As we edge towards Christmas Helen O’Neill, our Archive, Heritage and Development Librarian, takes a peek at Christmas advertisements in 1914 and looks at the depiction of the Christmas Truce both today and 100 years ago.

In the five days preceding 12 December 1914 the Post Office reported that 250,000 parcels had been sent to troops at the Front and the following week 200,000 more were despatched along with two and a half million letters. The Post Office increased its van fleet by half to cope with demand, and as rail services were disrupted by the war and vehicles were in scarce supply, post was transported in a range of conveyances including open cars and furniture vans.

So how did the recipients of these letters and parcels spend Christmas 1914? The Christmas Truce depicted in this year’s Sainsbury’s advertshows the point at which the fighting stopped during World War One and opposing sides met in a temporary peace in No-Man’s Land. The carol singing, handshaking, swapping of caps, cigarettes and mementos, and football all feature and are historically referenced in soldiers’ letters and diaries and newspaper reporting of the time. At the time of writing the advert has had a staggering 15,682,873 YouTube hits, and some criticism, but how was the truce illustrated in 1914 and what impact did the war have on advertising in the run up to Christmas 100 years ago?

Christmas adverts in the pages of The Times in December 1914 include household brands such as Boots, Perrier, Oxo, Bovril, Horlicks, Burberry’s, Moss Bros and Shell, to name a few, which capitalised on their presence and use at the Front. From Burberry fleece lined gabardine trench coats to Shell fuelling the ambulances of the Allied forces, the adverts are rich in detail, many using soldiers’ testimonies as proof of their efficacy. Acquasctuum, Burberrys and Moss Bros all advertised officer’s kit. Burberry used no less than six quotes from those on active service as endorsements, including this from A.D.P. of the 16th Battalion London Regiment: “All officers coming out for the winter should have a Burberry with detachable fleece lining and Gabardine overalls. They will be covered in mud the first hour in the trenches but Gabardine dries well and the mud drops off.”

If testimonies from the Front were not suitably persuasive Burberry had a secret advertising weapon in the shape of Antarctic explorer and national hero, Ernest Shackleton: “Gabardine is a lightweight weatherproof material of such remarkable warmth-maintaining powers that Sir E. Shackleton recently said nothing would induce him in polar regions to use any substitute even if the price of gabardine doubles and the substitute were offered free of charge.”

Benson’s advertised an “essential” part of an officers’ kit – an “active service watch” with fully luminous figures and hands so that the time could be seen at night. Boots ran several versions of an advert for its own brand of British cologne: White Heather and Jersey Castle under the header “No more German eau de cologne”. Food stuffs featured too. Oxo adverts claimed to be “exactly suited to the needs of our men at the Front – made in minutes and sustains with bread and a few biscuits for hours”. If a few minutes were not to be had, Horlicks Malted Milk tablets were advertised as “invaluable to any soldier in the field. Most efficient at relieving hunger and thirst and preventing fatigue”. Horlicks offered free post to the Front if the name, regimental number, brigade and division of the soldier was supplied. Bovril used a military metaphor in its advertising asking “Are your communications threatened? Build up the defensive forces of your body. Bovril is and has always been at the Front.” Paisley Flour addressed itself to mothers of sons on active service in an advert that encouraged the baking and sending of home-made cake to the Front:
“You could not offer your boy in camp or at the Front any greater treat than a good wholesome home-made cake like those he used to get at home. Send him one this week with Paisley Flour”

If cake, Perrier water and a waterproof gabardine failed to stave off colds Dr J. Collis Browne’s Chloradyne –a remedy for “coughs, colds, colic, ague and kindred ailments” claimed to do the trick:
“Next to the weapons he bears, the best safeguard of a soldiers’ life is a small bottle Dr Collis Browne’s Chloradyne…it is a medicine chest in itself…Every man on active service should have a supply.”

The Civil Service Supply Association advertised service kits and camp equipment but also “Gifts for the Troops“ which included small items such as tobacco, cigarettes, socks, mittens, mufflers, caps, chocolate, ointments, foot powder, pocket knives, postcards and pencils. Taken in their totality the adverts provide a grim picture of conditions at the Front.

