Monday, 10 November 2014

North West Poets at the Portico - matching books to poems

Emma and I have recently had a meeting with Lindsey Holland of North West Poets to explore the possibilities for collaboration between NWP and the Portico. We looked at holding a regular series of poetry events in the Portico, to include workshops and readings, but also using the library as an inspirational venue where leading north west poets could meet and work on a theme, such as geology or botany. I’m excited at the prospect of being able to use the book collection to support events of this kind.

There’s more thinking to be done on both sides, but we have provisionally agreed to hold a launch event in January or February for Andrew Forster’s third collection, Homecoming [Smith Doorstop 2014]. Forster, who is Literature Officer at the Wordsworth Trust, recently read from Homecoming during the Manchester Literature Festival, now being hosted at venues around the city. 

Most of the poems in the book relate to the north west, and many are about Wordsworth, so this will give us an opportunity to showcase some of our rich collection of material related to Wordsworth – I’ll be rooting for The Letters of Charles Lamb, and Benjamin Robert Haydon: correspondence and table-talk, with a memoir by his son, Frederick Wordsworth Haydon. Haydon senior painted what is possibly the most well-known portrait of Wordsworth, now on loan to the Wordsworth Trust from the National Portrait Gallery.
There’s also Thomas de Quincey, who famously ran away from school in Manchester, eventually washing up as the tenant of Dove Cottage after Wordsworth had left it. The Portico has a copy of de Quincey’s Sketches Critical and Biographical. Forster’s Homecoming includes a poem entitled De Quincey’s letter to Johnny Wordsworth 1809. 

Here’s an extract from it:

    He’s taken such care to make it legible:
    the faded copper ink neatly blocked,
    a contrast to his Confessions, where words
    are splashed on paper and blurred by winestains.

It’ll be interesting to see what Forster makes of the Portico’s early editions.

Sheila Wild
Chair of Book Committee, The Portico Library

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Cook’s Second Voyage and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Portico has a copy of Captain James Cook’s Voyage towards the South Pole and round the world: 1772, 1773, 1774, 1775, illustrated by the expedition’s artist, William Hodges.  Cook’s two ships, The Resolution and The Adventure, sailed from Plymouth on the 13th July 1772, the same year that the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born. The expedition was charged with searching for the Southern Continent and testing a version of the John Harrison chronometer for longitude determinations. The expedition sailed further south than any mariner had ever done, and it must have been inspiration to many young men of Coleridge’s generation.

One of the book’s illustrations is entitled The Ice Islands, seen the 9th January 1773, and on seeing this, my first thought was that it must have been the inspiration for the crucial incident in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, where the Mariner shoots an albatross, albeit with a crossbow:
And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald

 . . . with my crossbow
I shot the ALBATROSS.

The Princeton Library also has a copy of the book, and you can see the engraving on the Princeton website:

Richard Holmes’s biography, Coleridge, Early Visions, confirms that Cook’s Voyage was one of the sources for the Mariner and also that throughout his life Coleridge ‘was obsessed with travel books’. However, I think Cook’s voyaging was more than just one source among many, for in his 1956 paper Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner and Cook’s Second Voyage [Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 19, No. ½ (Jan.-Jun., 19560], Bernard Smith notes that William Wales, the astronomer and meteorologist on the Resolution, taught mathematics at Christ’s Hospital when Coleridge was there.

In a long and fascinating paper, Smith deduces from a copy of the manuscript Journal Wales kept during his time on the Resolution that the course of the Ancient Mariner’s voyage was determined to a large extent by Coleridge’s recollections of accounts of Cook’s second voyage, either as they were told to him by Wales, or read in books at the school, and that the precision and clarity of Coleridge’s atmospheric imagery derives much from the precision and clarity of Wales’s astronomical and meteorological observations.  Smith concludes:

But perhaps the most remarkable feature of all is the preservation in the poem of the broad pattern of the Resolution’s voyage, so that, to some extent, the order of sequence of events in the poem follows the order of sequence of the relevant events of the voyage. The fair passage of the N.E. Trades, the squally passage of the S.E.Trdaes, the mast-high ice, the glint of the ice, the noise of the ice splitting, follow the same order in the poem as in Wales’s Journal; and later in both the poem and the journal accounts of the heat, the calm, and the sea-snakes agree in their sequence.”

