The Natural History of Serpents

In honour of World Snake Day (celebrated every July 16th) we take a look at an interesting natural history book in our collection: An Essay towards a Natural History of Serpents, by Charles Owen, published in 1742. [1]

Title page of Owen's book An Essay on the Natural History of Serpents

Owen was one of a number of clergymen in the 18th century who wrote books on natural history, which are strange mixture of fact and fable as much symbolic as scientific. He was not a scientist so he draws on classical, biblical and mythological sources for his information on ‘serpents’. These include not only snakes, but frogs, scorpions and spiders, as well as mythical creatures such as basilisks and dragons. His aim was not just to inform and entertain, but to share his belief that the natural world, as created by God, had moral qualities, which could guide people as to how to live their lives.

So how useful today is Owen’s book to anyone looking for scientific information on reptiles? Trinity Hall student Alex Howard, who is writing her PhD on snakes takes a closer look!

Woman holding a snake in her hand
Alex with her snake, Ada

Snakes: Fact or fiction

Although almost 280 years have passed since the publication of this book, and our knowledge of the natural world has increased considerably since then, there are some great passages that show an 18th Century view on one of the world’s most enigmatic reptiles.

The Adder

The first passage that caught my eye was a section referring to one of the UK’s native species, the only venomous snake found in Great Britain. The European adder, Vipera berus, is a small, secretive viper that is usually found in heathlands and woods. While the bite can be painful, the venom this animal produces is not dangerous to most humans. Preferring instead to hunt lizards and small mammals, adders can grow to a length of 80cm and live up to 15 years.

A viper next to an engraving from the book of a viper
The Adder

The passage in Owen’s book makes mention of the striking orange eyes of this species:

The Viper or Adder, a subtle and poisonous Creature, slender in Body, about a Foot and a half long, with fiery and flaming Eyes.” p. 51

Owen also notes the presence of the incredible way that Adders reproduce. While many snakes lay eggs from which the babies hatch (known as being oviparous) and mammals give live birth (known as being viviparous), the Adder incubates it’s young internally. These offspring are still technically within separate ‘eggs’, although the shell is reduced to just a membrane that the babies break out with after being born. This process is known as being ovoviviparous and Owen notes as follows:

Snakes lay their Eggs, twenty, thirty, fifty, and a hundred sometimes, in one Nest […] whereas Vipers make use of their own Matrix, and bring forth live Vipers: Their young ones come forth wrapt in thin Skins, which break on the third day, and set the little venemous Creatures at liberty, therefore rank’d among the viviparous Animals.” p. 52

Blindsnakes

A blindsnake
A blindsnake

Another section that brought me particular joy is one that mentions a group of snakes that take the focus of a part of my PhD, the blindsnakes. These snakes, the scientific name for which are Scolecophidia (which literally translates to worm snake, another common name for this species), are found primarily underground, where they hunt the larvae of social insects such as ants and termites. When most people come across one of these, they usually consider it to be a particularly large worm, unless they see the characteristic forked snake tongue.

Owen remarks on their incredibly small eyes that give them their ‘blind’ moniker:

“The Caecilia or Typhlinus, the blind Worm, as the Greek word imports; not that it wants Eyes, but because they are so little, that he must be furnish’d with good Optics that can discern them.” p. 80

He also notes the presence of viviparity:

“Conradus Gefner tells us, his Wife struct one of these Serpents on the Head, when ‘twas pregnant, and it immediately cast forth its young”.

I find it interesting that he refers to blindsnakes also as “The Caecilian Serpent”. Caecilians as described today are a group of legless amphibians that also spend the majority of their lives underground. Superficially they are very similar to blindsnakes, so it is likely that these two groups of animals were often confused with one another.

Text from page 80 of Owen's book
Owen on the blindsnake, p. 80

Dragons?!

Two engraved drawings of dragons, one with legs and the other with a body like a snake
Two dragons

Finally, it appears that also included in the 18th Century categorization of snakes, were the mythical dragons. There is a surprising amount of biological information for these animals, given that they don’t exist:

“Among Serpents, Authors place Dragons; Creatures terrible and fierce in Aspect and Nature. They are divided into Apodes and Pedates, some with Feet, and some without them…” .

“Some have observed, that about the Ganges, are Dragons whose Eyes sparkle like precious stones”.

“Dragons are Inhabitants of Africa and Asia; those of India exceed most in Largeness and Longitude: In the Tower of London, is the Skin of one, which is of vast Bulk”. p. 74

While dragons don’t exist, it is possible that these reports are sightings of the large snakes that inhabit these areas. Burmese pythons and reticulated pythons are found across South East Asia, and African rock pythons in Africa. These species are the giants of the snake world, with reticulated pythons reaching over seven and a half metres.

I hope you enjoyed this trip down snake history as much as I did. I’ll leave you with a quote from Charles Owen:

“The Knowledge of mere Animals (who have no School for Arts and Sciences) is most surprising; these, without visible Instructors, know how to perpetuate their Species to the End of the World.” p. 4

"The knowledge of mere animals (who have no school for arts and sciences) is most surprising"
How do snakes know things without going to school?!

Reference

 [1] Owen, Charles, An Essay towards a Natural History of Serpents : In Two Parts : I. The First Exhibits a General View of Serpents, in Their Various Aspects; … II. The Second Gives a View of Most Serpents That Are Known in the Several Parts of the World; … III. To Which Is Added a Third Part; Containing Six Dissertations … : The Whole Intermix’d with Variety of Entertaining Digressions, Philosophical and Historical. London: Printed for the Author, Sold by John Gray, at the Cross-Keys in the Poultry, near Cheapside, 1742. Online at: https://archive.org/details/essaytowardsnat00owen

Oh behave! Conduct books for women

Katherine, Countess of Chesterfield, and Lucy, Countess of Huntingdon, by Anthony van Dyck, c. 1636–40, oil on canvas (Yale Center for British Art)

In the late 17th to mid-18th century there was a boom in the publication of conduct books for women, which instructed on proper manners and moral behaviour. As with modern etiquette guides, the existence of such books hint at the anxieties about the proper way to conduct oneself in social situations. They also provide a valuable insight into the conventions surrounding behaviour, and the expectations of women at that time.