So in these grim conditions how was the temporary, spontaneous and informal Christmas Truce (or more accurately Christmas truces) depicted in 1914? The truce featured in the pages of The Illustrated London News on 9 January 1915. In a remarkable double page spread on page 5 the meeting of German and British soldiers in No Man’s Land is rendered as an etching from a photograph with the following description:

“The spirit of Christmas made itself felt in at least one section of the trenches at the front, where British and German soldiers fraternised…during an informal and spontaneous truce there was ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all men’…British and Germans met and shook hands, exchanged cigars and cigarettes, newspapers and addresses and wished each other the compliments of the season…A group of British and German soldiers, arm-in-arm, some of whom had exchanged head-gear were photographed by a German Officer…Some of the British it is said visited the German trenches and an Anglo-German football match was even played…”

The cover page illustration of this edition is an image of a single German solider, approaching the British lines with a small illuminated Christmas tree and the caption: “The light of peace in the trenches”.

By the time these images appeared on 9 January 1914 The Times had already reported that friendly approaches by German soldiers to the British line were now being treated as acts of treason and no further informal and spontaneous truces would break out over the remaining four years of the war.

The Sainsbury’s advert does not show the burial of the dead or the work to shore up and repair trenches, which also happened during the period of the truce, but a photo which appeared in The Illustrated London News on Jan 9 1915 p. 55 showed trench repair along with a detailed commentary of the shared trench experience of British and German soldiers:

“The life led by the infantry on both sides at close quarters is a strange, cramped existence with death always near, either by means of some missile from above or some mines exploded from beneath: a life which has the dull monotonous background of mud and water. Even where there is but little fighting the troops are kept hard at work strengthening the existing defences and constructing others, improving the shelter which is imperative in such weather and improving the sanitary condition and communications of the trenches.”

On Christmas Eve 1981 a BBC2 documentary about the Christmas Truce was aired called Peace in No Man’s Land which was written and produced by Malcolm Brown and researched by Shirley Seaton. In the programme veterans present at the truce spoke about their experience. In the programme (which has a modest 5000 YouTube hits), an 84 year old veteran called Albert Morrow makes a simple but profound observation. He was a 17 year old private in the Queen’s Regiment when he took part in the truce and his observation captures the essence of why the informal and spontaneous Christmas Truce of 1914 continues to resonate in the popular consciousness 100 years on:

“If the truce had gone on and on there’s no telling what could have happened, it could have meant the end of war, after all they didn’t want war and we didn’t want war, and it could have ended up by finishing the war altogether.”

The Christmas Truce depicted in The Illustrated London News showed German and British soldiers meeting in No Man’s Land shaking hands and exchanging headgear. The etching was taken from a photograph taken during the truce. The figure on the extreme left is a German soldier in a British service cap and the fourth figure from the left is a British soldier wearing a Pickelhaube or German helmet.

The cover image of The Illustrated London News on January 9 1915 depicted a German soldier opening the truce by approaching British lines with a small Christmas tree.

The cover image of The Illustrated London News on January 9 1915 depicted a German soldier opening the truce by approaching British lines with a small Christmas tree.

Christmas True depicted in The Illustrated London News showed German and British soldiers meeting in No Man’s Land shaking hands and exchanging headgear. The etching was taken from a photograph taken during the truce. The figure on the extreme left is a German soldier in a British service cap and the fourth figure from the left is a British soldier wearing a Pickelhaube or German helmet.

Trench repair was conducted by both German and British soldiers during the truce.  Illustrated London News January 9, 1915. The burial of the dead also took place during the truce.

Trench repair was conducted by both German and British soldiers during the truce. Illustrated London News January 9, 1915. The burial of the dead also took place at this time.

Benson’s Active Service Watch with illuminated figures and hands was marketed as an essential part of an officer’s kit.

Benson’s Active Service Watch with illuminated figures and hands was marketed as an essential part of an officer’s kit.

Under the title “No more German eau de cologne” Boots advertised British alternatives.

Under the title “No more German eau de cologne” Boots advertised British alternatives.

Burberrys used testimonials from solders at the Front in its advertising and offered an ordering and fitting service in London and Paris which could be completed within a few hours.

Burberrys used testimonials from solders at the Front in its advertising and offered an ordering and fitting service in London and Paris which could be completed within a few hours.

Advertisements for Dr Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne claimed soldiers at the Front realised its value and recommended that every man on active service should have a supply.

Advertisements for Dr Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne claimed soldiers at the Front realised its value and recommended that every man on active service should have a supply.

