What the Dickens!

It’s hard to believe that we’re coming to the end of another year, and what an exciting year it’s been! With events, anniversaries and commemorations, it feels like 2012 really has been a year to remember. Of course, it’s not over yet, but our series of Dickens exhibitions, celebrating the bicentenary of the author’s birth, is now coming to a close.

Cover of the first issue of Our Mutual Friend, May 1864

Cover of the first issue of Our Mutual Friend, May 1864

For the next six weeks, you can enjoy our fond farewell to our Dickensian celebration in our latest exhibition, “What the Dickens! Beyond the Books.” It’s on in the Templeman Gallery (accessible from the Library Cafe) and includes a cornucopia of the bizarre, banal and brilliant Dickens items in our archives.

Having examined Dickens on Stage in the nineteenth century and cartoonists’ use of Dickens’ characters in the twentieth, this time we’re investigating how Dickens’ fame and the popularity of his characters have survived and been transformed since their first success.

Do you know how Joseph Clayton Clarke made his living from Dickens’ characters? Or how Dickens became associated with music? Have you hear of Sir John Martin-Harvey, who played one of Dickens’ characters more than 4000 times on stage? What is the link between Dickens, Oliver Twist and chocolate?

Take a look at the exhibition to discover all this and more as we look ahead to the new academic year and plenty of new Special Collections discoveries.

“What the Dickens! Beyond the books” will be on display from 26 September until 6 November in the Templeman Gallery, next to the library cafe.


The Press, the Petition and the Priest

Following on from the excitement of the Dickens Exhibition, we’re now back to our everyday work of cataloguing, organising and assisting researchers in the reading room. But don’t assume that this is a boring part of the job: it’s in this way that many of our discoveries happen! How about this, for example, about the Red Dean?

A few weeks ago, we were contacted by John Drew a former King’s School, Canterbury pupil. He asked about a petition in the archive, signed by boys at King’s School, which called for Hewlett Johnson, the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, to condemn the Russian invasion of Hungary. Johnson had been – and remained – a stalwart supporter of Stalin’s regime throughout the twentieth century. Imagine our delight when John told us that he was the co-instigator of the petition, and the first signatory. He has very kindly given us permission to reproduce his recollection of the events.

Hewlett Johnson c. 1930s

Hewlett Johnson c. 1930s

In all the penny newspapers I was quite shocked to see
A long harangue against our Dean, professedly signed by me.
But I swear I didn’t sign it, this article obscene,
This vile and cheap attack upon Our President, the Dean.

Are God and Russia then at strife and crypto-communists?
Surely in all this universe some compromise exists
Where God can keep his court amid cold, swirling, darkling mists
And leave a little outpost here where tolerance persists?

He’s Our Dean, the Red Dean, and when the R.D. dies
I hope to see a thousand tears well from a thousand eyes
For one who held his principles through venom and the lies
Of the obscurantist leaders in the Councils of the Wise.

 –         David Buchan, Grange House, 1956.

A recent biography of the Red Dean of Canterbury makes one of those slips of pen that bedevil all who write. It mentions that in November 1956 300 boys at the King’s School,Canterbury, signed a petition deploring the refusal of the Dean, Chairman of the School Governors, to condemn the Russian invasion ofHungary. Actually 186 boys signed.  The slip is so minor it would not be noticed – except perhaps by someone who had tramped round the Cathedral Precincts to get the signatures.

Copy of original petition text

Copy of original petition text

There was a great deal of concern everywhere in Europe as the Russians sent their tanks into Hungary in the autumn of 1956 to depose the reform Communist leader, Imre Nagy, and so many Hungarians, having bravely fought to stop them, poured over the Austrian border. Oliver [Ford] “Orf” Davies, the well-known actor, drafted the text of a petition that was put together by several sixth-formers in Linacre House (neighbouring on the Deanery). I still have that draft, with amendments suggested (I believe) by the Headmaster, “Fred” Shirley, since (having rewritten it in clearer handwriting) it was I who, with Paul Niblock, had to collect the signatures and deliver it to the Dean.We got a good response to our petition until we reached the Grange, where we were rather nonplussed to run into quite a number of boys who refused to sign.  Grange was something of a warren of dissidents (though the avant-garde composer Cornelius Cardew had left by then) and it was typical that when the History Master, Ralph Blumenau, wrote a somewhat impassioned editorial for the Cantuarian at the end of term beginning: Hungary bleeds… and dealing with the rape of Hungary, the Grange House Newsletter came back with a parody: Grange House bleeds… bewailing the theft of the house bath plugs.