Seventeenth century conduct books were almost entirely written by men for a female readership – and they give strikingly similar advice to their target audience of young aristocratic women. Such books typically contain guidance on religion; how to choose a husband and live with his faults; how to manage a household and raise children; and appropriate behaviour and recreations. This is mixed with censure of faults such as vanity, immodesty, talking and laughing too much, and keeping company with those who might damage their reputation.

We have two conduct books from this time in Trinity Hall’s libraries. Richard Brathwaite’s The English Gentlewoman, first published in 1631, was one of the first conduct books aimed specifically at women. It is a companion work to The English Gentleman, which was published the previous year – and our edition combines both books into a single volume [1]. In his preface, Brathwaite explains that he is presenting something for ladies to aspire to: ‘I have here presented unto your view one of your own sex one whose improved education will be no blemish but a beauty to her nation’. The frontispiece gives the motto ‘Grace my guide, Glory my goale’ which expresses the conventional ideal of feminine behaviour.

Frontispiece to Brathwaite, The English Gentleman and the English Gentlewoman

Published more than fifty years after the English Gentlewoman, came George Savile, the Marquis of Halifax’s (1633-1695) The lady’s new-years gift, or, Advice to a daughter [2]. It was written for his daughter Elizabeth (1675-1708) when she was twelve years old. Full of fatherly affection, Halifax gives Elizabeth advice on how to exist within the strictures of society and of marriage. Halifax never intended the book to reach a wide audience. It was circulated privately at first in a few manuscript copies, but before too long it was pirated for publication. And it was incredibly popular, with six editions in the 17th century and dozens of reprints in the 18th century.

So what were the key rules for a lady in the 17th century to follow?

Dress modestly

Women’s vanity and pride was seen as the root of much of their challenging behaviour. Richard Brathwaite devotes considerable space to appearance in The English Gentlewoman, arguing that women should dress modestly.

He condemns brightly coloured fashionable clothing (‘pye-coloured fopperies’ and ‘thinne Cobweb attires’) which ‘detracts from the native beauty of the feature’. He is particularly incensed by women who wear ‘gaudy’ dresses with a low neckline that exposed the breasts, or ridiculous foreign fashions. In his opinion, such dress is against Christian values, and likely to encourage licentious behaviour and sin.

Halifax similarly cautions Elizabeth against vanity: ‘the Fault to which your Sex seemeth to be the most inclined’. In part because it makes the person obnoxiously full of themselves and ridiculous in the eyes of others:

Shee doth not like herself as God-Almighty made her, but wil have some of her own workmanship; which is so farr from makeing her a better thing than a woman, that it turneth her into a worse Creature than a Monkey. (p. 400.)

Be seen and not heard

As well as modest dress, modest speech is a must. In a nutshell, a gentlewoman should be seen and not heard. As Brathwaite declares: ‘It will become her to tip her tongue with silence’. This is part of the all important modest behaviour. There are also certain topics young women should not talk about. As Brathwaite puts it, she should not venture any ‘strange opinions’ on matters of state or religion. As the majority of women were given little education, they were unlikely to have had an advantage in such debates.

Halifax also cautions against women being too talkative or amusing:  ‘Jollity is as contrary to Wit and Good Manners, as it is to Modesty and Vertue’.  A woman drawing too much attention to herself opened herself up to ridicule. The ideal woman has nothing to say.

Don’t have too much fun

Taking part in amusements outside the home brought disapproval, because it risked her spending time in dubious company. And further, for married women, it took her away from her family responsibilities. Brathwaite advises gentlewomen not to frequent ‘stage playes, wakes, solemn Feasts and the like’ where they might come into contact with company that might corrupt them. Instead, he urges women to spend their time at home looking after their family or in religious devotions – the price of having too much pleasure on earth would be paid for in the afterlife with ‘their soules appointed to hell fire’.

Halifax is perhaps more concerned with appearances than with sin. He sees nothing wrong with his daughter making occasional visits to the play house, entertaining company, playing cards, and dancing. As long as it wasn’t so often that it gave her reputation for idleness:

It wil engage you into a habit of idlenesse, and ill howers, draw you into ill mixed company, make you neglect your civilities abroad, and your business at home, and impose into your acquaintance such as wil doe you no credit. (p.405)

Obey your husband

One of the key functions of conduct books was to advise women on how to avoid marital discord. Both Brathwaite and Halifax say that this could be achieved by a woman obeying her husband, and managing his faults through her feminine wiles. If a marriage was unhappy she would have little option than to learn to live with it. Divorce was difficult and costly, and would lead to a woman’s social ostracisation.

The majority of Hallifax’s guide is a manual on how to survive a bad marriage. There are hints that he was concerned to arm his daughter against the inevitable discontents of a life spent in subjection to a husband.

Elizabeth was to marry just four years later, aged sixteen, to Philip Stanhope, 3rd Earl of Chesterfield (1673-1726). Unfortunately the marriage wasn’t a particularly happy one, and correspondence shows that she had to put up with his adultery, drunkenness, and neglect, until her death in 1708. [3]

Use of conduct books

Conduct manuals sought to define every aspect of women’s lives by presenting an ideal of how they should behave. Both Brathwaite and Halifax wrote these books with gentlewomen (not women in general) as their target audience. Unsurprisingly, the books uphold the 17th century ideal of women: as modest, restrained and subservient to her husband. To modern eyes, however, nothing could be more virtuous, restrained or dull than the lady they describe!

