Walker vs Calamy: bickering in the eighteenth century

The Old Library doesn’t seem to conform to any particular classification scheme–at least, none that I can fathom–but over the past few months it’s become clearer and clearer to me that the books are in some kind of order. I’ve found myself in a bit of a ‘history of England’ rut, with pretty much every book for miles (slight exaggeration) another assessment of the same topic. So when the next title on my list promised the “sufferings of the clergy”, I thought things might finally be looking up. I anticipated, at best, a discussion of seventeenth century torture devices in vicarages; at worst, an exposition of the shoddy living conditions the clergy had to endure, things like poor TV reception and no hot water after 8am.

Obviously, it was none of those things. In fact, it turned out to be over seven hundred pages of brilliantly executed passive aggression. The book’s full title is An attempt towards recovering an account of the numbers and sufferings of the clergy. It was compiled by clergyman and biographer John Walker (1674-1747) of Exeter, and printed in London in 1714. It was written as a response to an earlier work, printed in 1702, by Edmund Calamy (1671-1732), called Abridgment of Mr Baxter’s narrative. This was, itself, a rearrangement of another work, the original (presumably) Mr Baxter’s narrative, which had suffered at the hands of an ill-experienced indexer. (We’ve all been there.) What made Calamy famous at the time, though, wasn’t just his ability to recognise bad indexing when he saw it. It was the ninth chapter of his book, which was a list of nonconformist ministers silenced or thrown out after the Restoration in 1660. Wykes (2004) describes the book as “a popular statement and defence of nonconformity against the high-church attack on dissent and toleration”.


Edmund Calamy, 1671-1732

The publication of this list created a bit of a storm. In the second edition of his book, printed in 1713, Calamy himself acknowledged it: “for some Years there was scarce a Pamphlet came out on the Church side, in which I had not the Honour of being referr’d to in the invective part of it” (1713, in Wykes, 2004). But I’d be shocked if any of these books Calamy mentioned included an attack quite as lengthy, profound and vitriolic as Walker’s Sufferings of the Clergy. Given that it appeared the year after Calamy wrote this acknowledgment of infamy, I’m tempted to believe that Walker took it as a challenge. Walker’s idea was to produce a similar sort of volume, but this time listing the conforming clergy who were deprived and sequestered by the puritans in the period before the Restoration. He admits as much in his Preface: “[the work] was wholly occasioned by the ninth chapter of Dr Calamy’s Abridgment of Mr Baxter’s life” (1714, p. i).Image

It sounds vaguely admiring at this point, but Walker soon sticks the knife in. “I take it for granted”, he writes, “Dr Calamy himself knew as many reasons for his Work, as anybody else, and that he was not wanting to produce the Best of them” (1714, p. i). He continually compares his motivations to those of Dr Calamy: if he can write a list, then why can’t I? If you don’t object to Dr Calamy’s list, then you can’t object to mine. After a while it starts to read like an early eighteenth century rendition of “Anything you can do, I can do better” from Annie, Get Your Gun.

This slightly obsessive attack on poor old Dr Calamy for whom, I’ll admit, I’m starting to feel sorry, runs to over fifty pages, after which Walker gets down to the actual business of the suffering. The book itself is divided into two parts: first, a history of ecclesiastical affairs prior to the Restoration, designed essentially to justify the treatment of nonconformists after the Act of Uniformity in 1662 based on their behaviour when they were in charge (du Toit, 2004); and second, the list itself. I’m  impressed by Walker’s organisation and indexing skills, and I’m starting to suspect that he was secretly a librarian. The famous ‘suffering’ varies in type and severity, from George Williamson of Bristol, who got kicked out of his vicarage (1714, p. 4), to George Crakenthorp of Essex, who was accused of being a “common tippler, and often drunk” (1714, p. 219). There’s Samuel Taylor of Suffolk, who was left so penniless that he had to beg relief from the “corporation for ministers’ widows” (1714, p. 383) and William Knight of Huntingdonshire, whose ruination set off a chain of events which led to his grandson getting his maid pregnant. Worst of all, the maid was a “hog-herd’s daughter” (1714, p. 288). There’s a Mr Eaton of Cheshire, whose wife was carried to a dunghill (1714, p. 236), presumably against her will. Walker reports that several members of the clergy died before the Restoration, but a lot do have happier endings. Take Thomas Paske of Clare Hall, Cambridge, for example. He was restored and his great worth was proven beyond all doubt when, on one day, he was visited by “three bishops, four privy counsellors, two judges and three doctors” (1714, p. 141). Someone definitely needed to explain the concept of ‘office hours’ to Thomas Paske.