Facetiousness aside, at the time of the petition David Buchan spoke for others in Grange (and perhaps elsewhere in the school) when he wrote the poem celebrating the dear old Dean and excoriating those who did him down. David was perhaps the one boy who could out-face Fred during daily Assembly in the Chapter House (Fred later spoke of the way that while all the other boys had their heads bowed in prayer or prep or a penny dreadful, David alone stared unflinchingly ahead). David saw better than I did that the petition was as much the outcome of a battle going on between Fred and the Dean as between the two sides in the Cold War.

I was naively unaware of Precincts politics and was actually nervous of missing Sunday Matins in the Cathedral, as Paul and I had to on account of delivering the petition to the Dean. The Dean was charming and, with his wife Nowell in attendance, sat us down to a salutary lesson in 20th century history, spiced with personal reminiscence. He did regret that the situation in Hungary had come to an armed intervention but he reminded us that, as we spoke, Britain and France were still acting in a 19th century imperialist style by attackingEgypt inSuez. The Dean left us with plenty to think about and ended by regretting, in a memorable metaphor, that an Iron Curtain had been erected between him and the boys at the King’s School.

I soon had more to be nervous about. My father was News Editor of Beaverbrook’s Sunday Express and, after I had told him that the boys were upset by the Dean’s refusal to condemn the Russian invasion of Hungary, he had sent a reporter down to the school on the Saturday to find out what was happening. An (accurate) report of the petition appeared in the paper the next day (November 18th) under the banner headline: BOYS OF THE UPPER SIXTH REBUKE THE RED DEAN.

Copy of Sunday Express article

Copy of Sunday Express article

I went out on a family exeat to Folkestone that day, blissfully unaware that reporters from every national newspaper except the Daily Worker were descending on the Precincts to follow up the story, eleven accounts appearing on the Monday (with a couple in local papers later in the week). I returned in the evening to hear that Fred wanted to see Paul and I. Fred appeared to be furious, though I now suspect (apart from snobbery about the gutter press) he was only rattled not to be in total control of a scenario that was (in fact) unfolding much as he would have wanted it to.

Shirley and Johnson on Speech day, 1962

Shirley and Johnson on Speech day, 1962

Paul and I returned from the dressing-down by Fred to face our tall, bespectacled and slightly gawky house-master at Linacre, Humphrey Osmond, and apologize to him for the disturbance to his day he had experienced. To our surprise, dry as he usually was, he said it had all been rather fun. Good old Humph, bless him.

Fred got Miss Milward, his secretary and very much right-hand woman, to write a stinker to my father for dragging the name of the school through the press in a way likely to put off prospective  parents from choosing the school. My father replied, repudiating the charge with his usual aplomb and good humour. His schooling had been in the world of newspapers and he could respect, without deference, both the Headmaster and the Dean. He recognized that King’s had been transformed under Fred – academically, aesthetically and athletically – and he also had a healthy regard for the Red Dean’s take on Christianity, often referring to his work in Manchester and his record of being one of the first to go and take a look at Red Russia and Red China.  [I have a picture of him talking with the Dean on the Green Court the following summer].