Neither Smith nor Holmes mention an illustrated edition of the Voyage, but, knowing that a poem needs not only sources, but also a trigger, I wonder if sight of Hodge’s illustration, perhaps in Tom Poole’s library at Stowey, triggered the writing of The Rime?

Sheila Wild, Chair, Book Committee

Friday, 15 August 2014

August meeting of the Book Committee

At yesterday evening’s Book Committee we received updates on the progress on the cataloguing project, the Portico Brotherton Poetry Prize, and the future exhibitions programme. We also revisited the Committee’s remit, and have sent our agreed version through to the next meeting of the Main Committee for approval. It’s the first time in several years that the Committee’s remit has been formalised in this way, and I am pleased to see this on its way.

Over 17,000 books have now been catalogued, which, with the imminent departure of Kirsten to do a PhD on the future of independent libraries (well done Kirsten!) gives us a revised end date of March/April next year.  Our question about how many books in total (answer: about 25,000) prompted the revelation that the Portico holds a set of Government State reports – not the small, paper bound edition, but the large, leather bound version. We thought these might make an interesting subject for a future exhibition, one that we could get local politicians and parliamentarians involved in, thus getting some active support for the Portico.

As a poet, I have a particular interest in the poetry prize. We received an update on our relationship with the folks over at Leeds who are collaborating with us on the prize, and had a look at the number and geographical spread of the entries so far received. The closing date is not until the 31st August, and as someone who always puts her own competition entries in at the last moment, I was able to say with confidence that we will have a flurry of entries in the final week.

Two interesting items came up under ‘any other business’. Gaskell House would like to borrow two of Murray’s Handbooks for Travellers, Mrs Gaskell’s favourite travel guides. We invited Gaskell House to make a formal request, but in principle this sounds like a good idea, subject to our being able to recall the volumes should a reputable scholar wish to use them for research purposes.

And lastly, Emma produced some stunning fridge magnets, manufactured (if that’s the correct word for something produced in-house) on the premises and shortly to go on sale in the Portico. The images shown came from Specimens of the Sculpture and Painting now remaining in England from the earliest period to the reign of Henry VIII within our collection. They are colourful medieval paintings and I shall certainly be buying one or two – even though my fridge is hidden away behind a wooden door.

These could become a cult object, so make sure you get there first!

Sheila Wild, Chair, Book Committee

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Geography rediscovered at The Portico

Over the past two years, the cataloguing project has uncovered many forgotten treasures on the Library’s shelves, but a particularly exciting discovery was made last week: an entire section of geography books, which had never been added to the card index, and as a result had remained inaccessible to researchers for the past thirty years.

Although the Geography section was listed in the Library’s alpha-numerical classification system under the letter ‘Z’, when the card index was created around thirty years ago, this section was somehow overlooked. As a result, none of the books could be searched for, and they had been left to languish in the stacks ever since.

Despite being a comparatively small section within the Library’s collection, it includes some particularly notable texts that would be of great fascination to those with an interest in the subject, and invaluable to researchers looking into the history and development of geography as a scientific discipline.

A fine example is a 3 volume set written by the eminent Scottish antiquarian and cartographer, John Pinkerton, and published in 1807. Entitled Modern geography: a description of the empires, kingdoms, states, and colonies; with the oceans, seas, and isles; in all parts of the world: including the most recent discoveries, and political alterations, the text opens with a detailed reflection on geography as a discipline of study, and proceeds to provide a comprehensive geographical description of the world. Pinkerton is often credited as having been a particularly influential figure in the development of cartography, exchanging the elaborate cartouches and fantastical beasts used during the 18th century in preference for greater accuracy of detail, and this is clearly displayed in the array of maps found throughout these volumes.