Horlick’s Malted Milk tablets claimed to be “invaluable to a soldier in the field” relieving hunger, thirst and fatigue.

Horlick’s Malted Milk tablets claimed to be “invaluable to a soldier in the field” relieving hunger, thirst and fatigue.

Adverts for Perrier water in December 1914 marketed itself as the table water of the Allies in both battlefield and hospital.

Adverts for Perrier water in December 1914 marketed itself as the table water of the Allies in both battlefield and hospital.

Shell’s adverts highlighted its role as a supplier to the Allied Forces and its use in petrol driven ambulances.

Shell’s adverts highlighted its role as a supplier to the Allied Forces and its use in petrol driven ambulances.

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Claude Joseph Goldsmid Montefiore (1858-1938), great-nephew of Sir Moses Montefiore and grandson of Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, was a member of the Anglo-Jewish elite who broke with Jewish orthodoxy when he founded Liberal Judaism in Britain. By The London Library’s Head of Bibliographic Services Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros, adapted from an article originally written for History Today.

In childhood Claude Montefiore suffered an attack of pneumonia, which left him with a weakened constitution. His delicate health prevented him from attending school and his private tuition was undertaken by both anti-Zionist rabbis and Protestant Christian tutors. This eclectic education planted the seeds of liberal thought that would later move Montefiore to formulate a radically new approach to Judaism. His education continued at Balliol College, Oxford from which he graduated in 1881 with a first in Classics.  As one of the top students he enjoyed a close relationship with the master at Balliol, Benjamin Jowett, a believer in religious liberalism who encouraged his pupil to approach the study of Jewish religious texts with a critical eye.

After graduating from Oxford, Montefiore travelled to Berlin in order to train for the rabbinate under the Romanian scholar Solomon Schechter. Montefiore soon changed his mind about his calling and returned to England bringing Schechter with him: becoming an orthodox rabbi was simply incompatible with Montefiore’s revolutionary views on Judaism. He believed that a modern world needed a modern Judaism that didn’t rely so heavily on Talmudic and rabbinic law or on Jewish customs and traditions. His wealth allowed him to devote his life to Biblical scholarship and he offended many Orthodox Jews and Christians with his writings advocating a new religion that combined elements of both Judaism and Christianity: “My originality is my queer mixture, half Jew and half Christian … “. Despite being attacked by members of both religions he was unshakeable in his beliefs.

The second most defining aspect of Montefiore’s thought was the distinction he made between religion and nationality: “In Italy, Holland, France, and, above all, and most supremely in England, a fatherland is not denied to the Jews. (Let the Jews of the United States speak for themselves). Their fatherland is Italy, Holland, France and England respectively”. He saw Zionism as conducive to alienating and segregating Jews from gentiles even further and believed that it only served to make anti-Semitism worse, and even blamed it for the rise of Nazism. On the possibility of Jews settling in Palestine he wrote that it “might involve them in the bitterest feuds with their neighbours … and would find deplorable echoes throughout the Orient”.

A qualified lay preacher, he disseminated his views from the pulpits of both the West London Reform Synagogue and the Liberal Jewish Synagogue and found other platforms such as the Hibbert Lectures delivered at Oxford in 1892 at the invitation of Benjamin Jowett, and the Jewish Quarterly Review, which he founded with Israel Abrahams and co-edited for many years. Still, the man who felt compelled to begin a religious revolution and who was instrumental in the foundation of the League of British Jews, and the Jewish Religious Union for the Advancement of Liberal Judaism was a gentle, prudent and self-effacing individual. While his religious enemies saw him as a man of very dangerous ideas, his political enemies criticised his overly cautious presidency of the Anglo-Jewish Association and most particularly his reluctance to help persecuted Jews on the continent and accused him of being ineffectual. In accordance with his ideas of Jewish nationality, Montefiore felt that the problems Jews faced in other countries had to be resolved locally and often repeated that anti-Semitism was not a problem in England. His main concern was the welfare and the education of English Jews and the list of the philanthropic works he undertook to improve the lives of his compatriots and coreligionists is very long.  In fact, Montefiore sometimes complained that these activities and the committee work that a man of his social class was obliged to do, together with his ill health, left him little time to dedicate to his studies.