What might a gentlewoman have thought if she had been given this book? Was she grateful for the advice, and viewed it as a model to aspire to? Did she laugh at its precepts? Did she read it at all? These questions will have to remain unanswered.

Jenni Lecky-Thompson

 References

[1] Brathwaite. The English Gentleman; and the English Gentlevvoman : Both in One Volume. The Third Edition Revised, Corrected, and Enlarged. ed. London: Printed by Iohn Dawson, 1641. Available online at: http://name.umdl.umich.edu/A16659.0001.001

[2] Halifax, George Savile. Advice to a Daughter. Aberdeen: Printed for and by Francis Douglass and William Murray, 1753. Available online at: http://name.umdl.umich.edu/A44704.0001.001

[3] Savile, G. (1989). The works of George Savile, Marquis of Halifax. (Vol. 2). M. N. Brown (Ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Oxford Scholarly Editions Online (2013), pp. 361-62. doi:10.1093/actrade/9780198123378.book.1.

Trinity Hall invites you to Colour our Collections

Woodcut image of group of people at a theatre
Image: Detail of Terence, Therence En Francois : Prose Et Rime Auecques Le Latin. (Paris: Anthoine Vérard, 1499.)

Trinity Hall is delighted to be taking part for the second year in a row, in an international week-long (1-5 February) initiative to raise awareness and engagement with rare books and special collections. It is known as Color Our Collections and has been run by the library of the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) since 2016.

#ColorOurCollections offers free downloadable colouring books by libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world, which are perfect for all ages. You will find a huge variety of colouring books at ColorOurCollections.org ranging from national libraries to small-scale specialist museums. Whether you like botany or beasts, motorcycles or medicine, there will be a colouring book to fire your imagination.

Participants can share photos of their colouring on social media using the hashtag #ColorOurCollections (an American initiative, hence the ‘color’). You can be as creative as you dare! So get colouring in and share your creations with us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and tag us #TrinityHallOldLibrary.

Research suggests colouring can reduce stress, improve mood, and enhance mindfulness – something we all need during the current lockdown.

Trinity Hall’s 2021 colouring book features an interesting range of characters and historical figures from Adam and Eve to Richard the Lionheart, which we hope you’ll enjoy.

Download it here to get colouring

Our colouring book from 2020 is also available. It contains a mixture of places, animals and plants and is worth downloading for the resplendent cat alone.

Plum porridge anyone? Christmas recipes from the past

Frans Snyders – Cook with Food. Wikimedia Commons

Food is an important part of Christmas festivities and many of our present day gastronomic traditions have their origins in centuries old recipes. These recipes were shared by word-of-mouth or passed down in private notes or journals, but from the 17th century the first printed cook books began to appear. These provide a fascinating insight into past traditions and how culinary tastes have changed over time.  At Trinity Hall we have two cook books in our collection, which were both best-sellers that revolutionised cooking in the 17th and 18th centuries. This post will look at some of the festive treats contained within them.

The French Cook

One of the most important cook books of the 17th century was The French Cook,  first published in Paris in 1651 [1]. It was written by François Pierre de la Varenne (c1615–1678)  chef to the Marquis d’Uxelles, so as such, he was tasked with producing food to impress the crème de la crème of  French society.

La Varenne’s cook book was intended for a professional audience rather than home cooks as he says in his preface it was written for: “my fellows in the profession… of whom some, lacking experience or a ready memory, are unwilling or too timid to become involved in learning what they do not know…”The French Cook was a best-seller and enormously influential across Europe.  In 1652, a year after its first publication, it became the first French cook book to be translated into English by “IDG”. [2] It was to influence cookery across Europe, leading to a move away from highly spiced sweet and sour dishes towards a more natural savoury cuisine.

The recipes in La Varenne’s book do not contain any detailed instructions or helpful measurements for the cook. The modern reader would find many of the dishes suitable for a food trial on the television show I’m a Celebrity, in particular cow udder, pottage of tortoise, head of wild boar, and ‘calfes feet fried’.

Of the more palatable recipes is the familiar festive favourite turkey, which was a popular meat for Christmas in France as early as the 16th century. The French Cook contains a basic recipe for roast turkey: “It must likewise be plumed dry, whiten it on the fire, rost it, and serve.” For the more adventurous chef there is also a more avant garde recipe for turkey with raspberries, which you could imagine in the cookery books of celebrity chefs today:

Turkie with Raspis

When it is dressed, take up the brisket, and take out the flesh, which you shall mince with suet and some little of Veal-flesh, which you shall mix together with yolks of Eggs & young Pigeons, & all being well seasoned, you shall fill your Turkie with it, and shall season it with Salt, Peper, beaten Cloves and Capers, then you shall spit it, and turn it very softly; When it is almost rosted, take it up, and put it into an Earthen pan with good Broath, Mushrums, and a bundle of Herbs, which you shall make with Parsley, thime, and Chibols tied together; for to thicken the sauce, take a little Lard sliced, pass it in the pan, and when it is melted, take it out, and mix a little flower with it, which you shall make very brown, and shall allay it with a little Broath and some Vinegar; then put it into your Earthen pan with some Lemon-juice, and serve.

If it be in the Raspis season, you shall put a handfull of them over it, if not, some Pomgranate.

The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy

At the start of the 18th century the French courtly way of cooking still predominated in refined households. Cook books were usually written by male chefs who offered complicated recipes, designed for professional cooks and without any detailed or practical instructions.

In Georgian England the aspiring home cook’s prayers would be answered by the Delia Smith of the day, with the publication of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by ‘A lady’. [3]. This cook book, first published in 1747, was in fact, written by Hannah Glasse (1708–1770). When her husband got into financial difficulties, she wrote the book as a means of raising money to support the family. The recipes were extensively ‘borrowed’ from earlier books by other writers.

