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In the latest update from her adventures in the Library’s archives, our Head of Reader Services finds some wonderful Pre-Raphaelite connections.

The painter Edward Burne-Jones and the writer, artist and designer William Morris were in the vanguard of the second generation Pre-Raphaelites who clustered round Rossetti. I am currently researching the Pre-Raphaelite network of friends and artistic collaborators evident in the Library’s Victorian membership records and thought I would share with you some of the men and women who painted, designed, etched, stitched, printed, illuminated and mused their way into the archive, and into national life.

Edward Burne-Jones joined the Library in 1867 when he was 34 years old, and he is followed in 1872 by his muse and lover, the sculptor Marie Zambaco.  She is the inspiration behind many of his works from the late 1860s onwards.  She is the temptress in The Beguiling of Merlin and her unmistakable features adorn the faces of both the male and female protagonists in Phyllis and Demophoon.  The psychological subtext of this emotionally revealing work is the traumatic end of their affair, which surfaces less violently, but in equal bleakness, over twenty years later in Love among the Ruins.

In 1870 Phyllis and Demophoon caused outrage not only for its subtext, but for its male nudity which did not sit easily with the Old Watercolour Society who exhibited the work in their Summer Exhibition. The experience triggered Burne-Jones’ resignation from the Society and his withdrawal from exhibiting for the following seven years, but he would become one of the acclaimed figures in the history of British art.

Burne-Jones was a lifelong friend and artistic collaborator of the veritable creative combustion engine that was William Morris.  He described Morris as “the greatest master of ornament in the world”. Their friendship began when they were both theology undergraduates and lasted for life. Their final collaboration, for which Burne-Jones provided 87 woodcut illustrations and 116 full page plates, was the Kelmscott Chaucer: an awe inspiring love letter to the codex, or, as Burne-Jones neatly put it, a “pocket cathedral”.

William Morris — writer, artist, craftsman extraordinaire, designer, poet, weaver, embroiderer, printer, entrepreneur and socialist — appears in the published London Library Members List of 1888. He died at the age of 62 from what his doctor diagnosed as simply “being William Morris” – having expended the energy of “ten men” during his lifetime which saw him re-ignite, master and elevate an astounding array of arts and crafts from stained glass to weaving. He was lauded during his lifetime for his literary works, (he was in the running for the Poet Laureateship after Tennyson’s death), but it is his status as the most original and successful designer of the industrial age which is more commonly recognised today. His wallpaper designs, like many significant literary works from this era, are still in print.

Morris had, as ever, several things on the go when he was a member of the Library. In 1885 he published “Chants for Socialists” and over the following two years he was at the heart of political protest in Britain. Between 1884 and 1898 he wrote and published a new genre of prose romances set in imaginary historic landscapes (all still available for loan from the Library’s Fiction shelves) and in 1891 Morris established the Kelmscott Press. Within five years the Press produced an undisputed jewel in British book production in the Kelmscott Chaucer, for which Burne-Jones provided the illustrations, Morris the borders and initial letters. The Kelmscott Chaucer shown here, from the Library’s Special Collections, was bound by the Doves Press in white pigskin with elaborate blind tooling and elegant silver clasps.  There is no better indicator of the literary soul of the Pre-Raphaelites than the Kelmscott Chaucer.

I was curious, given Morris’s enormous and varied creative output, to see how his “occupation or position” had been described in the manuscript membership records and when I checked I found a stunner of an archival record (see the image, right).  Predating and intertwined with William Morris’ name was the name of one of the most recognisable Pre-Raphaelite women: William’s wife (Rossetti’s lover, muse and collaborator), the exquisite embroiderer Jane Morris.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti drew and painted Jane Morris for over 20 years of his working life.  She appears in many guises as Pandora,Proserpine, and Mariana to name just a few, and  it was Jane asAstarte Syriaca, painted by Rossetti in 1877, that the Tate used to advertise the glorious “Pre- Raphaelites: Victorian Avante-Garde” exhibition last year. Rossetti also commissioned photographs of Jane in 1865, taken by John Robert Parsons – her staggering beauty is there; so too, and much more striking, her intelligent inner life.