He was nevertheless able to complete a substantial body of work in the form of several books (The Synoptic Gospels, Some Elements of the Religious Teaching of Jesus According to the Synoptic Gospels, Judaism and St. Paul, Aspects of Judaism, Liberal Judaism, Outlines of Liberal Judaism, Liberal Judaism and Hellenism, Rabbinic Literature and Gospel Teachings, A Rabbinic Anthology, The Old Testament and After, The Bible for Home Reading) and countless pamphlets and articles.

After his death in 1938 the London Library received a bequest of all the pamphlets he collected in the course of his life. The ca. 5,000 titles bound into 664 volumes offer us a comprehensive insight into Montefiore’s mind and all the subjects he was interested in, from theology to social welfare, education and even poetry – his biographers mention that he would often surprise people by spontaneously reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets, a little Tennyson, the preface to Middlemarch or even a fragment of Alice in Wonderland. This explains the presence in volume 454 of a booklet of First World War poems by Janet Begbie, entitled Morning Mist and published by Mills and Boon in 1916 (a few years before the firm decided to concentrate on the publication of romance novels).

By scanning the contents of this and other volumes we can see not only what Montefiore read but more importantly what he chose to keep, perhaps for future reference. A total 161 of the pamphlets in the collection were written by Montefiore himself: Liberal Christianity and Liberal Judaism, What a Jew thinks about Jesus, The dangers of Zionism, Assimilation, good and bad, Is there a middle way?, The originality of Jesus, Has Judaism a future?, On keeping young and growing old, Anti-Semitism in England, Optimism and religion, Is Judaism a tribal religion?, The English Jew and his religion, Jewish emancipation and the English Jew, etc.

Others are written by his mentors and friends: The Chassidim and On the study of the Talmud by S. Schlechter, Poetry and religion and Jewish life under emancipation by Israel Abrahams, The German soul and the Great War and Progress in religion by Baron Friedrich von Hügel. Some are even written by his enemies: The racial conception of the world and The Nazi party, the state and religion by Adolf Hitler, Chosen peoples: the Hebraic ideal versus the Teutonic and A land of refuge by Israel Zangwill.

The pamphlets are bound in rough chronological order and this arrangement also allows us to trace the developments in scholarship and world events taking place around Montefiore. These range from Biblical criticism and Reform Judaism to the work of Jewish charities and social responsibility.

The earliest pamphlet Kritische Untersuchungen über den menschlichen Geist, oder, Das höhere Erkenntniss- und Willensvermögen (Critical examinations of the human spirit, or, The higher knowledge and volition) by Salomon Maimon dates from 1797 and the latest Public development and slump control by The Next Five Years Group is from 1938, proof that Montefiore was actively interested in the welfare of others almost to the very end of his life.

This scholar, philanthropist and reformer, described by some as a saint and by others as class-conscious snob who abhorred socialism and was suspicious of democracy, died “disappointed and embittered” at the relative failure of Liberal Judaism, which he blamed on the rise of Zionism.

Discover The National Portrait Gallery’s portrait of Montefiore by Sir William Rothenstein circa 1935 in its Later Victorian Portraits (online) catalogue – Montefiore portrait

Three volumes from the collection

Three volumes from the collection

Tsava'ot ha-R : Yehudah ben ha-Rosh ve-ahiv ha-R. Schechter's commentary on the work by Judah ben Asher

Tsava’ot ha-R : Yehudah ben ha-Rosh ve-ahiv ha-R. Schechter’s commentary on the work by Judah ben Asher

The Montefiore collection in its current home

The Montefiore collection in its current home

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As London’s parks, squares and gardens come back to life after a dreary winter it seems timely to remember and celebrate Thomas Hill, the Londoner responsible for the first popular gardening books printed in the English language. By London Library Head of Bibliographic Services Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros, adapted from an article originally written forHistory Today.

Born around 1528, Hill appears to have been more of a literary entrepreneur than a true scholar. He himself confessed to have been ‘rudely taughte’ but he evidently knew enough Italian and Latin to select and translate the works of many classical authors. These translations formed the basis of Hill’s work and while some have accused him of not contributing new knowledge to the subjects he wrote on he did at least have enough of an understanding of these disciplines to choose his sources carefully, the necessary skill to render them into clear English and sufficient honesty to acknowledge in his book those whose works he compiled. He was also shrewd enough to pick popular subjects that would prove commercial successes: physiognomy, astrology, medicine, mathematics, almanacs, conjuring tricks, practical jokes, natural and supernatural phenomena and, of course, gardening.