Glasse’s book became the most popular cook book of its time going through twenty editions in the 18th century. A key reason for its popularity was that it was intended for the everyday cook and so it contained simple, detailed instructions on how to make dishes. In the introduction she states: “I believe I have attempted a Branch of Cookery which Nobody has yet thought worth their while to write upon”. Glasse was a severe critic of the French influence of British cuisine, although she does include simpler versions of French recipes in her cook book.

The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy contains several recipes for Christmas favourites including mince pies. Although unlike the modern version, they include meat (usually mutton, beef or pork) as an ingredient. Glasse’s recipe contains neat’s (beef) tongue, sirloin of beef and three pounds of suet; along with sugar, the spice mace, cloves, and nutmeg, currants, raisins, apples, brandy, red wine and lemon juice.

These were used to produce a single large pie, which must have been substantial enough to serve many people at once. The idea of sweet, spiced minced beef sounds quite unpalatable to modern tastes, but it was not until the late Victorian period that mince pies became meat-free. It appears that they weren’t just eaten at Christmas either there is also a recipe for Lent mince pies (chopped eggs replaces the meat).

If this hasn’t whetted your appetite, consider her recipe for ‘Plumb porridge for Christmas’. This delicious gem contains a whole leg and shin of beef, which was boiled into a stock, thickened with bread, spiced, and mixed with dried currants and raisins, plums, sugar and wine. The quantities of meat and dried fruit are enormous!

Although families were generally much larger in Georgian times, it is evident that this recipe would have produced a vast quantity of porridge that would last for weeks. It could be prepared ahead of Christmas, and then perhaps heated up in smaller amounts to give to guests during social visits.

By the end of the 18th century the tradition of eating plum porridge had vanished. If you are inspired to make this dish yourself or are wondering whether it tasted as revolting as it sounds, you can read about Allegra McEvedy’s attempt to recreate it using a recipe from Martha Bradley’s 1756 cook book The British Housewife, or the Cook’s, Housekeeper’s and Gardiner’s Companion. [4]

Inscriptions inside the book show that our copy had two women former owners: Sarah Ann Parsons who owned it in 1841 and Mrs S. Wal[she?], 1850. It is in rather poor condition, and there is some staining to indicate that it was used for cooking. Although strangely not on the pages of these festive recipes. Personally, I will be sticking with my usual nut roast this year.

Jenni Lecky-Thompson

References

[1] La Varenne, François Pierre De, Le Cuisinier François Paris, 1651.

[2] La Varenne, François Pierre De, The French cook: Prescribing the way of making ready of all sorts of meats, fish and flesh, with the proper sauces, either to procure appetite, or to advance the power of digestion. Also the preparation of all herbs and fruits, so as their naturall crudities are by art opposed; with the whole skil of pastry-work. Together with a treatise of conserves, both dry and liquid, a la mode de France. With an alphabeticall table explaining the hard words, and other usefull tables. / Written in French by Monsieur De La Varenne, clerk of the kitchin to the Lord Marquesse of Uxelles, and now Englished by I.D.G. London: Printed for Charls Adams, and Are to Be Sold at His Shop, at the Sign of the Talbot Neere St. Dunstans Church in Fleetstreet, 1653. Trinity Hall   Strangman Collection   641.59 VAR.  Available online at http://name.umdl.umich.edu/A88798.0001.001

[3] Glasse, Hannah, The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy. The eighth ed., Printed for A. Millar, J. and R. Tonson, W. Strahan, T. Caslon, B. Law, and A. Hamilton, 1763. Available online at: https://wellcomelibrary.org/item/b28757075

[4] McEvedy, Allegra and Martha Bradley, ‘How about Christmas ‘plumb porridge’?’ The Guardian Tue 15 Dec 2009. Accessed 11/12/20 at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2009/dec/15/christmas-plum-porridge-recipe

Examining an Elizabethan doodle

One day while idly looking through our copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) I chanced upon an interesting doodle in the back endpapers. To find inscriptions, notes and drawings in our early printed books is not unusual. And these can offer fascinating insights into the how a book was received and used by its former owners.

The previous owner of this book was Robert Hare, an antiquary who donated a number of incunabula and medieval manuscripts to Trinity Hall. Hare died in 1611, but he mainly donated his books to the College in the 1570s and 80s. It’s unlikely though, that he was behind the drawing at the back of this book. We can tell this, because it does not match samples of Hare’s handwriting in the front of his books. We can also tell that it was not by any of the books previous owners, because it depicts fashion from a much later period.

Dating the doodle

2DC9672C-3087-4F80-85E9-50415CAA8ECD 2020-07-02 09_17_24

The figures in the doodle are clad in slashed and embroidered doublets (close fitting jackets), puffed breeches, stockings and garters. They wear ruffs at their necks and have small beards. One carries a rapier – a type of thin, two-edged sword popular throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Their outfits therefore, indicate that the figures are two gentlemen from the late 1580s. The doodle can be most likely dated to this time, particularly as the book would have been moved from its original location in a medieval book chest, to the recently built College library (now the Old library!)

Philosophy is an impenetrable armour

In the drawing are two figures. The figure to the right is standing above a human skull and some long bones. From his mouth he says: “manes sunt fabulae” which is an allusion to the lyrical poet Horace (65-8 BC): ‘You yourself will be soon buried in eternal darkness, among the Manes (ghosts/spirits) so much talked of…’. [Horace’s Odes, 1.4.16]. The word ‘fabulae’ can have a literal and a metaphorical interpretation. Taken literally it means ‘the ghosts/spirits much talked of’. However, it is a Stoic who speaks the words as an Epicurean. Epicureans reject immortality and believe that the soul is mortal and material like the body, and so the same phrase can be translated as ‘the fictitious non-existing spirits”. But the former is more likely in this context given the presence of the bones!

