me learne Latine, and I was so apt, that I outstripped my brothers who were at schoole’. It is this intellect that her husband fell in love with when reading the Latin works she had translated. He was studying law with her sister, who was the one to introduce him to Lucy’s work. When they both met, Lucy shared his feelings and they were married on Tuesday July 3, 1638 at St Andrew’s Church. The wedding took place after she had a near fatal attack of smallpox.

    Image of John Hutchinson from our copy of her Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson.

    Their settled married life at Owthorpe, Nottinghamshire, was interrupted by the eruption of the English Civil War in 1642. Lucy and her husband were on the side of the Parliamentarians and were to play a key role once John was appointed Governor of Nottingham Castle 1643-47. It is this period that Lucy’s Memoirs record her husband’s victories on the battlefield. In 1649 John took part in the trial of Charles I and his signature appears on the King’s death warrant. This put him in great danger of being the object of vengeance when the Restoration of 1660 brought the late king’s son, Charles II, to the throne.

    John was arrested in 1663 for alleged involvement in a Monarchist plot and was to die in Sandown Castle in 1664. This was when Lucy would begin writing the Memoir with the object of clearing her husbands name. However, it also reveals her extraordinary input during the Civil War skirmishes that took place in Nottinghamshire, assuming the role of surgeon. She records ‘five of our men hurt … who for want of another surgeon were brought to the governor’s wife .. .were all cured at a convenient time’. She even chose to offer medical aid to enemy prisoners against the wishes of seniors in the Parliamentarian army.

    After her husband’s death she faced financial struggles from his remaining debts and had to sell property at Lowesby in Leicestershire, then Owthorpe itself in 1672 to her husband’s half-brother, Charles Hutchinson. Lucy was still active in these later years, having finished her husband’s Memoirs, she turned her pen to theological debate once more. In 1679 Order and Disorder, or, The World Made and Undone, Being Meditations Upon the Creation and Fall, As It Is Recorded In The Beginning of Genesis was published anonymously.

    A facsimile of Lucy’s handwriting included in ‘Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson’.

    The work opens with an introduction similar to that found in her Lucretius, addressing concern over popular heretical works. This opening dedication of her work paved the way for a more Christian epic poem that analyses the then controversial aspects of the book of Genesis, far removed from her Lucretius translation and adding further reasons to her prior denouncement of that work. It has also become a work that firmly dispels the impression that all literature in the 1660s was royalist in sympathy. She would continue to write poetry throughout the 1660s. She died at Owthorpe in October 1681 and was buried next to her husband.


    Reference list

    Hutchinson, L. (1806). Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson … 1st ed. Fleet Street: Julius Hutchinson.

    Hutchinson, L. (2001). Order and Disorder. Wiley-Blackwell.

    Hutchinson, L., Barbour, R., Norbrook, D. and Titus Lucretius Carus (2012). The Works of Lucy Hutchinson. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

    Norbrook, David, Hutchinson (nee Apsley), Lucy (1620-1681), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,

    Salzman, P. (2006). Reading Early Modern Women’s Writing. OUP Oxford.



  9. Note, Gentle Reader

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    Thomas Gudlawe’s annotations in the Nuremberg Chronicle

    The Chetham’s Library copy of the Liber Chronicarum (“The Book of Chronicles”, more commonly known as the Nuremberg Chronicle and previously featured in our 101 Treasures series here) is among the most extraordinary volumes housed in the Library. The book is an attempt at a comprehensive history of the world from its beginning to the time of the publication of the Chronicle, compiled by Hartmann Schedel from various sources and printed in the Nuremberg workshop of Anton Koberger in 1493. A stunning example of an incunabulum or early printed book, the Chronicle features beautiful woodcuts by Wilhelm Pleydenwurff and by Albrecht Dürer’s teacher Michael Wolgemut. It is possible that Dürer himself also contributed some of the images.
    Although many copies of the Nuremberg Chronicle survive in libraries all over the world, the copy in Chetham’s Library is particularly noteworthy for the many handwritten annotations that cover almost every page of the book, as well as several additional leaves inserted at the front and back. Most of these annotations were created by Thomas Gudlawe, a lawyer from the North West of England, in the sixteenth century. They are not only extremely copious, but also show Gudlawe’s extraordinary strategies of reading.