Walker’s Sufferings portrays these poor ministers as maligned, unjustly accused of all sorts of scandal, replaced by unsavoury gentleman, harrassed and persecuted simply for their loyalty. There’s a genuine sense of their collective martyrdom shining through and, without a copy of Calamy’s Abridgment in front of me it’s difficult to tell if Walker copied that too. I imagine he did. But they say the best form of flattery is imitation, so maybe Calamy wouldn’t have minded too much after all.


Calamy, E. (1702). An abridgment of Mr Baxter’s history of his life and times. London: Printed by S. Bridge for Thomas Parkhurst [and two others].

Du Toit, A. (2004). ‘Walker, John (bap. 1674, d. 1747)‘. Oxford Dictionary of National Bibliography. Oxford: OUP. Accessed 23 Aug 2013.

Walker, J. (1714). An attempt towards recovering an account of the numbers and suffering of the clergy of the Church of England. London: Printed by W.S. for J. Nicholson [and five others].

Wykes, D.L. (2004). ‘Calamy, Edmund (1671-1732)‘. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: OUP. Accessed 23 Aug 2013.


The mystery of the late learned judge

I’ve recently been cataloguing a great big pile of law treatises, all published between about the 1730s and 1760s. There’s nothing immediately remarkable about them, except their authorship. They’re all attributed, quite curiously, to a “late learned judge”. When I read this, obviously, I instantly believed that I’d stumbled across a bit of a mystery. The books look innocent enough, I thought, but the concealment of their authorship means that they MUST contain sordid, inflammatory and maybe even conspiratorial eighteenth century legal secrets. Maybe this “late learned judge” was the Belle du Jour of his day. So I decided to do a bit of sleuthing, a la Miss Marple, and–it didn’t take long–the real identity of the “late learned judge” is about as well kept a secret as the identity of the Stig. Some say his name was Sir Jeffrey Gilbert, and that he was a judge, baron, legal writer and international man of mystery. (All right, I’ve made the last bit up).

Gilbert was born in 1674 in Kent to a reasonably well-connected if not renowned family. The Gilberts weren’t exactly the types to get invited to a barbeque at Nell Gwyn’s house, but the young Jeffrey would’ve hobnobbed with some famous names at the time, big w(h)igs like Matthew Hale and Phillips Gybbon. Gilbert was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1692 and called to the Bar in 1698. From all accounts, he wasn’t much of a mover and shaker in the legal world. But his appointment to puisne judge of the Irish king’s bench in 1715, and shortly after to baron of the Irish exchequer, would change all that. An immediate success and a “darling of the Irish nation” (so says Wikipedia, don’t take it literally), Gilbert’s favour was short-lived. And the simple reason for this was that, in 1716, Gilbert took over a case, Annesley vs Sherlock. (NB: don’t get too excited. It isn’t that Sherlock. More’s the pity).

It had been a simple enough case at first, a dispute over land ownership which began in 1709. The first judgment went the way of Maurice Annersley, but after a successful appeal to the Irish exchequer, Mrs Hester Sherlock emerged triumphant. And then it got really interesting. Annesley, presumably a bit miffed, appealed to the British House of Lords who–keep up, now–overturned the overturning. What had been a simple judicial decision turned into a battle between the British and Irish peers over which of them was the final court of appeal in Ireland, and sitting right at the centre of that decision was our late learned judge. What ensued were tensions, hurt feelings, arguments, attempted arrests, actual arrests and, for Gilbert, presumably, one heck of a migraine, and it all culminated in the 1719 Declaratory Act. Passed by British Lords, it declared, ultimately, that the British Parliament had full legislative power over Ireland, and that the Irish House of Lords had no appellate jurisdiction, weakening Irish courts and securing Ireland’s dependency. Gilbert’s role in all this seems to be a bit accidental, and he was used as a scapegoat, but he ultimately sided with the British, and was swiftly relegated from the nation’s sweetheart to Mr Infamous as fast as you could say “he knows which side his bread is buttered on”. It’s little wonder, then, that he hotfooted it back over to England as fast as he could.

You might think that this explains Gilbert’s reticence about publishing his treatises on law–his reputation, and all that accidental controversy presumably followed him around for the rest of his career. But this can’t be the full story. For one thing, his treatises were written and edited from about 1700 and, despite nearing completion, abandoned in 1710, years before he went to Ireland. And for another, they were apparently so good that they might even have improved his reputation.  Had it been completed and published in its original format, Macnair says, it would have rivalled Blackstone‘s Commentaries in “present[ing] English law from a rigorously whig standpoint strongly influenced by John Locke”.  Gilbert “innovat[ed] both in the politics of his account of the common law, and in his use of civil materials” (Macnair, again). Gilbert probably returned to the work, in fits and spurts, to add bits and to change bits, but he never planned for it to be published. In fact, its publication was the last thing he wanted. Literally. In his will, he left all of his unpublished manuscripts and treatises to Charles Clarke, Esq. (no, probably not that one), “under special trust that none should be printed”.