Alexander von Humboldt’s Cosmos: sketch of a physical description of the universe, is another fascinating text discovered within this section.  Hugely popular when it was first released in 1845, Humboldt’s work attempted to apply the ancient Greek view of the orderliness of the cosmos (the universe) to the Earth, suggesting that universal laws could also be applied to the apparent chaos of the terrestrial world. Although many of the ideas contained in the work became somewhat outdated with the advancement of the natural sciences, it made a significant contribution to scientific progress in its conception of the unity of science, nature, and mankind. 

A particularly visually arresting volume is a first edition of Ferdinand von Hochstetter’s New Zealand: its physical geography, geology, and natural history, with special reference to the results of government expeditions in the provinces of Auckland and Nelson. In 1859 Hochstetter was employed by the government of New Zealand to undertake a rapid geological survey of the country, the publication of this beautifully illustrated volume in 1867 provided a more accessible account of Hochstetter’s findings that would be more palatable to the general public.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Conservation appeal update

Following on from our recent conservation appeal, we are pleased to announce that all 10 volumes of John Latham’s A general history of birds have now been rebound.

Once again we would like to thank those who generously sponsored the volumes and made the work possible, and to Cyril Formby, our conservator, for doing such a fantastic job. The books are now on display in the gallery, and according to the numerous visitors who have enquired about purchasing them, it would appear that they have made a particularly stunning addition to the Library’s shelves!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

A little update...

A little update to let you know that this week, the Portico cataloguing project reached 15,000 volumes! As well as being a lovely round number, this also means that more than half of the Portico’s holdings are available for search online. Currently being catalogued are the Collected Works and the Biography sections. 

Work will start in the upcoming weeks on the treasures held in the reading room...

Our 15,000th record was Memoirs of Charles Mathews, comedian, by Mrs. Anne Jackson, [Ft 11-3].  Mathews was an English theatre manager and comic actor, famed for his excellent mimicry and work at Drury Lane Theatre. The Portico holds his biography as part of a 4 volume set, and each features several beautifully intricate illustrations of Mathews on stage throughout his career:

To search the library catalogue click here.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Conservation appeal:

John Latham’s A general history of birds

A General History of Birds is often considered to be one of the greatest ornithological books ever published. It was issued in ten volumes between 1821 and 1828, and contains 193 hand-coloured copperplate engravings of unsurpassed beauty. These plates were personally designed, etched and coloured by the English physician, naturalist and author, John Latham (1740-1837), who, having been one of the first naturalists to examine specimens of Australian birds and who was responsible for naming many of them, is often acknowledged as being the “grandfather” of Australian ornithology.

The Portico is lucky enough to hold a first edition set of this seminal work. Unfortunately, however, over the years the individual bindings have deteriorated, and each volume has become increasingly fragile. To ensure it can continue to be used by future generations, it is now in need of urgent conservation and preservation work.

We are currently looking for individuals to sponsor the rebinding of this set. The sympathetic rebinding of each individual volume within the set will cost approximately £135, and in return for your support a permanent bookplate will be placed within your chosen volume(s), recording your name, date, and a dedication of your choice.

If you are interested in sponsoring this work and helping to restore it to its former glory, please contact a member of staff for further details.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Spotlight on the collection: Political Economy

The latest section to be added to the Portico's online catalogue is Political Economy, and one of the treasures unearthed is The Gilbart prize essay on the adaptation of recent discoveries and inventions in science and art to the purpose of practical banking [Kl 25], by Granville Sharp, an accountant in the East of England Bank, at Norwich. 

The prize winning essay was originally published in Banker’s Magazine, winning a £100 prize. Applicants were asked to write an essay or pamphlet based on the Industrial Exhibition of 1851. Also known as the “Crystal Palace Exhibition”, the fair was prompted by the great success of the French Industrial Exhibition on 1844, the first in a series of popular 19th century World Fairs, displaying industry and culture with a particular focus on new manufactured products. World expositions of this period were often focused towards industry and trade, making Sharp’s reflections applicable not only to banking but “to any and all large commercial establishment [...] this essay should be read with interest by every employer and employee connected with business and trade” – Daily News.

This volume is the third edition of the essay - the only illustrated publication, containing numerous plates, including cheque specimens, bank notes, and patent plans, as well as 15 remarkable wax seals mounted on the back pastedown of the book, as shown below.

 For  access to the Library's online catalogue visit