    Photograph of a a page of manuscript added to the Library's copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle by its owner, Thomas Gudlawe.

    Fig 1: A page inserted at the front of the Chronicle and covered with Gudlawe’s text

    While readers habitually annotated their books in the early modern period, Gudlawe’s annotations differ significantly from those created by most of his contemporaries. They testify not so much to an interested and active reader as to an almost obsessive attempt to fill the blank spaces on the pages of the Chronicle with as much information as physically possible, with annotations on topics ranging from Ethiopia to Merlin and from Cleopatra to the city of Nuremberg itself.
    Gudlawe embarked on his encyclopaedic undertaking by not only amending and expanding the Chronicle’s printed index, but also inserting several glossaries that run throughout the whole book. They are roughly alphabetically structured and contain brief definitions of a large number of headwords. The glossary entries read much like a modern encyclopaedia or Wikipedia entry, for example “Averni, people of the countrye in France called Avergne”. This glossary is not directly related to the contents of the Nuremberg Chronicle, but instead demonstrates Gudlawe’s attempt to gather encyclopaedic knowledge on many different topics within his copy. Entries like the one about the “Averni” or another on the Nile (“a famous greate Ryver runninge thorowe Ethiope and Egypt”) demonstrate the global span of Gudlawe’s interests, reaching from North West England to distant places all around the world.

    Photo of page of Chetham's Library's Nuremberg Chronicle including manuscript notes at the foot describing the river Nile.

    Fig. 2 : Page containing Gudlawe’s glossary entry on “Nylus” (the Nile).

    In addition to his indexes and glossaries, Gudlawe also supplied cross-references and quotations from other sources on relevant pages. His insertions are usually addressed to an imagined “gentle reader” and often add colour and detail to Schedel’s text, such as when Gudlawe informs his readership that Cleopatra was “a ladye of Egypt which excelled in plesantnes & sharpnes of witt”, or that the city Sidon in Phoenicia not only boasted “plenty of fishes” but was also the site where “glasse [was] firste made”. Gudlawe then recorded these insertions in a separate index, which made his additions to the book as easily accessible as the printed text, thus turning Gudlawe himself into an active contributor to his personalised version of the Liber Chronicarum.

    Photo of page of Chetham's Library's copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle with a woodcut of Queen Cleopatra and manuscript commentary about her in the margin.

    Fig. 3 : Gudlawe’s comments on Cleopatra.

    One annotation is particularly noteworthy: on fol. 179r, Gudlawe recounts how, on the second of April 1569, Jesus appeared to him in a vision. This occurred after Gudlawe had been feeling “verie waveringe & weake in faith & tossed to & fro in conscience like the waves of the sea”. Gudlawe was kneeling down to pray in his room, “before the windowe, […] the dore barred”, when “upon a soden the perfecte and most glorious vision of Jesus Christe […] appeared plainlie before” him. Overwhelmed by this sight, Gudlawe’s “senses were shortlie confounded” and he fell into a “sweete and delectable sound” sleep. The vision had gone when Gudlawe woke up, but he retained a strong sense of reassurance and faith: he records that “all my former doubtes were removed” and “I have ever since bene setled & confirmed in a true & perfecte faith”.

    Photo of page of Chetham's Library's copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle with printed text concerning prodigies, and manuscript notes from the owner concerning a personal vision of Jesus

    Fig. 4 : Gudlawe’s account of his vision of Jesus.