You can’t always get what you want (cf. Mick Jagger)

I’m glad to say that Gilbert’s wishes were heartily and conclusively ignored (well done Mr Clarke), and what’s more, quite speedily after Gilbert’s death in 1726. The treatises–on evidence (1756), devises and revocations (1739), executions (1763), rents (1758), uses and trusts (1734) and distresses and replevins (1755)–are fragments of this planned larger work on English law. Our copies have definitely been used, even if we can’t tell by whom. Whoever decided on the moniker “late learned judge” wasn’t being generous.

There’s still a mystery here, even if it isn’t about the identity of this “late learned judge”. It’s about why he didn’t want them ever ever EVER to be published. And there’s a case for Miss Marple if ever I heard of one. Perhaps he was just a bit shy, or a bit modest. But here’s my twopenneth: I think he thought the treatises were just too serious and sensible to fit in with his reputation as a bit of a rogue and a scoundrel. I’m sure eighteenth century judges cared about their street cred too, y’know.


Flaherty, M. S. (1987). The Empire strikes back: Annesley v. Sherlock and the triumph of Imperial Parliamentary supremacy. Columbia Law Review, 87.3, pp. 593-622.

Macnair, M. (2004). Gilbert, Sir Jeffrey. ODNB, accessed here.

Wikipedia entry, here.

Marcus Manilius: the man who didn’t tell us who he was

The clocks have gone back, the evenings are drawing in, and the days are becoming darker and colder and drearier; but, despite this, the Old Library cataloguing project is coming along nicely, thank you very much. I’m still working on 18th century monographs, but learning to deal with the dangerous conditions in which rare books cataloguers must work. Yes, it’s not exactly bomb disposal, and no, I’m not exactly traversing the seven seas on a raft, but still, Elizabethan libraries do not lend themselves well to warmth. I’m terribly grateful, therefore, to whoever suggested that I get myself a pair of fingerless gloves, which have allowed me to keep frostbite at bay while looking remarkably stylish. Even if I do say so myself.

A cataloguer’s godsend*

In the middle of several thousand books on law, classics and theology, most of which have been in Greek (which I can only barely read, thanks to a semester at university eight years ago), I came across a slim volume of Marcus ManiliusAstronomica, edited by Richard Bentley, former Master of Trinity College, and printed in 1739 by Henry Woodfall. The book caught my eye initially because of a very exciting fold out celestial chart, complete with pictures of centaurs and plenty of other things I thought J.K. Rowling invented. But I also recognised the title, and thought it might be something we also had in the Jerwood. I like it when the rare books we’ve got are still being published or are still in circulation and being borrowed by current Trinity Hall students. So I did a quick search, and it turns out that I was right: we’ve got G.P. Goold’s translation, published in 1977 by Harvard University Press, and one of the Loeb Classical Library Series.

The old version (1739), and the less old one (1977)

Astronomica is a didactic poem in five books about astronomy (did you guess?) but there’s also a few bits and pieces which conform to what we’d consider astrology today. It’s in Latin, and more to the point, it’s in “a difficult, twisted, and occasionally beautiful Latin” (Volk, 2009, p. 1). The poem as a whole is an attempt to discover the system by which heaven and earth are governed.  Manilius does this by covering topics from cosmology to comets (not the electronic goods store, mind), the zodiac, the signs, horoscopes, planetary influences, that sort of thing. He’s like the first century equivalent of Russell Grant mixed with Patrick Moore. In any case, Manilius has cohered to a Stoic philosophy of a rational, orderly system throughout—he writes:

these questions [about the origins of the universe] will always cause dispute among men of genius, and uncertainty is bound to attend that which is hidden from us and is so far above the ken of man and god. But however obscure its origin, all are agreed about the outward appearance of the universe, and the orderly arrangement of its structure is fixed (Book I: 145-8, translation from Goold, p. 15-7).

So it appears that it doesn’t matter much to Manilius where the universe came from, as long as it’s in order. Sounds a bit like my approach to shelving.