His A Briefe Treatyse of Gardening was first printed without date probably around 1558 and was enormously popular, running to nine editions. Later editions were published under a different title, which spoke of the book’s success, The Profitable Arte of Gardening. It had been augmented by three appendices: The Mervailous Government, Propertie, and Benefite of Bees, With the Rare Secretes of the Honnie and Wax,  The Yerely Coniectures Meete for Husbandmen and aTreatise of the Arte of Graffing and Planting of Trees. The London Library edition was printed in the capital in 1593 by Edward Allde, who at the time had his premises ‘in the Fore Street without Cripplegate at the Golden Cup’.

Thomas Hill’s star was rising when his life was cut relatively short in 1574. His second gardening book, The Gardeners Labyrinth:Containing a Discourse of the Gardeners Life, in the Yearly Travels to be Bestowed on his Plot of Earth, for the Use of a Garden … was printed posthumously in 1577.

Hill’s book lists herbs and vegetables giving first the ‘ordering, care and secrets’ and then ‘the physicke helpes’ or medicinal properties of each: ‘… parcely thrown into fish-ponds doth revive and strengthen the sick fish’, melon seeds ‘eaten or drunk doe cause urine, and purge the lungs and kidneis’. He also offers tips for getting rid of pests such as moles, characterised as ‘a disquiet and grief to gardeners’.

This second work includes many woodcuts, unlike his first book, making it much more expensive to produce and therefore increasing its retail price considerably, which must be a sign of how much Hill’s popularity had grown even after his death.  It appears that his status had risen so much that he had even outgrown his name: on the title page Thomas Hill has grown into Dydymus (Greek for Thomas and literally meaning ‘twin’) Mountaine, a rather ridiculous pseudonym that must have nevertheless sounded grand and impressive to a 16thcentury book buyer.  It would be fascinating to know whether this was done in accordance with Hill’s wishes or whether it was the printer’s idea for attracting a wealthier clientele. Either because of or in spite of the ‘mountaine’ effect, or rather because of the quality of the text and charming depictions of Elizabethan gardens, Hill’s second gardening book proved an even greater success than the first one and was reprinted many times. The London Library copy is dated 1586 and is the work of John Wolfe who had his workshop in Distaff Lane, near St. Paul’s.

When Hill died he left many completed manuscripts behind that were never published as well as some unfinished projects. One of the latter was a translation of Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner’s The Newe Jewell of Health: Wherein is Contayned the Most Excellent Secretes of Phisicke and Philosophie. The translation was completed by his friend, the surgeon George Baker, and The London Library holds a copy of the beautifully illustrated first edition printed by Henrie Denham at the sign of the Star in Paternoster Row in 1576.

‘The Profitable Arte of Gardening’

‘The Gardeners Labyrinth: Containing a Discourse of the Gardeners Life, in the Yearly Travels to be Bestowed on his Plot of Earth, for the Use of a Garden’ (1577)

‘The Gardeners Labyrinth: Containing a Discourse of the Gardeners Life, in the Yearly Travels to be Bestowed on his Plot of Earth, for the Use of a Garden’ (1577)

‘The maner of watering with a Pumpe by troughes in a Garden’ – from The Gardeners Labyrinth.

Translation of Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner’s ‘The Newe Jewell of Health: Wherein is Contayned the Most Excellent Secretes of Phisicke and Philosophie.’ (1576)

First chapter page from ‘The Gardeners Labyrinth’

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Hundreds of bibles, translated into dozens of languages, populate some of the shelves of The London Library. Among these is a remarkable collection of early English versions with a copy of the King James Bible, published in May of 1611, at its heart. In the latest article adapted from a series recently published in History Today, Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros, Head of Bibliographic Services at The London Library, explores these unique volumes.


The King James Bible, which in 2011 celebrated its 400th anniversary, is part of a long chain of English translations of the Scriptures where every new version owes a debt to its predecessors. The first link in the chain was forged by William Tyndale 80 years before James I commissioned his Authorised Version.

The Oxford-educated religious reformer, who was inspired by Erasmus and Luther, was forced to flee England in 1525. He was a gifted linguist who translated the New Testament from the original Greek into accessible English. By 1534 he had settled in Antwerp where he was betrayed by a friend and arrested before he could complete his translation of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew. He was incarcerated for sixteen months and in October 1536 he was publicly executed in Vilvoorde Castle, near Brussels.