    This deeply personal passage allows us not only a glimpse of Gudlawe’s physical surroundings (his bedchamber, the locked door, the window), but also provides a rare insight into the emotional world of a past reader, from his metaphysical doubts, powerfully illustrated by his comparison with the sea, to his wonder and joy at the vision that he saw as a clear and reassuring confirmation of his faith. Despite the almost intimate nature of this annotation, however, Gudlawe did not intend it as a personal record, but as “the manefestinge” of god’s existence, as he states in a note added below his account of his vision – in a way, Gudlawe here treats his own experience as another cross-reference and as source material for the encyclopaedic work into which he was shaping his copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle.
    As if the Nuremberg Chronicle’s attempt to chronicle the history of the world was not ambitious enough in its own right, Thomas Gudlawe’s annotations thus not only allow us to access details of his life and the cultural setting in which he lived but grant us insights into his interests and beliefs. His additions transform the book from a world history into a kind of global encyclopaedia – the world seen through the eyes of a Northern English reader, recorded in an extraordinary book.
    The Chetham’s Library copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle will feature in the Whitworth Art Gallery’s exhibition “Albrecht Dürer’s Material World” (opens 30 June 2023), along with two other volumes from the library’s collection – a unique opportunity to see this stunning work on display! Meanwhile, if you’d like to take a look at how Gudlawe and other readers read their copies of the Chronicle, you can visit the website Early Modern Readers of the Nuremberg Chronicle for a chance to explore early modern readings of this magnificent example of early printing.

  10. William Hogarth talk

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    Public talk on the art of William Hogarth, 8 March 2023

    William Hogarth’s paintings and prints are for many the very image of eighteenth-century England. His ‘Gin Lane’ and the parallel, ‘Beer Street’, are worthy of the over-used adjective ‘iconic’ when it comes to imagining the London of the 1700s. In Chetham’s Baronial Hall on Wednesday 8 March, using images from Chetham’s own extensive collection of Hogarth prints, expert Dr Noelle Duckmann Gallagher  of the University of Manchester will take us through his earliest ‘hit’ series of prints, the Harlot’s Progress. Drawing attention to the many visual references not immediately obvious to the modern eye, and the dark humour that pervades them, she will set them in the context of the often raw, rough and ready life of the capital under the Georges. All proceeds to help support the Library’s work. Book your tickets here!

    Come and follow the adventures of Moll Hackabout!

    Keeping our Hogarth collection busy this March, the Library is also lending prints from its collection to Derby Museum and Art Gallery for their upcoming exhibition on Hogarth’s response to the threat from the 1745 Jacobite rebellion. The exhibition will open on 10 March.

    Our copy of Hogarth’s portrait of Simon Fraser, eleventh Lord Lovat a Jacobite conspirator,  after he was arrested in 1746 Lovat was brought to London for trial. Hogarth arranged to meet him at the White Hart Inn to interview and draw him. On 9 April 1747 he became the last man to be beheaded in England.

    William Hogarth, artist, engraver, satirist

    We hope you’ll be able to attend the talk; but who is our subject? William Hogarth was born on 10 November 1697. His father was a teacher and writer from Westmoreland, whose business ventures failed and led him to be imprisoned for debt. This family disaster led to William’s education being curtailed, and he was sent into an apprenticeship  with a silver engraver, in which he learned many of the skills that would serve him as an engraver of fine arts.  His ultimate ambition was to master oil painting, seen by him and his contemporaries as the highest form of the artist’s profession. By the 1730s he had indeed established himself as an artist, predominantly focusing on portrait groups, known as ‘conversation pieces’, typically full-length oil portraits of groups of people.

    Changing artistic direction in 1731, he created a series of paintings satirising contemporary customs and mores, or what he referred to as ‘modern moral subjects’, the first being ‘The Harlot’s Progress’, followed by ‘The Rake’s Progress’ and ‘Marriage à-la-Mode’. These were pictorial narratives of contemporary life in the eighteenth century with a sharp satirical bent, out of which none of the subjects depicted emerges with much credit. Despite – or perhaps because of – this misanthropic turn, the sets sold well and brought him fame.

    Scan of a detail from Hogarth's 'Rake's Progress' plate 1

    Detail from the first scene in the ‘Rake’s Progress’ : Tom Rakewell, the chief protagonist, inherits his father’s money and is soon surrounded by those keen to help him spend it – on themselves.

