Wednesday, 31 May 2017

“Art indeed is long, but life is short.” 300 years of Hull’s cultural history.

This year Hull is the 2017 UK City of Culture.  This is an award given every four years “to a city that demonstrates the belief in the transformational power of culture”.  In a blog post to accompany an exhibition on Hull's cultural history, Ilka Heale, Metadata Specialist, highlights some books on the subject in the University Library.

Hull City of Culture opening 2016. Photographer Andrew
Reid Wildman. (CC BY-NC 2.0).

One of the enjoyable aspects of my job is working with colleagues to promote the wide and varied collections held at the University Library.  Choosing a theme for an exhibition is always fun and for our latest display, we have decided to focus on Hull, this year’s UK City of Culture.

At York, we have a vast local history collection donated to the Library by Raymond Burton (indeed one of the buildings that makes up the University Library is named after him).  The Raymond Burton Yorkshire collection contains a wonderful selection of books and ephemera on York and the wider county of Yorkshire.  Using this as a starting point, the display focuses on four areas: the history of the city, theatre, poetry and entertainment.

Hull has a long history of celebrated poets from Andrew Marvell to Andrew Motion via Stevie Smith and Roger McGough and the Poetry Society collection, part of the Library collection, was a good place to find works by all the poets we needed.  The collection consists of around 11,000 volumes of both literary and critical works, especially poetry, published between 1709-2006.  In particular there is an emphasis on English writing of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The poet Philip Larkin is probably the greatest connection to Hull.   As well as his volumes of poetry,
Philip Larkin photographed in the
newly-completed Brynmor Jones
Library, 1969.  Photograph
by Fay Godwin. 
he wrote two novels, Jill and A Girl in Winter and two books of collected journalism.  In 1955, Larkin moved to Hull to take up a post as Librarian at the University of Hull until his death in 1985.

Larkin was a contemporary of Harry Fairhurst, the first Librarian at the newly created University of York. No doubt the two would probably have met, as Librarians they both  oversaw the building of their respective libraries.  In the exhibition, you can see a letter from Larkin that contains a short verse. It seems that this letter was in reply to one from Fairhurst but unfortunately, we do not know what the cryptic verse refers to.

The poets Roger McGough, Douglas Dunn and Andrew Motion also crossed paths with Larkin at Hull.

Liverpool poet, Roger McGough studied French and Geography at the University of Hull. He lived in one of University hall’s during his three years where he served as hall librarian, the same halls that Larkin, newly arrived at Hull, moved into whilst looking for accommodation. 

Douglas Dunn is a major Scottish poet, editor and critic who studied English at the University of Hull from 1967-1969 where he also worked in the University library with Larkin.  In 1969 he published his first book of poetry Terry Street with the publisher Faber on Larkin’s recommendation. This
collection of poetry describes the community where he was living in Hull.  
Magnetic fridge poetry. Photographer Steve Johnson.  (CC BY 2.0).

Another Philip Larkin connection is the former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion.  Motion taught English at the University of Hull from 1976-1980 where he met Larkin.  He was later appointed as one of his literary executors where he rescued many of Larkin’s papers following his death.  His 1993 biography of his friend Philip Larkin: a writer’s life won the Whitbread Prize for Biography.

The exhibition is located within four cases on the ground floor of the Fairhurst Building and will be on display until the end June 2017.  The Library is accessible to anyone, although you will need to get a day pass from Library reception if you are not a University of York Library card holder.

To find more information on the material used in the exhibition along with other titles on Hull, search YorSearch, our Library catalogue.  Find further details of the Library’s collections

As for Hull, a packed arts and cultural programme is planned throughout the year featuring dance, theatre, film, art and music.  Further details can be found on the festival website.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Documenting the history of York’s asylums

Sarah Griffin, Rare Books Librarian, summarises the resources about the Retreat hospital available in the Library’s collections and Archives.