Above the man is written ‘A Deo ne miserum est mori’, which can be translated as ‘By God, it is better to die’. This is an allusion to the Roman poet Virgil (70-19 BC): “usque adeone mori miserum est?”, which can be translated as: ‘Is it then so very wretched a thing to die?’, or more simply: “Is death so hard to bear?” [1]. This refers to the Epicurean view that one need not fear death, because there is no prospect of punishment in the afterlife – the soul simply ceases to be.

The man on the left is engrossed in a book which contains the text: ‘Philosophia armatura impenetradilis’, which means ‘Philosophy is an impenetrable armour’. This is probably an allusion to Seneca (4 BC- 65 AD), a Roman Stoic philosopher who encouraged the reader to be “gird about with Philosophy,” which is essentially saying “put on the armour of philosophy.” Above the figure floats a disembodied head, which could be a spirit. The two figures therefore appear to illustrate the two sides of thought on the existence or non-existence of the afterlife.

A humanist education

The doodle shows that whoever drew it had a good grasp of Latin and knowledge of the Classic authors. This knowledge reflects a period of change at the University of Cambridge which saw a move away from its original purpose to train clerics in canon law, to providing the new humanist education to the sons of the nobility and gentry.

The humanist education of rhetoric, logic, and philosophy was conducted through studying the literary works of ancient authors such as Cicero, Virgil, Ovid, Horace and Seneca. And the ability to quote from this classical wisdom to bolster arguments was a critical part of scholarly and political discourse. Books of quotations like Erasmus’ Adagia, originally printed in 1500, was among the most popular volumes of the 16th century. The Old library does in fact, contain a copy of the Adagia [3] and the doodle might have more naturally been located in this book!

Examining this doodle provides some interesting insights into the time, background and educational context of the doodler. Although we will never be able to identify them, it was most likely a student who was bored and tired in the library!

Jenni Lecky-Thompson, with thanks to Dr William O’Reilly for the Latin translations.

References

[1] Dryden, John, The Works of Virgil, 1697, Line 646

[2] Seneca, Epistulae Morales, 82.5

[3] Erasmus, Adagia. Basel: Johann Froben, 1523.

Further reading

Cunnington, C. Willett, and Phillis Cunnington (1954) Handbook of English Costume in the Sixteenth Century. London: Faber and Faber.

Konstan, David, “Epicurus”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 edition), edited by E.N. Zalta. Accessed at: https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2018/entries/epicurus/>

Wilson, Catherine (2015). Epicureanism: A Very Brief Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

“The University of Cambridge: The sixteenth century.” A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge. Ed. J P C Roach. London: Victoria County History, 1959. 166-191. British History Online. Web. 05 July 2020. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol3/pp166-191

“1550–1600 in Western European fashion”. Wikipedia.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1550%E2%80%931600_in_Western_European_fashion

Fit for a Queen? Boaistuau’s Histoires tragiques

The Old Library at Trinity Hall holds a very special French Renaissance book (H*.VI.68): Pierre Boaistuau, Histoires tragiques, extraictes de quelques fameux autheurs, Italiens & Latins, mises en françois […] Dediées à Tresillustre & Treschrestienne, Elizabet de Lenclastre, par la grace de Dieu Royne d’Angleterre (Paris: s.n., 1559)

Translated (with abridgements) from the Italian Matteo Bandello’s Novelle of 1554, Pierre Boaistuau’s Histoires tragiques fast became a bestseller after they appeared in 1559. In France they inaugurated an important subgenre of short narrative fiction, marked by sensational tales of forbidden love, the vicissitudes of fortune and vivid expressions of extreme pathos.

Over the subsequent fifty or so years a number of French writers, such as François de Belleforest, Vérité Habanc, Jacques Yver and François de Rosset all wrote ‘histoires tragiques’ for an enthusiastic market. In England especially, the Histoires tragiques enjoyed an illustrious afterlife: via some combination of Arthur Brooke’s verse adaptation and William Painter’s The Palace of Pleasure, one of Bandello-Boaistuau’s tales eventually became the source of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

title page

H*.VI.68 (title page)

The Trinity Hall copy may mark an important staging post in Boaistuau’s English career. It is an exceptionally rare variant edition, especially dedicated to Elizabeth I and with certain disobliging references to English royalty removed. Only one other example of this variant survives (at the Folger Library, Washington). Unlike the relatively plain Folger volume, Trinity Hall’s is housed in an elegant-looking calf binding, centrally stamped with an oval gilt medallion featuring the profile of Henri II of France.

How did it reach England? We know that Boaistuau left France for England some time in 1559-1560. We also know that on arriving at the English court Boaistuau presented Elizabeth with a sumptuous manuscript version of another text, the Histoires prodigieuses, now held in the Wellcome Library, London (western MS 136). The Boaistuau scholar Stephen Bamforth, who first unearthed the Wellcome manuscript, has recently suggested that the Trinity Hall Histoires tragiques may have been a further gift to Elizabeth. His suggestion gains force from the presence in Cambridge of a third Boaistuau volume clearly intended for the Queen, the Institution du royaume chrestien (1560). Elegantly decorated with coloured initials and the English royal arms, this volume is now in Emmanuel College Special Collections (S16.4.12).

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Binding, front, by Claude Picques and Etienne Delaune

Bamforth’s thesis of a royal presentation copy is certainly appealing. In the absence of the elaborate manuscript or decorative work that are features of the Wellcome and Emmanuel volumes, much depends on what we make of the Trinity Hall binding. Bamforth finds it ‘superb’. The gold ‘semé’ pattern and central gilt medallion undoubtedly convey an impression of luxury. Medal-stamped bindings had become fashionable in the late 1550s, an Italian feature that first reached the Parisian market via Lyon earlier that decade. The sense of a high-status object is enhanced by the identity of the binder, Claude Picques, whose profile of Henri II was designed by the prestigious engraver Etienne Delaune. Picques declares himself ‘royal binder’ (ligator Reg[is]) in the colophon to a Psalter also dated 1559, and certainly moved in distinguished circles: in 1568 his daughter is reported as having been treated for plague by no less than the royal physician Ambroise Paré. Though different in design, the bindings on the other Boaistuau volumes at the Wellcome and Emmanuel can probably also be attributed to Picques.

