Celebrating the Nineteenth Century in SHL’s Collections

Saturday 10th September marked the London Nineteenth Century Studies Postgraduate Colloquium IV, hosted by the Institute of English Studies. Such occasions provide an opportunity to showcase material and promote the Library’s collections; the small display for the colloquium gave a brief taste of the vast range of 19th century material available in the Library. 

Selecting material for such an event is not easy: there was a great deal to choose from in subjects ranging from ‘high’ and ‘low’ literature to science and technology to social welfare to spiritualism and the occult. As is often the case with such displays, the lead came from the organisers, who selected some excellent items from the collections. One suggestion for an edition from the works George Eliot and another for correspondence to her in the Library’s autograph letters collection resulted in a small display of material related to Eliot and the philosopher and sociologist Herbert Spencer (whose papers are held on deposit at the Library). This included part two of the first edition of Middlemarch, a letter from Spencer to Eliot’s partner, George Henry Lewes, offering his admiration for the book: “I cannot conceive anything more perfectly done” and a letter from Eliot to Spencer written shortly before her death.

George Eliot Middlemarch

Letters: Herbert Spencer and George Eliot

Literary correspondence also featured with a letter from the poet and critic Matthew Arnold to John Churton Collins expressing his views on the teaching of English at universities. Collins would later use Arnold’s comments in The Study of English Literature (1891).

Mathew Arnold letter

And letters from H.G. Wells to Stephen Hunter, an aspiring illustrator and fellow Fabian, showed the writer offering advice on finding work with the journals and illustrated newspapers, alongside some sketches.

H.G. Wells Letters

Natural history was another of the themes suggested, and could have filled an exhibition on its own. But space limitations meant only two items featured: the second volume published of William Jardine's 40 volume series, The Naturalists Library. The series was incredibly popular and featured numerous colour plates engraved by the publisher, W.H. Lizars; and Botanical Rambles which introduces the basics of botany through a conversation between an older sister and her younger siblings.

Naturalists Library

Botanical Rambles

Ephemera from the Harry Price Library was also represented by a trick double-headed penny and a selection of Carte de Visite of eminent Victorians, from the 1860’s “cardomania” craze.

Carte de Visite

Unfortunately, due to limited space, some interesting items were left out, including Ada Lovelace’s translation of L.F. Menabrea’s Sketch of the analytical engine invented by Charles Babbage from the Library of Augustus De Morgan, one of her teachers, letters from the Brownings on spiritualism and attending a Daniel Dunglas Home séance, and illustrated books from the Sterling Library from artists such as Walter Crane, the Cruickshanks, and Arthur Rackham. But nevertheless the display was a window into the diversity and depth and material in the library from the 1800s.