Years later, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, I was appointed British Council lecturer in British Studies at ELTE, theUniversityofBudapest. Among other things, I organized a lecture series at the university whereby distinguished Hungarians who fledHungaryin 1956 and became British citizens, told their stories based on the theme of being Inside Two Cultures. By then, having visited Plot 301, the grave of Imre Nagy, I had a far greater appreciation of Hungarian history and understood that, while the 1956 refugees feared the return of a Rakosi-style Communist reign of terror, the Dean was haunted by the even more dreadful oppression of the Fascist thugs in 1944. Each day inBudapestI waited for my bus home across from the building where, in their District XIV HQ, the Arrow Cross mashed in the faces of those who had bravely hidden Jews. The events of 1944 and 1956 are as alive today inHungaryas are those of the 1848 uprisings R.W. “Duffy” Harris made central to his lectures to us on European history.

If you want to find out more about Hewlett Johnson, or any of our collections, have a look at our website. Please contact us with any enquiries which you may have.

Meeting our public

I hope I don’t seem too self-satisfied at reporting on another very successful Special Collections event – lots of people put in lots of really hard work, so I’d like to thank them all by making the success public!

Earlier in the term, we ran our first ‘Meet Special Collections’ event, for members of the History staff. This was the brainchild of Steve Holland, and the whole team worked brilliantly to pull together various items in our collections which we hoped would engage the interest of some of our academic staff. The event went down well (as did the canapes and wine, I think) and we agreed that we should go ahead with a second session aimed at History postgraduates, and those members of staff who weren’t able to come to the first event.

Well, following the exhibition, first Special Collections lecture and a very busy term, we pulled out all of the stops to put on a (quiet and very careful) Meet Special Collections event for History postgraduates in the reading room last Wednesday. A lot of hard work and planning went into this; from discussing areas of interest with Katie Edwards, Liaison Librarian for History, investigating our collections to pull together relevant material and clearing, cleaning and decorating the reading room to give it a really festive feel. Nick Hiley, Head of the British Cartoon Archive, kindly loaned us some flat, table-top cases, to avoid any accidents with wine and rare books/archival material: once we’d found the relevant keys, we were away!

We focused on three main areas: war (since UoK’s History department has undergraduate and postgraduate courses specialising in the history of war), rare books and manuscripts (for historians of Medieval and Early Modern periods) and, of course, a Christmas themed table.

We were aided in our efforts by the re-discovery of part of a collection in the library stores: photographs of soldiers (presumably at the front) from the second world war (more to come on these in the New Year). We also used elements of the Hewlett Johnson and Bernard Weatherill Collections to illustrate twentieth century warfare, with some books and copies of the Illustrated London News for the Crimean War. Our manuscript documents from the 15th-17th centuries took pride of place on the second table, along with some of the beautifully written manuscript books on science (mostly astronomy and physics), from the Maddison Collection, which are written in anglicana and secretary hands. This table also hosted sample of the materials in Jack Johns’ Darwin Collection and our pre-1700 books section. The third table, focusing on all things seasonal, displayed some of the Melville theatre materials – pantomime scripts, flyers, books of words and images. A selection of books about Christmas carols, traditions and some of the seasonal material in our Charles Dickens Collection completed the festive theme.

We were delighted to welcome so many members of the History department to Special Collections, and to be able to introduce ourselves and our materials. It was a great opportunity to discuss materials which would be useful for teaching and in research – some of the materials were being seen for the first time by the department. It was also helpful for us to be talk to the historians to get an idea of the types of materials which might interest them, which should be prioritised and acquired by Special Collections. Steve was also able to give the Special Collections Review document – which he has spent months preparing – its first outing to the School.

Following the event (other than the tidying up), we’ve been encouraged by such enthusiasm and interest from the department. We really hope that researchers will be encouraged to look at the wealth of resources which we have in Special Collections and use them to their best advantage. So that’s something to look forward to – with great anticipation – in the New Year. Many thanks to the History department for coming in such numbers and showing such enthusiasm. If your department would like to arrange to ‘Meet Special Collections’, please do get in touch.

2011 has been a very busy year for us all and overall it’s been amazingly successful. There have been some changes and we know there are lots more changes to come. We hope that these will help us to provide  better and more efficient service to every researcher. I’m sure there will be lots of challenges (brief timescales for a Dickens exhibition in February have already been noted) but if next year is anything like this one, I’m sure we’ll look back on it with satisfaction and some bewilderment as to how we managed to cram quite so much in!