And yet some doubts remain. As Bamforth points out, the text itself is noticeably messy for a presentation volume. Even by the relatively lax standards of the period, it shows signs of hurried composition (in the multiple misspellings of ‘Lancaster’ as ‘Lenclastre’ or ‘l’enclastre’, for example). Furthermore, the binding itself, though attractive, is not rare: Anthony Hobson lists several variants of the Henri II medallion design, with as many as 47 examples still surviving. Despite its luxury appearance, it seems more likely to have been destined for trade bindings than for presentation copies. This is certainly the view of the book historian Eugénie Droz who (in a short article not cited by Bamforth) reports that whereas she could find no examples of such bindings belonging to Picques’ French royal patrons, she did locate one whose owner records having paid the binder the measly sum of ‘6 sous, 3 deniers’: hardly a suitable gift for a queen. Finally, there is a problem of chronology: the dedication to Elizabeth is dated 20th October 1559; Henri II had died on 10th July that year, from an injury received during a jousting accident. Why would Boaistuau have presented the new Queen of England with a book bearing the face of French king three months dead?

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Inscription on rear flyleaf

Whether or not the volume ever passed through Elizabeth’s hands, it eventually made it to Trinity Hall. A donation inscription on the rear flyleaf suggests that its early donor was indeed French, and even seems to have shared Boaistuau’s questionable grasp of the orthography of English place names: ‘Aula Stae Trinitatis. Au college ou salle de la Trinité a Cambrige [sic].’ Could this inscription be in Boaistuau’s hand, or that of his secretary? If so, what had Trinity Hall done to deserve such a boon?

This is a guest post by Dr Tim Chesters, Clare College, Cambridge.

References

Stephen Bamforth, ‘Boaistuau, ses Histoires tragiques, et l’Angleterre’ in Les Histoires tragiques du XVIe siècle. Pierre Boaistuau et ses émules, ed. by Jean-Claude Arnould (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2018), pp. 25-37

Eugénie Droz, ‘Les reliures à la médaille d’Henri II’, in Les Trésors des bibliothèques de France, vol. 4 (Paris: G. Van Oest, 1931), pp. 16-23

Eugénie Droz, ‘Prix d’une reliure à la médaille Henri II’, Humanisme et Renaissance 2.2 (1935), 175-76

Anthony Hobson, Humanists and Bookbinders: The Origins and Diffusion of the Humanistic Bookbinding 1459-1559 With a Census of Historiated Plaquette and Medallion Bindings of the Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989)

 

Our copy of Novellae Constitutiones featured on World’s Rarest books blog

IMG_0652_inside pagesTrinity Hall’s Old Library is one of the partners of Preserving the World’s Rarest Books. The blog for the project features our copy of a Greek text Novellae Constitutiones which was printed by Charlotte Guillard, one of the few women printers of the sixteenth century to work under her own name. You can read more on its fascinating history here.

 

 

John Cowell, Master of Trinity Hall and his seditious dictionary

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Title page of The Interpreter

 

The Old Library at Trinity Hall is home to many law texts including an unprepossessing book written by John Cowell. It is known as The Interpreter (1607); or to give it its pithy title, The interpreter: Or Booke containing the signification of words : Wherein is set foorth the true meaning of all, or the most part of such words and termes, as are mentioned in the lawe vvriters, or statutes of this victorious and renowned kingdome, requiring any exposition or interpretation. A worke not onely profitable, but necessary for such as desire throughly to be instructed in the knowledge of our lawes, statutes, or other antiquities (Yes I’ll stick to The Interpreter). It was one of the first English law dictionaries, so while you may think this would be an safely dull publication, it was to cause a scandal which would lead to the book’s suppression and public burning, and almost earnt the author the death penalty.

John Cowell was born in Landkey, Devon in 1552. He was educated at Eton on a scholarship, before going up to King’s College, Cambridge in 1570, aged 18. He was a Fellow of King’s from 1573 until 1595, and was appointed to the Regius Professorship of Civil Law in 1594. Two years later he became Master of Trinity Hall – a post he was to hold until his death in 1611. He was also vice-chancellor of Cambridge University between 1603 and 1604. The pinnacle of his career came in 1608 when the Archbishop of Canterbury Richard Bancroft, who was his friend and mentor, made him his vicar-general. This important position meant that he was judge of the ecclesiastic court.

Cowell’s dedication to Bancroft

Now on to the main story. The Interpreter was published in 1607 by university printer, John Legate (he rented a shop at the west end of Great St Mary’s Church), and it was dedicated to Bancroft.

As it says in Cowell’s preface, the book was intended as an academic work for the ‘advancement of knowledge’, and was unlikely to have been written with any political motivation. In fact, any controversy appeared to go unnoticed for more than two years.

Cowell’s definition of ‘prerogative’

The thing that landed Cowell in hot water was a handful of definitions contained in his dictionary, in particular ‘King’, ‘Parliament,’ ‘Prerogative’, ‘Recoveries’, and ‘Subsidies’.

So why were these so controversial? Cowell’s definitions appeared to support the idea of an absolute monarchy, which was above the law. This was controversial in a difficult political climate where the Crown and Parliament were vying for power. When the parliament met on 24 February 1609 James I’s attention was drawn towards The Interpreter. Sir Edwin Sandys described the book as “very ill-advised and indiscreet, tending to the disreputaton of the House, and the power of the common laws”. A committee was then formed later that month to consider the book and report to the House of Lords.

The Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke was one of a group of lawyers on this committee who attacked Cowell’s book. Coke perhaps felt some hostility or jealousy towards Cowell and disparagingly referred to him in letters as ‘Cow-heel’. The background to his antagonism was complex, but was rooted in Cowell’s criticism of Thomas Littleton’s scholarship, whom Coke greatly admired and had based his own work. It was also a battle between the common law courts and civil law courts, with Coke and Cowell on opposing sides.

The Interpreter was investigated and it looked for a time that Cowell would be executed. The indictment read:

Dr. Cowell, Professor of the Civil Law at Cambridge, writ a book called The Interpreter, rashly, dangerously and perniciously asserting certain heads to the overthrow and destruction of Parliaments, and the fundamental laws and government of the Kingdom.

There was much discussion of the book and of Cowell’s punishment in the Commons and Lords. While they debated the matter, James I asked Cowell to explain himself.   The King then stepped in to denounce the book with a Royal proclamation. This in effect, took the matter out of the hands of parliament.

The proclamation order read:

When Men goe out of their Element, and meddle with Things above their Capacitie, themselves shall not onely goe astray and stumble in Darknesse, but will mislead also divers others with themselves into many Mistakings and Errours.. the Proofe whereof wee have lately had by a Booke written by Docteur Cowell.. by medling in Matters above his reach, he hath fallen in many Things to mistake and deceive himselfe.. in some Poynts very derogatory to the supreme Power of this Crowne; In other Cases mistaking the true State of the Parliament of this Kingdome.

People were prohibited from buying or reading The Interpreter and Cowell’s book is said to have been publicly burnt by the hangman on 26 March 1610. It was one of only around fifteen books that were consigned to the flames during the whole of the 59 year reign of James I.

Cowell was imprisoned for a while, but the case against him was soon dropped. James I apparently let it be known that Cowell was not to be prosecuted or harmed. He resigned his professorship on 25 May 1610 and died on 11 October 1611. He was buried in Trinity Hall Chapel and left bequests in his Will to Trinity Hall, King’s College, and to Cambridge University. These included his books and manuscripts which are held in the Old Library (possibly even his own copy of The Interpreter!).

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Plaque commemorating Cowell in Trinity Hall Chapel

This was not the end of the story for Cowell’s dictionary. Many copies have survived and it was reissued in unexpurgated form 27 years later, in 1658. Fresh editions were also published in the 17th century.

Further reading

Boucher, Harold, King James’s suppression of The Interpreter and denouncement of Dr. Cowell (Harold I. Boucher, 1998).

Chrimes, S. B., ‘The Constitutional Ideas of Dr. John Cowell.’ The English Historical Review, vol. 64, no. 253, (1949): 461–487. JSTOR , www.jstor.org/stable/556038

Hessayon, A., ‘Incendiary texts: book burning in England, c.1640 – c.1660′, Cromohs, 12 (2007): 1-25.
http://www.cromohs.unifi.it/12_2007/hessayon_incendtexts.html

Levack, Brian P., ‘Cowell, John (1554–1611), civil lawyer.’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. (2004). Oxford University Press. Accessed 16 May 2018 at: http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-6490

Simon, J., ‘Dr. Cowell’. The Cambridge Law Journal, vol. 26, no. 2 (1968): 260-272. doi: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0008197300088528

Wright, Nancy E., ‘John Cowell and the Interpreter: Law, Authority, and Attribution in Seventeenth-Century England,’ Australian Journal of Legal History vol. 1, no. 1 (1995): 11-36. https://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/ausleghis1&div=7&id=&page=

The Queen and the Saint: two royal women of Kent

The Queen and the Saint: two royal women of Kent

One of the great treasures of the Old Library is an early fifteenth century manuscript, Historia Monasterii S. Augustini Cantuariensis, by Thomas of Elmham, a medieval monk and historian. Elmham’s history of St Augustine’s Abbey and its lands contains elaborate chronological tables and facsimiles of many lost Anglo-Saxon charters. Amongst these pages recording the deeds of clerics are two magnificent full page illustrations which reveal the presence of two high status women!

The women who were so important to the history of St Augustine’s Abbey were Domme Eafe and her daughter Mildrith. Domme Eafe had impeccable royal lineage – she was descended from King Æthelberht of Kent and was married to King Merewalh of Magonsaete (a sub-kingdom of Mercia). This remarkable queen founded the abbey of Minster-in-Thanet and all three of her daughters, Mildburh, Mildgytha and Mildrith, were saints.

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Saint Mildrith (image from Wikipedia)

The most notable of the three was Saint Mildrith (c. 660-733). She features in the Kentish Royal Legend or “Mildrith legend” and Goscelin wrote a hagiography of her, the “Vita Mildrethae”, in the 11th century. As a royal woman Saint Mildrith received an education at the prestigious Merovingian royal abbey of Chelles, near Paris, which had a reputation for great learning. On her return to England she entered the abbey of Minster-in-Thanet. By 694 Saint Mildrith had risen to become the Abbess at Minster-in-Thanet and when she died in about 734 she was buried in the Abbey church of St Mary.

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Isle of Thanet (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

This illustration (above) from MS.1 is a map of the Isle of Thanet. It features important landmarks, churches and abbeys, including that of Minster-in-Thanet. It also shows the course (marked as a green line) said to have been taken by a white hind belonging to Queen Domme Eafe, when it designated the land granted for the foundation of the abbey of Minster-in-Thanet.

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“Cursus cerue”: the path taken by Domme Eafe’s white hind (detail from Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

The other full page illustration in this manuscript shows the East end of the abbey church of St Augustine’s in Canterbury. It depicts the high altar surmounted by precious reliquaries and six holy books. The shrine of St Augustine is situated in pride of place behind the high altar at the East end.