There isn’t much information about Marcus Manilius himself—the poor guy isn’t mentioned by a single contemporary or later Roman writer, and despite many pages of cogitating on the potential effect of the birth sign of the emperor Tiberius (Libra, if you’re interested), he didn’t take the trouble to introduce himself once in the poem. We can figure out the date of composition of the Astronomica by some of the historical events Manilius mentions. In Book 1 he talks about the disaster at Saltus Teutoburgiensis in 9 A.D., and Goold suggests that the emperor Augustus dies somewhere between Manilius writing Books 2 and 4 (and Augustus died in 14 A.D.), so it’s relatively safe to assume the early first century for the date of composition. Another point of contention is where Manilius is from—Scaliger thinks he’s a Roman, Bentley has him down as being from Asia. I imagine it wouldn’t matter much to Manilius where he’s from, as long as it’s in order.

Cetus the whale, a constellation

But one of the more interesting things about this book is the people who’ve edited and translated it—it seems to be one of those ‘make-or-break’ texts to tackle. As I said, our copy is Bentley’s version, and it’s highly regarded, but Bentley wasn’t the first editor to get his hands on it. The first person to make real headway was the philologist J.J. Scaliger, whose edition appeared in Paris in 1579. And however well Scaliger did (and word is, he did pretty well), he is thought to have paled in comparison when the mighty Bentley came long. A.E. Housman makes this very clear comparison of the skills of the two editors: “Scaliger at the side of Bentley is no more than a marvellous boy” (1903).

Bentley’s translation first appeared in 1739 suggesting that Trinity Hall holds one of the earlier printings of the book and though Bentley is criticised for using a bit too much artistic license in his translation, his was the standard for a long time.  That is, until A.E. Housman came along, spending no less than three decades dedicated to a translation of the text, and it’s Housman’s version which is heavily used by Goold in his Loeb edition. Whoever takes the spot as top dog, however, it’s clear that both Bentley and Housman are deserving of plenty of credit; as Goold writes, “if we accord Bentley the honour of being England’s greatest Latinist, it will largely be because Housman declined to claim the title for himself” (Poetry Foundation).

A.E. Housman

I’m not sure I’ll ever know what it is about Manilius’ poem that attracted so many contenders for the competition of Britain’s got Latinists, but it seems that whatever it was it didn’t have the same impact among Trinity Hall scholars of old—our copy of the book is pretty unremarkable and in really good condition.  Perhaps they had better things to do.  Or perhaps they were put off after reading the young Goethe’s review of the poem in his Ephemerides (1770):

I began to read Manilius’ Astronomicon and soon had to put it down: no matter how much this philosophical poet festoons his work with lofty thoughts, he cannot redeem the barrenness of his subject…I consider that one has to debit the poet’s account with the ill consequences of a subject.  After all, he is the one who chose it.


Housman, A.E. (1903). Introduction [to Book 1].

Manilius, M. (1977). Astronomica (G.P. Goold, trans.) Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Poetry Foundation. (n.d.). A.E. Housman. Retrieved 31 October 2011, from here.

Volk, K. (2009). Manilius and his intellectual background. Oxford: OUP.

For extra credit, the Whipple Library, Cambridge, has some information about their folio of Book 1 here.

Photo credits:

Thanks to Katie Birkwood for the photo of the gloves; Postershop for Cetus (it’s by Sir James Thornhill and it’s called “Constellation of Cetus the Whale” from Atlas Coelestis, by Sir John Flamsteed, 1729); and A.E. Housman from The Guardian.

*The Gloves

Aren’t they gorgeous?! They’re called “Classmark Mittens” and they’re Katie’s own design. You can read more about why they came about on her blog, here, and if you fancy making a pair for yourself, you’re in luck–the pattern, including more photographs, is online, here.

Thomas Morgan of Minety

We are VERY grateful to our guest blogger, Dunstan Roberts, who has written this post for the Old Library blog. Dunstan is a graduate student at Trinity Hall. He has recently submitted a doctoral thesis on readers’ annotations in sixteenth-century religious books.

“A Detection of the Deuils Sophistrie”, a little-known work of sixteenth-century religious controversy, was published in 1546. The colourfully-named polemic was written by the then Master of Trinity Hall and Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner (c.1495-1555), whose scholarly prowess and political nous placed him at the forefront of the conservative faction during much of the English Reformation.

What makes the College’s copy interesting is that one of its early readers has filled its margins with annotations—about three-thousand words of them, to be precise. Early modern readers often annotated books in order to improve comprehension and recollection, sometimes adding concise paraphrases and non-verbal notes.

But the annotations in the college’s copy of A Detection are not like this. They are far more pugnacious: a full-blown assault on Stephen Gardiner’s text, denouncing its theology, challenging its arguments, and refuting its patristic sources with rival interpretations and occasionally with rival sources.

Stephen Gardiner, A Detection of the Deuils Sophistrie (1546). Trinity Hall, TH.G.I.1, sigs E3V-E4R.