In 1535, just as Tyndale was printing his final revision of the New Testament in Antwerp, Miles Coverdale was in the same city printing his complete English Bible. Coverdale was an Augustinian friar and a Cambridge man. Like Tyndale, his reformist views forced him into exile. He did not know enough Greek and Hebrew to translate the original texts and instead he worked from German and Latin versions, while consulting Tyndale’s translations at the same time. Back in England big changes were taking place. Cranmer and Cromwell’s influence was growing and, consequently, Henry VIII was more inclined to fulfil the promise he had made five years earlier to provide ‘learned men’ with a translation of the New Testament. In this new climate Coverdale dedicated his Bible to the king and was able to return safely to London.

Tyndale’s unpublished translations of the Old Testament were finally printed in ‘Matthew’s’ Bible of 1537. John Rogers, chaplain of the English House in Antwerp, had managed to rescue the manuscripts after Tyndale’s arrest. He printed them together with Tyndale’s Pentateuch and New Testament. For the remaining books of the Old Testament he used Coverdale’s translation. As Tyndale’s translations were still banned the title page bore the fictitious name of Thomas Mathew. The resulting book, published for the merchants Richard Grafton and Edward Whitchurch is the closest thing there is to a complete Tyndale Bible. Ironically, this was the first English Bible to receive a royal license and Cromwell wasted no time in distributing copies to every parish. It was soon apparent that not enough copies had been printed to supply all 8,500 churches and since the king still had some reservations as to some of the marginal notes a new version was needed. Interestingly, the London Library’s copy of ‘Matthew’s’ Bible was printed by a Thomas Raynalde in London in 1549, two years after Henry’s death.

Henry VIII’s Great Bible of 1539 was edited by Coverdale, who revised ‘Matthew’s’ Bible rather than his own version, and it was again published by Grafton and Whitchurch.  No new versions were produced during the short reigns of Edward VI and Mary Tudor. John Roger’s execution, ordered by Mary in 1555, must have served as a powerful deterrent for anyone contemplating Biblical translations on English soil.

A group of English Protestants, which included the dean of Durham, William Whittingham, had fled Mary’s regime to settle in Calvinist Geneva where they prepared a new version, printed in 1560. Coverdale, who had returned to England after Henry’s death and served as Bishop of Exeter until the accession of Mary to the throne, was forced into again into exile in 1555. He spent some time in Denmark and Germany and joined the Geneva translators in October 1558, only a month before Mary’s death. The Geneva Bible became the most popular version of the Scripture and was still in regular use even after the publication of the King James Bible. Given its proliferation, it is not surprising that the London Library holds several early editions, the earliest being Christopher Barker’s folio edition of 1576. In 1575 Barker had obtained a patent to print the Bible in England for the first time and after publishing one edition in 1576 he obtained a press, which he used to print the first folio edition in Roman type. The next year he bought the exclusive rights to print all English Bibles and passed the monopoly onto his descendants. The London Library copy of the smaller 1586 edition is the last produced by the founder of the printing dynasty. In 1587 a very wealthy Christopher retired to his country house and left the business in charge of his deputies who were responsible for the 1589 and 1599 editions also held by the Library.

The Library’s copy of the 1605 edition is the work of Christopher’s son, Robert, who while busy printing the new Authorized Version in 1611 was still satisfying demand for Geneva Bibles with a new folio edition also held at the Library.

After Mary’s death in 1558 the Geneva Bible was openly used in parish churches but Queen Elizabeth’s bishops thought that its extensive marginal notes were too heavily influenced by Calvinist doctrine. Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, assumed responsibility for a new version. The first folio edition of the Bishops’ Bible of 1568 was produced in London by the queen’s printer, Richard Jugge. In 1569 Jugge printed a second, quarto, edition and the Library holds a copy of its New Testament. Although this was meant to be Elizabeth’s ‘Great Bible’ it did not receive royal sanction until 1574 and the Library’s copy of the 1575 edition finally contains the words ‘set foorth by aucthoritie’ as well ‘God save the Queene’. In any case, the text did not compare to that of the Geneva Bible and although copies were printed for official use in parish churches across the land, the ‘Calvinist version’ was retained for private use in most protestant households.