    Six spendthrift plates later in the series, however, the end has come :

    In the eighth and final engraving of A Rake’s Progress, anti-hero Tom Rakewell is now in Bethlem Hospital (Bedlam), London’s infamous mental asylum, having been driven mad by his self-inflicted fall into penury. Only Sarah Young, the mother of his illegitimate child is there to comfort him; the well dressed women in the back have come to the asylum for entertainment.

    The success of these series was such that they were immediately copied by others, not just in print but through theatre, china, pamphlets, and even ladies’ fans. His work was so plagiarised that he lobbied for the Copyright Act of 1735 to protect writers and artists, leading the legislation to be nicknamed the ‘Hogarth Act’.

    Hogarth’s themes were not invariably dark or satirical. This detail shows a part of his plate for Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, based on a contemporary production from 1727 by Colley Cibber’s company. Cibber himself played Cardinal Wolsey,  and a Mr Booth played Henry, who is shown here admiring Anne Boleyn.

    Throughout the 1730s and 1740s, Hogarth garnered more fame and his reputation grew. His work reflected his passion for social and moral reform, and this propagandist tone was directed towards London and the city’s problems with crime, prostitution, gambling, and alcoholism. This reforming note is reflected in Industry and Idleness (1747), Beer Street and Gin Lane (1751), and The Four Stages of Cruelty (1751). The Four Stages condemned life in the capital as tending towards a progression from animal cruelty (inspired in part by press reports) as far even as murder, followed by society’s own cruel response of hanging and ultimately sending the body of the executed criminal to the dissecting table.

    Those who live in Gin Lane are shown as destroyed by their addiction to the foreign and corrosive spirit, gin, with shocking scenes of infanticide, starvation, madness, decay, and suicide, while Beer Street contrasts in depicting relative industry, health and thriving commerce.

    Detail of a scan of Hogarth's engraving 'Beer Street'.

    On Beer Street, the people may not be the ideals of 18th-century beauty, but their plumpness and relative good humour, with full tankards and joints of meat, fulfil the promise of the caption in the engraving, which begins : ‘Beer, happy Produce of our Isle …’.


    Detail of a scan of Hogarth's engraving 'Modern Midnight Conversation'

    A less than flattering view of an eighteenth-century night with the boys, ‘A Modern Midnight Conversation’.

    From the start of his career, Hogarth despised the predisposition of the art world patrons and connoisseurs to favour foreign artists. This dislike was illustrated in one of his early major works, Masquerades and Operas, published in 1724.  Here he attacked contemporary taste and questioned the standards of the circle that was supported by the 3rd earl of Burlington, a highly influential art patron and architect, whose London home is named ‘Academy of Arts’ in the print. Having angered such powerful figures at the start of his career he would be obliged to work almost entirely outside the academic art establishment; however, through his success the popular art market and the role of the artist would be revolutionised.

    The satirical print ridiculing the ‘reigning follies’ of fashionable London that so angered the art world of the day. At the centre is a waste-paper carrier, whose barrow is filled with the great names of British literature. Crowds queue for entertainments in ‘Bad Taste’, with Burlington House in Piccadilly named the ‘Academy of Arts’. Italian opera is ridiculed in the figures of the fashionable opera singers Francesca Cuzzoni, Francesco Bernardi (Senesino) and Gaetano Berenstadt, who are shown on a large banner performing Handel’s ‘Flavio’. The devil himself leads those seduced away from Shakespeare and the English greats into the Masquerade.

    Hogarth strove to create works of great beauty, but also to create work that would help to improve his home city of London. His willingness to satirise individuals, erstwhile friends as well as enemies, kept him from peaceful enjoyment of the fame his body of work had gained him; he remained in the good opinion of George III, and thus had friends at court, and had friends such as the theatre impresario David Garrick, but fell out with John Wilkes, Horace Walpole, and others of great influence in quarrels and spats that were unresolved at his death in 1764. His complex, fascinating and often amusing life is beautifully captured in Jacqueline Riding’s Hogarth : life in progress (London : Profile, 2021), which we heartily commend to readers.