In more detail:

Sigs E3V-E4R: “In this prayer ys heresye where he said christe moth[er] brought forth god wiche hath no begy[n]ninge note also his treason for images”.

An analysis of the theological viewpoint of the annotations reveals a reader opposed to Gardiner’s Catholicism, but without any suggestion of religious radicalism: in short, a moderate Protestant.

So who was responsible for these unusual annotations? We are fortunate in this instance that the annotator has made his identity explicit through an ownership inscription at the rear of the book: ‘Tho[mas] morgan[us] Ap[u]d Myntie Diocaes[is]. Sa[rum]’. This gives us both a person and a location. The village of Minety (to give it its modern spelling) lies on the border between Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, about 7 miles north-west of Swindon, and falls within the diocese of Salisbury (known in Latin as Sarum). As for Thomas Morgan, he was vicar of Minety from 1582 to 1627, an impressive innings, especially by early-modern standards. We can find two students of his name at Oxford (none at Cambridge) during the decade prior to his installation at Minety: one at Jesus College and one at New Inn Hall (a medieval institution later subsumed into Balliol College). One of these men is very likely our man.

Sig. T4R (detail): “Tho[mas] morgan[us] Ap[u]d Myntie Diocaes[is] Sa[rum]” (Thomas Morgan of Minety, Salisbury Diocese).

Thomas Morgan received his intellectual training at a time when university-educated clergy were seen as critical to the consolidation of the Elizabethan Religious Settlement and were highly sought after. Several colleges in Oxford and Cambridge (including Jesus College, Oxford, Morgan’s possible alma mater) were founded specifically to satisfy this demand. The theological education which the universities provided was conducted along explicitly disputatious lines; prospective clergy were taught how to debate and persuade, which sources to cite and what arguments to employ. Morgan’s patristic sources continued to be taught, even once their purely theological significance to Protestants had started to wane because they were useful for debating with Catholics. The members of this ‘new model clergy’ were not retained within centres of scholarship, but were dispatched into the provinces, where they could have a real impact.

It is within these historical circumstances which we should view this volume and its unusual contents. Whilst it is difficult to fathom the exact purpose of the annotations, there are several likely explanations. Combative annotations like this were sometimes used in the preparation of published rejoinders to controversial texts, although there is no specific evidence to suggest that Morgan was planning anything along these lines. He might, however, have been planning something slightly lower key, such as a sermon in which the former Bishop of Winchester was to be attacked. Or his motives might have been more private, attacking the text as an intellectual exercise, training himself for the larger fight against Catholicism.

There are many questions which remain unanswered and which will merit investigation in the future. We do not know what happened to the book during the centuries before the college acquired it in the latter half of the twentieth century. Nor, significantly, do we know how and why this volume survived when so many other sixteenth-century books perished. These details would be valuable in drawing together the complicated events to which this volume suggestively alludes. But we are, in the meantime, blessed with a remarkably vivid picture of the disputatious religious reading practices which came to the fore during the protracted years of religious turmoil in sixteenth century England.

Images by Dunstan Roberts.

The entirely bearable lightness of Butler

The best way I can think of to describe the books I’ve been cataloguing recently is…heavy. That’s in subject matter (we’ve had the concept of truth, civil society and duties, the lives of various esteemed gentlemen of years gone by, some moral philosophy, and a particularly unusual book on grammar which explicated certain grammatical rules through the medium of verse and, in doing so, was about as successful as it would be for me to espouse the same grammatical rules via the medium of interpretive dance).  But they’ve also been really heavy books.  They weigh an actual ton.  Well, probably not an actual ton. But you catch my drift.  And so, when a slim (ish), light (ish) volume presented itself as the next-on-the-list-to-be-catalogued, joy was unconfined.

…what the books are not as light as

The book is Joseph Butler’s The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, published by Knapton in 1736Time for some vital statistics: it’s 320 pages, it weighs in at less than a bag of sugar, and subsequently meets the key criteria that I’d already decided on for the subject of the next blog post.  And yes, I know these are shoddy criteria.  But leaving that to one side, and starting in the traditional way, here’s a picture of the man of the moment:

Handsome fellow

Joseph Butler was born in 1692 in Wantage (then Berkshire, now Oxfordshire), and studied at Oriel College, Oxford.  He was a religious philosopher who, among other things, locked horns with Thomas Hobbes (the philosopher, not the tiger) and John Locke (the philosopher, not the character from LOST), took a highly defensive stance against any contemporaries who argued against traditional systems of morality and religion, and allegedly had words with John Wesley (the founder of Methodism, not anyone else you might know with this name) over his license to preach and the behaviour of his followers.  Quite a CV.  Not much is known about his early life, and it seems that he didn’t really come to prominence until he published his Analogy, which I’ve got in front of me now, in 1736.  He was ordained, so it’s likely that he had parishes, and at one stage he gained the favour of Queen Caroline, the wife of King George II, so he must have been fairly well known, or at least well regarded.  What else?  Well, he became the Bishop of Bristol in about 1740.  The see of Bristol was pretty poor, so it wasn’t exactly the best gig–and the Internet has it that Butler kicked up a bit of a fuss about this appointment.  No less than a decade later he was transferred–promoted, I suppose–to Durham, which was as rich as Bristol was poor.  Butler was Bishop there for about two years before promptly dropping dead in 1752.  Which wasn’t great timing.