Did Jane join the Library for her own use or did she join on behalf of William or were they both making use of the membership? Why is her name scored through and William’s added to her original record? Did Jane decide to give up her membership but William want to keep it on? Could this be a precursor to an institutional membership where a company registers for membership?  It is impossible to say exactly but those two small ticks on the left of the record indicate that both Jane and William at some point were members. It is William’s name only that appears in the published list of 1888, but it is clear that it was Jane, nominated by the process engraver and typographer Emery Walker, who first established the membership.

Emery Walker was a close friend of Jane and William. He joined the Library in 1879 when he was 28 and London Manager of the Typographic Etching Company.  His name is revered in the field of typography.  His involvement in, and influence on, the Kelmscott, Doves and Ashendene Presses mark him out as one of the most influential and significant people in the history of British book printing and he rose, like Jane from the humblest of beginnings.

After the death of Morris, Emery Walker set up Doves Press with Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson. It was Jane Morris who in 1882 had suggested Cobden-Sanderson take up book binding.  A long standing London Library member (he joined in 1864) Cobden-Sanderson donated over 30 Doves Press works to the Library including a beautifully printed and simply bound version of Love in Enough by William Morris. Sanderson’s affection for the Library is clearly evident in his donation inscriptions such this one from 1909: “Presented to the London Library, as to an old friend, by an old member, the printer.”

Over the fire place at Red House is the inscription “Ars Longa Vita Brevis” (Art is long, life is short).  The Library’s archival records, like art, are long, and each surviving record illuminates part of the Library’s rich and absorbing cultural heritage.

The London Library's copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer.

The London Library’s copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer

Burne-Jones LL archive

Edward Burne-Jones joined the Library in 1857

Madame Zambaco

Our archival records show Madame Zambaco’s Kensington address

Kelmscott Chaucer, LL copy

The beautiful, white pigskin binding of our Kelmscott Chaucer

William and Jane Morris, LL Archive

William and Jane Morris — joint London Library members?

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John Stuart Mill is an important figure in the history of The London Library and an intriguing presence in our institutional archive. Helen O’Neil, Head of Reader Services, continues her archival sleuthing.

In researching the Library’s archival records I want to do more than simply unearth those writers and thinkers who have been members of the Library throughout its history. I want to demonstrate the significance of membership.  One way of doing this is to take a single figure and delve deeply. With this in mind I have been tracking the economist, political theorist and most influential 19th century philosopher in the English language, John Stuart Mill, through the archive. Needless to say the archive has offered up a revealing picture of his engagement with, and use of the Library.

Mill’s name is not to be found in obvious places.  He is absent from the lists of past Library Presidents, Trustees and Committee Members but his elegant intellectual handprint can be seen dispersed throughout the collections to a much greater degree than we had perhaps previously realised. We have always known that Mill drew up the lists for the first Political Economy collection – this is evidenced in letters from him in the archive and in the 1841 minutes of the Library Book Committee.  We knew too that he donated books to the Library; there are several such donations in the Library’s Special Collections. These donations are personal and significant to him and include for instance the Commonplace Books of his father, the reformist James Mill.  I mentioned in an earlier blog too, that Mill introduced his step daughter Helen Taylor to the Library in the year before he died, and she edited and translated several of his works after his death in 1873.

In addition to this Mill’s donations turn up thrillingly, (and not infrequently) on the open shelves.  Sermons Preached in Boston on the Death of Abraham Lincoln; the Conspiracy Trial for the Murder of the President and The Special Report of the Anti-Slavery Conference held in Paris in 1867 are all examples of this. If you have recently been to see Daniel Day Lewis’s distilled performance as Lincoln, these donations demonstrate exactly how keenly Mill was watching America. He would follow up these donations with another in 1868 – Walt Whitman’s poetic panoramic of the American Civil War, Drum Taps.

Mill’s presence is also particularly prevalent in two other archival resources from which I have been gathering and collating data over the last month.  The first is a heavily annotated working copy of the Library’s first catalogue, and the second is the Library’s early Issue Books.  The annotated 1842 catalogue is an extraordinary Victorian document which reveals the level of Mill’s donations in 1841 was far greater than we had previously realised. 87 titles (numbering in excess of 240 volumes) are attributed to Mill in the annotated catalogue – only a handful of which are recorded in our much more contemporary records. In addition to this, Mill’s presence is unequivocally and impressively stamped in the Library’s early Issue Books which record the books issued during the very early years of the Library’s existence. I am half way through the Issue Books and have details of over 250 books Mill borrowed. To say he was an active regular user is an understatement.  Just look at the regularity and number of books he was borrowing during 1845.