On Wednesday 10 May, Dr Jane Hamlett from Royal Holloway will be lecturing on Inside the asylum: Material life in lunatic asylums in Victorian and Edwardian England. The history of lunatic asylums is an important one in York and is widely reflected in the collections of the university.

Perspective view of the North front of the Retreat, York.
Watercolour by Peter Atkinson, Borthwick Institute for Archives.
In 2016, Stories of York was published by the university library looking at the narratives found in the collections of the Rare Books, and Archives at the University, and at York Minster Library. One chapter in the book was dedicated to the York Lunatic Asylum scandal and the creation of the Retreat hospital. The chapter was researched and written by Alexandra Medcalf of the Borthwick who also wrote a blog about it.

The Retreat was founded by and for the Society of Friends and opened in 1796 with 12 patients. It attracted attention for the success of pioneering mild methods of treatment of the insane under superintendent George Jepson (1797-1823). In the 20th century the Retreat was known for its willingness to explore new treatments and in pioneering greater professional training for its nurses. The Retreat collection was transferred to the Borthwick Institute for Archives in 2001.

The Rare Books collection at the university looks after the working library of the Retreat founders and staff including William and Samuel Tuke, George Jepson and other medical superintendents. Its strength comes from being one of only a few intact working specialist libraries on insanity. There are around 300 books dating from the 17th to the early 20th century, mostly dealing with psychiatry and mental illness including:
  • Theories of insanity;
  • Institutions;
  • Care of the insane;
  • The brain;
  • Criminal lunacy;
  • Phrenology;
  • Mental hygiene;
  • Mental deficiency; and
  • The controversies at the York Lunatic Asylum.

William Tuke from Samuel Tuke: his life, work
and thoughts
, Tylor C (1900). London: Headley
Other medical collections of interest in the Rare Books include 3000 books from the library of the York Medical Society, and the Milnes Walker Collection which includes books originally collected by provincial medical societies in Wakefield.

A project to digitise the Retreat archives finished at the beginning of this year. More information about the wealth of material now available can be found in #RetreatTweets and a series of posts on the Borthwick blog.

For further information please email Rare Books Librarian

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

A Discovery in the Archives

Emily Bowles is a PhD student and part-time tutor in the Department of English and Related Literature, writing up her thesis on ‘Changing Representation of Charles Dickens, 1857-1939’. You can find her on Twitter: @EmilyBowles_.

Portrait of British Writer Wilkie Collins (1824-1889).
Picture by Elliott and Fry of 55 Baker Street,
taken possibly in 1871. Library of Congress
In 2015 I was lucky enough to go to the Beinecke Library at Yale University to look at the Richard Gimbel Charles Dickens Collection, thanks in part to a Santander International Connections Award. The collection is vast (described by its cataloguer as “probably the largest accumulation anywhere of Dickensian material”), compiled over forty-five years, and the catalogue produced by John B. Podeschi is the length of a Dickens novel itself1. Incidentally, this catalogue isn’t available online and is only available in its (weighty and substantial) book form. The collection is an amazing collection of letters, images, editions; it even houses a lock of Dickens’ hair, with a certificate of authenticity from his sister-in-law Georgina Hogarth. As I was only there for a limited period of time, I engaged
in a frantic process of trying to see as much of this incredible archive as possible. One of the things I looked at was a short manuscript in blessedly clear handwriting – Dickens’ handwriting has given me a lot of difficulties! – that outlined the life of Victorian novelist Wilkie Collins in his own words2.

Collins was a friend of Dickens and also collaborated with him, writing for Dickens’ journals Household Words and All The Year Round. He is perhaps best known as the father of detective fiction – his novel The Moonstone (1868) is considered the first full-length detective novel. My PhD thesis centres on representations of Dickens, in which I explore how Dickens was written about in a variety of forms including biographies, speeches and journalism. I’d done some previous work with Collins so I mentally filed it away to look up later; I’d never heard of a Collins autobiography, but didn’t know enough to identify what I was looking at.