Good excuse to use a nice photo though

So he was a theologian, eh? Horace Walpole, the Earl of Orford and the owner of a quite superlative name, described Butler’s theology thus: it is “wafted in a cloud of metaphysics” (IEP), he said, which is really rather lovely.  I’ve got no idea what it means, but it sounds marvellous.  As a graduate of theology (though having never knowingly studied Butler), I decided to at least try to talk about Butler’s theology which will either a) go well or, more likely, b) go wrong, and therefore serve as a timely reminder as to why I gave up theology to become a librarian in the first place.

Well, wouldn’t you?

Here goes.  Butler’s basic understanding–and this underpins the Analogy as well as the rest of his work–naturalises morality and religion. For Butler, they’re just extensions of the common way of life, of nature, and of human nature, and of the world itself.  He uses human nature as an analogy: it’s hierarchically ordered, with conscience right at the very top.  Conscience adapts us to nature, and because conscience deals in issues of virtue and vice, it becomes impossible to divorce nature from morality.  So, if you dismiss morality (and by extension, religion–Christianity, I presume–which Butler perceives as the source of morality), you dismiss the world and your own nature.  Phew.  From this position, Butler draws up many refutations against the ideas of some sceptics, including a branch of Deism espoused by Matthew Tindal which denies, in a roundabout way, revelation through miracles, and he also develops some solutions to the doctrine of necessity and the problem of evil.  He was clearly quite the thinker.

Thinking about his dinner…?

Trinity Hall’s copy of the Analogy is pretty unremarkable, though it’s certainly an early copy.  Unfortunately there’s no discernable provenance, and few signs that it was ever actually read, no marginalia, nothing really that makes this copy stand out as unique.  Which is a pity, as it’d be good to end this blog post with something that’d draw everything together.  But in the words of Butler himself, though admittedly not from the Analogy (thank you Professor Internet), every thing is what it is and not another thing.  Oooh, heavy stuff.

References: IEP, mainly, and then a bit of Wikipedia as well.

Image credits: Feathers, from Joe Shlabotnik; Butler, from IEP and Royal Berkshire History; time, from Toni VC; gorgeous library, from Presurfer. Many thanks to all!

Whistory, or the inherent civility of the Cambridge fellow

I recently catalogued a four-volume set of the works of Virgil, edited by Peter Burman, and printed in Amsterdam in the 1740s.  It’s in lovely bindings, and has a very swanky title page, complete with an engraving by someone with the initials L.F.D.B. whom I’m struggling to identify, so if anyone’s got any thoughts, please feel free to comment!  The fact that these books have nothing whatever to do with law have endeared them to me indefinitely, in spite of the fact that whenever I espy anything to do with Virgil I have to suffer through Latin GCSE flashbacks, which vary in severity but are always painful.


The set is in almost pristine condition, which means one of two things.  Either it was very well cared for, protected, or almost revered.  Or it was never, ever used, and has lain untouched for hundreds of years, until I disturbed it by grabbing it (gently and carefully) off the shelf to catalogue it, making it basically the book equivalent of Sleeping Beauty.  But there’s proof, in one of the volumes, that at the very least one person has used, or touched, or opened these books.  And the reason I know that is because tucked away inside the third volume, was this little note:

Anyone for whist?

It might be difficult to read, so here’s what it says: Dear Hildyard, Whist will be performed at my rooms on Friday next as heretofore.  –Your presence is solicited, by yours truly, Jos. Romilly.

I love finding stuff like this in the older books that I catalogue.  For me, it’s miles better than any old marginalia precisely because it reveals nothing at all about the content of the books, nor what the reader thought of it; rather, it reveals something personal, something intrinsically human, about the poor chap poring over these heavy volumes.

A bit of digging and, thanks to Venn, I found out who these blokes were.  One is Rev. Joseph Romilly, of Trinity, and the other Rev. William Hildyard, of Trinity Hall.  Romilly came up to Cambridge in 1808, and after an illustrious career as a student (he was 4th wrangler), became a Fellow of Trinity.  Hildyard, a little younger and a good Yorkshire lad, came up to Cambridge in 1813 where he too matriculated at Trinity, before migrating over the street to Trinity Hall to become a fellow and a tutor.

