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Writers and their Libraries: an Exhibition

February 14, 2013

Guest post by Karen Attar.

As soon as the “Writers and their Libraries” conference was announced, Senate House Library knew that it would like to support it with a display. Then our treasures volume was published, and it was clear that our major exhibition for the period from January to mid-July 2013 would need to support the treasures book. Luckily it was possible to do both at once: to feature items from the treasures book that were part of writers’ libraries, supplementing them with other books that showed the people featured both as writers and the owners of libraries.

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Note by Augustus De Morgan on front flyleaf of John Bonnycastle’s The Scholar’s Guide to Arithmetic (1828)

The section on “Writers and their Libraries” features five writers: Thomas Carlyle, Augustus De Morgan, George Grote, Walter de la Mare, and Harry Price. Thomas Carlyle stands out because his books – and the books he annotated, which were not all his – are to be found in various places. The exhibition pièce de resistance is a borrowed copy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh, which Carlyle annotated acerbically throughout. The other four writers are all men with substantial collections now held at Senate House Library. Carlyle and Grote having been historians, De Morgan a mathematician, and Harry Price a psychical researcher, Walter de la Mare is the only literary writer among the group. The edition of Peacock Pie displayed shows his alterations for a new edition; more generally, the books by others owned and annotated by him say more about his library. Grote is represented by his most famous authored book and one of the visually more striking books he owned – albeit not annotated by him, as Grote generally made his copious comments about his reading in separate notebooks (some transcribed in his wife’s biography and recorded in the Reading Experience Database).  He and De Morgan created Senate House Library’s founding collections. Unlike Grote, De Morgan – considered by some to be the greatest mathematician of his time – did annotate his books, often quirkily, and was renowned for doing so. His habit emerges clearly in the three displayed, one of which inspired his own textbook on arithmetic. Harry Price publicised his library more than most, by publishing specifically about it. My favourite of the four books shown here is Angelo Gambiglioni’s treatise on criminal law Tractatus de Maleficiis (1508), included in Harry Price’s exhibition catalogue of 1934 (also shown). Price misdated the book to “ca 1490”, I think wilfully in order to class it as an incunable.

All conference delegates are warmly invited to visit the display on “Writers and their Libraries”, a sub-set of our treasures volume, on the fourth floor of Senate House, during standard library opening hours, and also the smaller display in the Jessel Room annex on the first floor of Senate House.

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2 Comments
  1. Fernanda Santos permalink

    Very interesting. As a librarian and student of this subject who is going to attend the conference, I would like to share experiences with other librarians. What shall I do?

  2. Reblogged this on Library Marginalia and commented:
    Just noticed this great blog article by Karen Attar on the Exhibition at Senate House.

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