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Plan of the East end of St Augustine’s Abbey (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

But Saint Mildrith has a shrine there too! How did she come to be there? According to Julian Luxford, the nunnery of Minster-in-Thanet had fallen into disuse and in 1030 King Cnut granted his permission for the relics of Saint Mildrith to be moved from the abbey church of St Mary to the church of St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury “where she was venerated alongside the early archbishops”. Her importance is revealed by the magnificence of her shrine and its site just next to the chapel with the relics of St Augustine.

St Mildrith's shrine

Saint Mildrith’s shrine in the abbey church of St Augustine’s Canterbury (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

This tale of two medieval royal women who feature in the illustrations of MS.1 is part of our series of posts looking at “Women in the special collections of Trinity Hall” in celebration of the THWomen40 anninversary.

Postcript:

St Augustine’s Abbey is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public. English Heritage has just published a new guidebook by Julian Luxford which includes a full colour reproduction of the illustraion in our manuscript of the East end of the Abbey church.

References:

Description by Montague Rhodes James of Historia Monasterii S. Augustini Cantuariensis (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

St Augustine’s Abbey” by Julian Luxford (English Heritage Guidebooks, 2017) ISBN 9781910907160

St Augustine’s Abbey (English Heritage) http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/st-augustines-abbey/

When Milly met Harry

It has recently been announced that Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929), who led the campaign for women’s suffrage, will be the first woman to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square.  This remarkable woman, also active in the struggle to improve women’s education, is well known as one of the principal founders of Newnham College Cambridge. So why does she feature in our series of blogs celebrating the TH Women40 anniversary? Well, she also had a connection to Trinity Hall!

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Milly (image from Wikipedia)

In 1867 “Milly”, as she was known to her family, married Trinity Hall man and Member of Parliament, Henry Fawcett – or “Harry” to his friends. Here we take a look at their story through one of Trinity Hall’s manuscripts: a proof copy of the “Life of Henry Fawcett” by Leslie Stephen, which is written and marked up for publication in the author’s hand.

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Extract from Leslie Stephen’s manuscript of “Life of Henry Fawcett”

Millicent Garrett as born in Aldeburgh in 1847 and came from a family of independent and high-achieving women. Her elder sister was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first British female doctor. As a young woman, Milly became interested in women’s rights after attending a lecture on the subject by John Stuart Mill. At the age of just nineteen she became the Secretary of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. Just one year later she married Henry Fawcett, a leading disciple of Mill! It was to be a happy marriage of like-minded radicals.

Henry Fawcett

Harry as a young man

Leslie Stephen and Henry Fawcett met as mathematics undergraduates when Fawcett migrated from Peterhouse to Trinity Hall in 1855. They became great friends – first as undergraduates and then as Fellows of Trinity Hall. Henry Fawcett was already a Fellow when tragedy struck in 1858. On a visit home he lost his sight in a partridge shooting accident. With great courage and determination he decided that this misfortune should have no effect on his life. He continued his fellowship at Trinity Hall with the help of a young guide and amanuensis, Edward Brown, and went on to achieve great things, with a distinguished career as Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge, as a radical Member of Parliament and subsequently as Post Master General.

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Here we have Stephen’s account of Harry’s marriage to Milly in 1867

Although Stephen’s biography of Harry makes only passing reference to Milly (out of Victorian delicacy about private life) when he does mention her it is always with admiration. He tells us that “in political and social questions their alliance implied the agreement of independent minds, not the relation of teacher and disciple” and that  Harry’s “marriage was a main source of the happiness and success of his later career”.

On marriage Harry gave up his Trinity Hall Fellowship, as he was forced to do under the old rules, and was re-elected under the new rules. Milly had a central place in her husband’s life and in the Cambridge circle of academics and their wives. She ran the couple’s houses in Cambridge and London, but she was no stay-at-home housewife! She took over the role of amanuensis and was Harry’s guide, escorting him to the Houses of Parliament. She “was his adviser in most serious matters; and … when she was temporarily absent he would put off a decision of great moment in his career until he had been able to obtain her opinion”.

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Stephen’s entry mentioning the Fawcett’s co-authorship of “Essays and lectures on social and political subjects”

She was also prolific author. Her first book “Political economy for beginners” (1870) was a great success, appearing in 10 editions. According to Stephen “she was fully qualified to take an interest in all his intellectual pursuits and shared his main political principles. They published together a volume of lectures and essays”. This volume was “Essays and Lectures on social and political subjects” (1872) which contained six chapters by Harry and eight chapters by Milly. Her biographer, David Rubinstein, states that she “was more talented than her husband”.

She was active in the movement for women’s suffrage and her husband “was always ready to support her efforts in a cause in which she naturally took the leading part”. After the death of her husband on 6 November 1884 she temporarily withdrew from public life. She later became president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (1897-1919) and was a tireless campaigner on a number of issues. In July 1901 she was appointed to lead the British Government’s commission to South Africa to investigate conditions in the concentration camps that had been created there in the wake of the Second Boer War.

Millicent Garret Fawcett is considered instrumental in gaining the vote for six million British women over 30 years old in 1918. Theresa May, said in a statement that Dame Millicent “continues to inspire the battle against the injustices of today”. All 11 statues in Parliament Square are currently of men. It is wonderful that this remarkable woman with such a strong connection to Trinity Hall will be the first woman to join them!

References

“Life of Henry Fawcett” by Leslie Stephen (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1886)

“A different world for women: the life of Millicent Garrett Fawcett” by David Rubinstein (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991)

“Essays and lectures on social and political subjects” by Henry Fawcett and Millicent Garrett Fawcett (London: Macmillan, 1872)

“Political economy for beginners” by Millicent Garrett Fawcett (London: Macmillan, 1870)

BBC News article “Millicent Fawcett to be first woman statue in Parliament Square” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39471407

Wikipedia on Millicent Garrett Fawcett https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millicent_Fawcett