We look forward to seeing you when we reopen on 4th January.

From all of us in Special Collections, we wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous 2012.


Cathedral Open Evening

As some of you may know, on Wednesday 5th October Canterbury Cathedral will hold its annual Open Evening, including displays, a concert and an opportunity to learn about the historic building and its traditions.

One of the most important aspects of the Cathedral’s history can be found in its Library, which will be open to the public for a rare glimpse of the collections and the newly restored Howley Library. The communities of the University of Kent and the Cathedral are closely linked, especially through their emphasis on and exchange of learning. Special Collections and the Cathedral Library maintain a close relationship: I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in the Howley Library and would strongly recommend a visit.

Rebuilt in 1655, the Library has recently been restored to its 19th century decor. Some of the rare, historic and beautiful items which the Cathedral Library holds will be on display, so don’t miss this opportunity to have a look behind the ordinarily closed door of the Howley Library and to explore the trasures of its magnificent collections.

Information about the Open Evening and timings can be found online.


An Utopian Revolution

Following on from the Weatherill post (which I have to say I had a lot of fun researching and writing), I am continuing my crusade to bring lesser-used collections out into the light of day. This time, it’s the turn of the Maddison Collection, which the Templeman has housed for some decades. I’ve got a soft spot for this collection, even though it’s about the history of science; I think this area is one of the most interesting parts of our early-modern past. After all, science or natural theology has only recently become a discipline in its own right. For many centuries, it was closely tied with sometimes drastic changes in society and religion and even in the way people viewed themselves and their cultures.

Portrait of Joseph Priestley from 'The Life of Joseph Priestley'

Engraving of Joseph Priestley

The Maddison Collection contains many books about influential scientists and natural theologians from the 17th to the 19th centuries. One interesting individual, many of whose works are included in this collection, is Joseph Priestley, 1733-1804. Priestley is a difficult man to pigeonhole: historians have long debated how his differing values and views contributed to his scientific, theological and reforming works. Priestley carried out experiments with air and electricity, was one of the first people to discover the existence of oxygen and also discovered that elements other than metal and water could conduct electricity. An effusive biographer described Priestley as a man ‘whose discoveries diffuse brilliancy over his age and nation’ (p. 53, Life of Joseph Preistley, 1804). However, it was not so much his scientific discoveries as his religious and political views which led to Priestley fleeing Britain in 1794 for refuge in America.

Priestley was a Dissenter; he was raised as a Calvinist but became one of the founding members of the Unitarian Church. As one of a large group of individuals whose religious beliefs fell outside the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion which contained the orthodoxy of the Church of England, Priestley was unable to attend university, vote or take part in other areas of public life. His personal beliefs were extreme even for the dissenting Christians; he believed that Christianity should be stripped back to its ‘primitive’ faith: the religion which sprang up amongst the early Church. Speaking after a mob had pulled down his house in Birmingham, Priestley told an assembly of dissenters that one of the virtues of early Christianity was as ‘a sect everywhere spoken against’, just as his own denomination was at that time (p.7, The Use of Christianity, 1794). Priestley was also a Millenarian, believing in the imminent second coming of Christ and the end of the world.

The Use of Christianity

Title page from 'The Use of Christianity...'

Although he became a dissenting minister in 1755, his radical views were perceived by some of his first congregation in Needham to be too extreme. Perhaps he would have lived a quiet life if his religious views had not underpinned his scientific work, which he believed would show the true order of the world ordained by God and expose the injustices  in society. Ironically, his belief in the divinely ordained nature of the world limited his scientific work, especially on the components of air, which Antoine Lavoisier pioneered by attacking phlogiston theory. In some ways Priestley was a true child of the Enlightenment, believing that progress could be achieved through scientific discovery, religious debate and increased freedom.