I started to wonder about these chaps, and how they met.  I like to think of their eyes meeting across a pint of ale in the local tavern, and there being a moment when they knew–when they just knew–that they’d met their whist soul mate.  Gone were the days of w(h)istfulness, the future would be bright. That’s probably a bit too Grey’s Anatomy to be true, and it’s far more likely that they met in Norwich when both were ordained deacon around the same time–an occupation which probably completely scuppers my ‘met-down-the-pub’ theory.

Nice-looking chap

Having never knowingly, or consciously, played whist (my card-playing abilities and experience extending little beyond Snap, and a few games of poker which are probably best forgotten), I thought I’d try to find out a little bit more about this game which was drawing Romilly and Hildyard away from their studies for an evening.  I found a truly brilliant little book on the history of whist, the rules of the game, and the development of strategy, written in 1844 by “an amateur”.  The author begins by vindicating the very existence of the game based on nothing but the intrinsic charm of its name.  Now THAT’S a good argument.  He (or she…probably he) then moves on to justify the existence of the book by stating his fervent opposition to the fact that no other book on the subject had existed before (which wasn’t true!), despite the stuff that you could find in print.  For example, he says that there is ‘immortal verse’ concerning the ‘combats of mice and frogs’–and this in a world where there are no guides to whist?! Abominable.  Wind in the Willows premonition in tact, the author goes on to praise whist on a variety of counts, some more sensible than others, and among which are the following:

  • Whist… is unique, in its rivalry to heavy drinking (whether it’s as enjoyable as, or whether it prevents it, remains unclear)
  • Whist… is universal, played by Cockneys and Cornish alike
  • Whist… has the ability to neutralise, even among those with divergent political affiliations
  • Whist… is delightfully linear, and chronological, and it’s possible to map its development–and that of its players–over time
  • Whist… is challenging, based on skill rather than luck, and it wards off amnesia
  • Whist… is the bastion of gentleness, civility and good manners


It’s little wonder, if this is what a good game of whist does for you, that these guys played so often (more supposition, I know).   And it’s the last of the bullet points in particular which made me think of Romilly and Hildyard–the good manners evident in Romilly’s little note seem to corroborate it.  Whist is going to be “performed”, he says, making it seem rehearsed, planned out, and prearranged, as if the very act of playing itself is going to achieve something.  Hildyard’s presence at this game is “solicited”, which on the surface seems so formal, yet beneath this there lurks a little hint of cheekiness and humour.  It’s almost as if Hildyard is going to be accosted should he fail to put in an appearance, which I presume he did.  The note is, simply, the equivalent of our “be there or be square”.

Less well-mannered

It’s possible to imagine Hildyard receiving this note, in the middle of a verse of the Aeneid, and being pleased at the opportunity to procrastinate a little, to see friends and perhaps assert his superiority at the game.  Perhaps he thought that the note would make a good bookmark; perhaps he wondered whether he ought to take a bottle of wine along with him to Romilly’s rooms; or perhaps, on receiving the note, he got out his deck of cards, shuffled them in that fancy way that only experienced card players can, and practised a couple of his sleight of hand tricks to ensure that victory, Friday next, would be his.  Though somehow I doubt it!

References and other stuff:

Venn, of course, where would we be without it?

Wikipedia (same goes)

And of course: “An Amateur” (1844). Whist: its history and its practice. London: Bogue of Fleet Street, from whom I also stole the cartoons.

Catch 22? No thanks, I’ll pass.

It’s been a bit quiet on the blog lately, so here’s an attempt to rectify that! Unfortunately, for both you and me, what I’ve been working on for the past few months hasn’t exactly been the most stimulating thing in the world.  More paint-drying than paint-balling, if I’m honest.  But as it’s now done, the final challenge is to transform it into something worthy of a blog post.  This might be tough.  Mission Impossible? Perhaps, but hopefully without Tom Cruise. Every cloud … etc.

It’s been almost three months, then, and I’ll admit it, cards on the table, in the confessional, time to come clean: I’ve only catalogued one thing.  In two-and-a-half months.  Sort of.  But, as a disclaimer, it isn’t the case that I’ve just been being slow.  I haven’t been trying to master the art of cataloguing in the style of a tortoise.  Rather, in my defence, m’lord, the item I’ve been cataloguing was a bound-with with 22 (yes, you read that right, TWENTY TWO) individual items contained within the same binding.  I’m led to believe that this was a pretty common practice until the nineteenth century; books weren’t sold as units as they are today, and it was often the responsibility of the purchaser to get things bound.  So presumably binding all these little individual items together would have been more economical than binding them all separately.