There are several themes which play out both in both Mill’s issues and his donations.  The first is they are incredibly international in feel.  His donations are published in Paris, Dublin, Brussels, London, Berlin, Venice, Amsterdam, Bonn, Hamburg, Calcutta, Dresden, Milan, New York, San Francisco, Boston and Edinburgh; and his loans include books about all parts of the globe including Europe, America, India, Africa, Australia, Mexico, China and New Zealand. Mill donated an enormous amount of material in 1841 in French on the French Revolution including Mary Wollstonecraft’s View of the French Revolution – and both his donations and loans are in English, French, German, Italian and Latin.

For a man caricatured in a dress for his outspokenness on the position of women, most notably after the publication of The Subjection of Women, his loans reveal that he was not only reading books about women, he was reading and donating books written by women.  One of my favourites is The History of Margaret Catchpole: a Suffolk Girlpublished in 1846 by the Rev Richard Cobbold. Margret Catchpole was an extraordinary woman, who twice escaped the death sentence in the late 1790s for stealing a horse (she captured the popular imagination by riding 70 miles in 10 hours without a saddle) and for escaping prison by scaling a 22 foot wall disguised as a sailor.

To read Mill is to read work which is still relevant today.  He joined the Library in 1841 two years before he published Utilitarianism, and the major works which made his name were all published during his thirty two years of Library membership. On Liberty, one of Mill’s greatest legacies has never been out of print since it was published in 1859, an indicator of its enduring importance.

On May 8th this year it will be 140 years since John Stuart Mill died.  By then I hope to have wrestled out of obscurity both the books Mill donated and the books he borrowed from the Library and I will be mapping these against his published works.  UCL has an internationally recognised reputation in the Digital Humanities which I am hoping will show its value here as I attempt to use the mass of Victorian digitised material sloshing round the internet to triangulate Mill’s issues, donation and published works.

It is to this unique destination point that I am racing, with as much speed as I can muster, to meet Mr Mill.

© Helen O’Neill

Title page of ‘Sermons Preached in Boston on the Death of Abraham Lincoln; the Conspiracy Trial for the Murder of the President’, donated to the Library by John Stuart Mill

The Library Issue Book showing some of John Stuart Mill’s borrowing in 1845

An illustration from ‘The History of Margaret Catchpole: a Suffolk Girl’ (1846)

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The President, trustees, members and staff of The London Library heard with great sadness of the death of Mrs Valerie Eliot last Friday, 9 November 2012.

Mrs Eliot had been a Vice-President of the Library since 2009, and through Old Possum’s Practical Trust was one of the Library’s most generous benefactors, providing funds for the purchase and redevelopment of our newest wing, T.S. Eliot House.

Mrs Eliot was present at the building’s naming on 11 June 2008, where actress Fiona Shaw read T.S. Eliot’s moving poem for Valerie, ‘A Dedication to My Wife.’

The Library’s President, Sir Tom Stoppard, said: “Valerie brought unprecedented and long-awaited happiness to her husband, to whom she was passionately devoted. During the long decades of her widowhood, she was equally devoted to her custodianship of his remarkable work. Her passing severs a vital link with our literary past. The London Library will continue to preserve the memories of both T.S. and Valerie Eliot, whose generosity, advocacy and leadership are part of the fabric of this great institution.”

T.S. Eliot was President of The London Library from 1952 to his death in 1965.

On assuming the office of President, he delivered an address at the Library’s Annual General Meeting in which he declared that ‘if this library disappeared, it would be a disaster to the world of letters, and would leave a vacancy that no other form of library could fill.’

A portrait of Mrs Valerie Eliot by Emma Sargeant hangs in The London Library, adjacent to the entrance to T.S. Eliot House.

The Library extends its condolences to Mrs Eliot’s family, to the staff and trustees of Old Possum’s Practical Trust, and to who all who knew and worked with Mrs Eliot.

Mrs Valerie Eliot at the opening of T.S. Eliot House, The London Library, 11 June 2008

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