This was the spirit which initially welcomed the French Revolution, seeing the people of France rising up against their tyrannical monarchs to create a newly egalitarian society. Priestley remained a firm supporter of the French Revolution throughout his life, quoting Edmund Burke in calling it ‘the most astonishing [event] hitherto…in the world’ (p. 1, Letters to the Right honourable Edmund Burke, 1791). However, others who had initially supported the Revolution, including Burke, grew wary of the increasing radicalism which began to feel too close to Britain’s shores for comfort. Priestley was exasperated by Burke’s change of heart, claiming it was strange ‘that an avowed friend of the American revolution should be an enemy of that in France, which arose from the same general principles’ (p. iv, Letters to the Right honourable Edmund Burke). There were still a core group of dissenters who saw the French Revolution as an embodiment of the fair society which Priestley expected divine providence to lead England towards. It was the meeting of a small group of these dissenters in Birmingham on 14th July 1791, to celebrate the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in France, which set of a series of events which drove Priestley from the country.

In John Corry’s biography of Priestley, he described the events of that evening:

While the friends of rational freedom were…celebrating one of the most important events recorded in the history of man; the mob increased in numbers and insolence. (p.26, The Life of Joseph Priestley)

Titlepage from Observations on the Emigration of Dr. Priestley

Title page from 'Observations on the Emigration of Dr. Joseph Priestley'

A pamphlet produced by an American writer, William Cobbett, and reprinted in London described the events rather differently; Priestley had organised a ‘feast’ to commemorate the French Revolution in Birmingham which caused ‘convulsions’ amongst the ‘scandalised’ people of the town for celebrating ‘events which were in reality a subject of the deepest horror’ (p. 4-5, Observations on the Emigration of Dr. Joseph Priestley, 1798) . The fear of revolution spreading and chaos, perhaps even another regicide, sweeping across a country which had suffered its own Civil War a few generations earlier, was a catalyst for a mob to descend on the celebration. The Report on the Trial of the Rioters reported around 300 people  ‘crying church and King in a riotous manner’ descending upon several houses of known dissenters, including Priestley’s, and a meeting house, destroying the furniture and the buildings (p.92, Report on the Trial of the Rioters, 1791). There were suspicions at the time that there had been some complicity on the part of the authorities in organising the attacks, and Priestley, in several angry publications on the events, stated ‘the bigotry of the High Church Party [was] the cause of the riots’ (p.59, An Appeal to the Public, 1792).

At any rate, Priestley complained that both his scientific equipment and his library had been destroyed, and that ‘some of you intended me some personal injury’ (p.42, A Letter to the Reverend Joseph Priestley, 1791). Cobbett suggested that although ‘no personal violence’ was offered by the mob, some kind of pond-ducking of the offending individuals might have caused less destruction than their leaving their homes to be ransacked (p.5, Observations on the Emigration of Dr. Joseph Priestley). Priestley fled to London initially, but after three years there was still public anger at Priestley, in particular for his dissenting and radical views. During this time, Priestley wrote to the people of Birmingham, accusing them ‘of the greatest injustice and cruelty’ (p. xi, An Appeal to the Public). The English, he said, boasted of the rule of law in their country, yet Priestley himself had been punished outside the law, without trial.

Preface to 'An Appeal to the Public'

Preface to 'An Appeal to the Public'

He added ‘my coming to Birmingham was by no means the cause [of the riots] as is now asserted’; ‘the French Revolution was not the true cause of the riots’ because if the motives had been purely political, the mob would not have burnt down the meeting house, thus singling out the Dissenting congregation(p. 50-52, An Appeal to the Public).Thomas Belsham, in an address delivered in Hackney on the occasion of Priestley’s death added, ‘he seldom meddled in politics’, echoing Priestley’s own wounded defence in his Appeal to the Public…, in which he signed himself ‘your injured Countryman’ (p. 46, Zeal and fortitude in the Christian ministry illustrated and exemplified…, 1804; p. xv, An Appeal to the Public).