The Catholic alternative to these protestant Bibles was produced once again by religious exiles, this time settled in Douai and Rheims, where dissenting outposts of Oxford University had been established by the scholar William Allen. These English Catholics accepted the inevitability of an English translation and undertook to offer a vernacular version that would at least conform to Catholic doctrine. The New Testament was translated by George Martin, a reader of Divinity, who worked mostly from the Vulgate but was also influenced by existing English versions. It was first printed in 1582 in Rheims, with the Old Testament being issued in two parts in Douai over 1609 and 1610. The Library holds copies of them all.

While the most direct influences of the Authorized Version of 1611 were the Geneva and the Bishops’ bibles, King James’ translators were not squeamish about consulting every English translation available, including the Rheims-Douai version, and borrowing many phrases from it. The team of around fifty scholars who worked on the Bible between 1604 and 1608 produced a version of such durability that it remains the strongest link in the chain of translations to this day.

1611 King James Bible

Book of Ruth 3:15 from the 1611 King James Bible

Book of Moses – 1611 King James Bible

1605 Geneva Bible

New Testament of the 1569 Bishop’s Bible

1575 Bishop’s Bible

1599 Geneva Bible

1589 Geneva Bible

Book of Genesis – 1549 Matthew Bible

1582 Rheims-Douai Bible

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In the latest article adapted from a series recently published in History TodayDunia Garcia-Ontiveros, Head of Bibliographic Services at The London Library, reveals the remarkable and dramatic provenance behind a small volume contained in the Library’s collections, rescued from its watery resting place inside the wreck of cargo steamer S.S. Halcyon, which was mined and sunk in April 1916.

A small, watermarked volume entitled The planter’s manual : an English, Dutch, Malay and Keh Chinese vocabulary compiled by G. Fraser Melbourn and printed in Deli-Sumatra in 1894 has one of the most dramatic provenances of the one million books housed at the London Library. Its compiler was a tobacco planter who, upon ‘arriving in Deli, badly felt the want of a book from which I could pick up Malay – that is the Malay that is really spoken, in other words, every-day Malay’. To supply this deficiency he spent ‘many happy hours’ over several years preparing the ‘little work’, which he begged the reader not to judge if they should be in a ‘critical mood’. He chose to include also words in the Keh Chinese dialect as he believed it to be ‘by far the prettiest of the various dialects and with a little appreciation the easiest learnt.’

A letter written by one S. Hyde Turner (co-author of the alphabet bookZoological concoction,  London, 1902) to accompany his gift of the book to the London Library in 1919 tells us that that G. Fraser Melbourn ‘came to England in 1897 and died here some 20 years ago’ i.e. around 1899. The use of the word ‘came’ instead of ‘returned’ is intriguing and would seem to indicate that Melbourn was not born in Britain.

Melbourn’s choice of terms for his vocabulary is very revealing and evocative; a selection taken from the list of words beginning with the letter ‘s’ transports us to the hot and humid world of the plantation and its back-braking toil: ‘swamp, swear, sweat, sweep … ‘.

The book that was written in such a damp environment was destined for even wetter surroundings

Turner’s letter, written on stationery from the Junior Athenaeum Club, explains the book’s condition. In it he tells us that ‘the Germans are to blame’ for its water damage as the book was on board the cargo steamer S.S. Halcyon when she was mined and sunk only three and half miles off Folkestone Pier while travelling from Bordeaux to London on 7 April 1916. She was almost brand new, having been built the year before by the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company for the General Steam Navigation Company in London. Turner does not tell us what a Victorian plantation owner’s manual, designed to be used in Sumatra, was doing on a cargo steamer crossing the English channel in during the First World War, although it is possible that the English seamen found some of its Dutch vocabulary useful on the continent, but he does say that ‘the book spent about 6 months in the bed of the Channel …’.

The Halcyon is still rusting away under some 12 metres of water and exactly how the book came to be rescued six months after going down with the ship is unknown. The ghostly marks left on its pages by the Channel waters are consistent with the book having been only partially wet and it is likely that in the moments before sinking the crew placed the ship’s books and documents in waterproof bags in the hope that they could later retrieve them from the relatively shallow waters. Had they not done so the only surviving copy of this book would be the one kept at the British Library.

The planter’s manual : an English, Dutch, Malay and Keh Chinese vocabulary compiled by G. Fraser Melbourn

The planter’s manual : an English, Dutch, Malay and Keh Chinese vocabulary compiled by G. Fraser Melbourn

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