Still, though, twenty two.  Did you catch that? Two little ducks. Twenty two.

…my new least favourite number…

In terms of the catalogue process of bound-withs, the rules are pretty simple.  Each individual item has to be catalogued separately (yes, all twenty two of them, and yes, I’ll shut up about that now), and then the bibliographical records of each item are linked together in the same holding and item record.  The way to do this is simultaneously: a) extremely straightforward; b) entirely unfathomable; c) strangely, and instantly, forgettable.  For me, anyway.  And this means that I’ve spent quite a long time in the past few months looking up how to do this, jotting down instructions, losing instructions, cursing lost instructions, looking up how to do this, and so on.  You get the picture.

And then, to continue my list of excuses for being to industriousness what The Wizard of Oz is to gritty realism, or what Catch 22 is to chick-lit, the subject matter of these items was hardly riveting.  In fact, ‘hardly riveting’ is a bit of a stretch.  They’re a series of doctoral dissertations, mostly from Lugduni Batavorum (now commonly known as Leiden) in the Netherlands, mostly on Roman law, and mostly in Latin.  So at the very least they make some sense as a ‘collection’, justifying the way in which they’ve been bound.  Not that I approve of the way they’ve been bound! Twenty two! Seriously. Oops, sorry.


This is one of them…

One thing that struck me was the way in which they’ve been printed: they don’t half put dissertations these days to shame.  I remember submitting mine a couple of years ago (don’t be silly, not a doctoral one), and it was a case of very last-minute rushing to a printing shop, with dissertation lovingly crafted and hurriedly converted to pdf and shoved on a usb stick, one eye on the clock while the shop assistant patiently exhorted the benefits of heat binding over everything else in existence, ever, and then filling out billions of forms, guessing my student number, exasperating the poor (yet brilliant) faculty secretaries, and all the while praying that the massive typo on page 18 would escape the notice of the markers.

Not so much in the Netherlands in the early eighteenth century.  These dissertations have engravings and woodcut vignettes on their title pages, and headpieces, and illustrated initials.  And the engravings weren’t just done by anyone, either, but by Francois van Bleyswyck, that famous and celebrated … well, I hadn’t heard of him, and he’s not on Wikipedia, but that doesn’t mean he’s not famous and celebrated, all right?  Plus the dissertations are written in Latin: ’nuff said.  I’m already impressed.  I could barely write mine in English (that typo on page 18 still haunting me…)


…and this…

The dissertations are mainly connected to the University of Leiden, founded by Prince William (no, not that one, this one) in 1574.  They date from the early eighteenth century, though their dates span about 40 years in total; and no, they’re not bound chronologically.  In fact, I can’t see any method as to the order in which they’ve been bound.  They do reveal a couple of interesting facts about the way dissertations were submitted, though.  For one thing, they all acknowledge the “Rector Magnificus” of the university, on whose authority (presumably) they’re awarded their degrees.  I thought that was a nice practice…not to mention an amazing job title! It’s also good to see that some of the writers of the earlier dissertations eventually became the “Rector Magnificus” themselves and were credited in later ones (or at least, they’ve got the same name); it shows, if nothing else, that their doctorates were valuable!  The information on the title-pages also reveal how widespread the printing trade was in Leiden at the time–remarkably few of them have been printed by the printing houses.


Don’t worry, I won’t use all of them… we’re almost at the end of the post.

As for how Trinity Hall came to be in possession of this interminable fascinating item, well, here’s a story for you! Or not, unfortunately.  The book was given to us by James William Geldart, though I’m not sure which one.  There were two: both lawyers here, father and son.  My money would be on Geldart Senior.  He was vice-Master at Trinity Hall from 1809-1821, as well as Regius Professor of Civil Law at Cambridge from 1814-1847.  His son, also James William, took a law degree here as well, as did his other son, Henry Charles; and not forgetting arguably the most important Geldart, Thomas Charles, the elder James William’s brother (are you keeping up?), who was Master of Trinity Hall, from 1852-1877, and also a lawyer, and also Regius Professor of Civil Law.  Talk about keeping in the family.

So that’s that. Finished. Finito.  Caput.  It’s almost the end of a very short, and really rather boring, era.  Perhaps I’ll “never quite be the same again”, as Joseph Heller(‘s publisher) promised.  If nothing else, then I’m once again terribly pleased that I’m not a student having to read this stuff.  But here’s to the next three months of rare books cataloguing.  There’s hopefully not a single bound-with in sight.

Image credit:

Thanks to: Leo Reynolds on Flikr