Several months later, I put out a few feelers with people I knew to try to work out what the manuscript actually was. Thanks to the Wilkie Collins Society, I found out that the manuscript I’d looked at and put to the back of my mind was actually presumed lost for more than a hundred years. By a quirk of cataloguing, it was part of the Dickens collection rather than a Collins one: in trying to work out if other writers knew it was there, I discovered biographers of Collins had visited Yale and worked in the Beinecke Library, but hadn’t ‘discovered’ this manuscript – making it, amazingly, both ‘lost’ but also thoroughly catalogued, hidden in not-quite-plain sight.

Dickens at the Blacking Warehouse by Fred
Barnard. Published in The Leisure Hour in 1904.
This is not all that uncommon for manuscripts and autobiographical material in the Victorian period. Dickens had also written a short autobiographical piece, the contents of which were only made public after his death. This autobiographical fragment was used in the Life of Charles Dickens (1872-74) published by his lifelong friend John Forster, and it revealed for the first time Dickens’ difficult childhood and the time he spent working in a boot blacking factory (he writes of the “secret agony of [his] soul” during this time). The manuscript of this account, too, is lost; Forster, quite old and infirm by that time, is known to have cut and pasted extracts from letters into the biography manuscript, and this may be the fate that befell the autobiographical fragment. Or, then again, perhaps it is waiting in an archive to be discovered – that’s the wonderful thing about visiting libraries.

The Collins manuscript itself, only three pages long, was dictated at the breakfast table and sent to an American journalist to provide context for an article he was writing. The journalist, George Makepeace Towle, had copied verbatim some of Collins’ words for his final piece. The content of the manuscript is therefore not ‘new’ in the sense that it doesn’t tell us much about Collins’ life that we didn’t already know from the Towle article (published in Appleton’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art on 3 September 1870). It does, however, give us back Collins’ own words and expressions, and reveal how he conceived of his early years and education; where he laid the stresses in his own life, and what moments he perceived as formative – at least, the kind of narrative of his life that he wanted to give to a journalist.

So while the ‘discovery’ is not the headline-grabbing revelation that it might have been, it does show how important it is to make thorough use of library catalogues! And it leaves us with the question of how many researchers came and went without asking the archivists, the cataloguer, or the librarians, one (or several) of whom must have known it was there (but perhaps without knowing its significance). I have written about my find for the Wilkie Collins Journal, so you can read more a more thorough explanation of what the manuscript tells us in issue 14, which can be found on the Wilkie Collins Journal website.

Interested in finding out more about Wilkie Collins?  The University of York Library has many primary and secondary resources that will be of interest for teaching or research.

Cover art by Peter Whiteman. J. M. Dent & Sons,
London, 1977 reprint. Photo by John Keogh.
A first port of call is the Literature section on the second floor of the Morrell Library.  Here you will find a vast range of texts written by and criticism on Wilkie Collins.

You can also access a range of electronic resources off campus.  This list of primary and secondary resources is from our Subject Guides page where you can find information of our 19th century collections for English and Related Literatures.

Finally,  we have a copy of The Moonstone in the Milner-White collection.  The Very Revd Eric Milner-White, Dean of York from 1941 until his death in 1963, was a member of the University Promotion Committee, which was responsible for the original planning of the University of York. One of his many interests was book collecting, and his collection of English detective fiction came to the Library after his death.  The Moonstone is widely considered to be the first full length detective novel in the English language including ‘red herrings’, a reconstruction of the crime, false suspects and a final twist in the plot.

1. John B. Podeschi, Dickens and Dickensiana: A Catalogue of the Richard Gimbel Collection in the Yale University Library. New Haven: Yale University Library, 1980. Print. ix.

2. Wilkie Collins, Autobiographical Sketch. MS. Gimbel-Dickens. Beinecke Library, Yale University. H1239.