Priestley’s wounded entreaties to the people of Birmingham did not go undefended: one Birmingham resident published a pamphlet soon after Priestley’s letter in which he claimed Priestley’s accusations ‘call loudly for refutation’ (p.5, A Letter to the Reverend Joseph Priestley). While the ananymous writer agreed that ‘the injuries which you [Priestley] have sustained…are…a subject of deep and sincere regret’, Priestley ought to use ‘more discriminate terms’ in his address than simply the inhabitants of Birmingham (p. 3-6, A Letter to the Reverend Joseph Priestley) . Indeed, the author went on, if the mob’s attack was deliberate, it should be taken as ‘strong proof that your character and conduct among them had been eminently obnoxious’ (p.7, A Letter to the Reverend Joseph Priestley). With slightly more humour, the American pamphleteer claimed that Priestley preached Deism amongst the people of Birmingham, ‘which no-one understood’. Furthermore, ‘those who know anything of the English dissenters know that they always introduce their political claims and projects under the mask of religion’ (p.3, Observations on the Emigration of Dr. Joseph Priestley). The Birmingham author also suspected Priestley of supporting a revolution in England in the same way as the French had carried out their own.

Very familiar letters...

Title page from 'Very familiar letters...'

The more comical, but equally anti-Priestley Very Familiar Letters, addressed to Doctor Priestley was supposedly penned by a townsman of Birmingham, John Nott, who maintained that he was ‘a little before-hand’ and ‘getting up in the world’ (p.2-3, Very Familiar Letters…, 1790). As a literate but working man, Nott represented the people whom Priestley considered as powerless as himself in the government of England. Nott’s ability to read meant that he could study Priestley’s books, and described the author as growing ‘witty in your old age’ (p.3, Very Familiar Letters…). However, the format of the pamphlet as spoof letters allowed the author to complain ‘I don’t take it mighty civil of you not answering my last two letters’ (p. 8, Very Familiar Letters…). While the general tone of this pamphlet is comical, poking fun at the comman man’s perspective, there is a serious note to its ending. Narrating how Priestley has supposedly changed the name of his home from ‘Foul-lake’ to ‘Fair-hill’, Nott comments:

“I’m afeard, as we have catch’d you at putting fair for foul…of putting darkness for light, and bitter for sweet, and evil for good.” (p. 12, Very Familiar Letters…)

Fate of the convicted rioters

The fate of the convicted rioters

These replies to Priestley’s angry addresses demonstrate that while not everyone wanted to see Priestley’s house torn down, there were real fears that the chaos and violence of the French Revolution was being invited into England by dangerous radicals.The sentence on the two men convicted of attacking Priestley’s property was severe: John Green and Bartholomew Fisher were found guilty and sentenced to death. Fisher was later pardoned, but Green was executed (p.98, Report on the Trial of the Rioters).

In 1794, Priestley addressed his congregation in Hackney in a farewell sermon, entitled ‘The Use of Christianity, especially in difficult times’. He was leaving for America, somewhat against his hopes, as he explained ‘unforeseen circumstances occur, and all our plans are deranged’ (p 4-5, The Use of Christianity, especially in difficult times). In spite of this, he urged the Dissenters to continue in their beliefs, explaining that:

The feelings of those who are merely exposed to the malignity of others, without feeling any thing of the kind themselves are serene…attended with a consciousness of superiority of character and of greater advances in intellectual improvement. (p.9, The Use of Christianity, especially in difficult times)

Although he made little reference here to the anger he expressed in 1791, it is clear that Priestley felt himself to have been targeted by the malicious bigotry of others.

Life of Joseph Priestley

'The Life of Joseph Priestley'

In America, Priestley’s attempts to stay out of politics and concentrate on his scientific and theological research were short lived. It was William Cobett’s pamphlet which accused Priestley of treason, claiming that when a man made attempts to convert individuals to his beliefs, his life, both public and private, became a fair topic for open discussion. ‘When the arrival of Dr. Priestley in the United States was first announced,’ Cobett wrote, ‘I looked upon his emigration as no more than the effect of weakness.’ (p. 1, Observations on the Emigration of Dr. Joseph Priestley) After some time, however, it became clear to the author that Priestley wanted to foment further revolution in America, where the civil wars were an even closer memory than they had been in England.

Although family tragedy struck the Priestleys in America, with Priestley’s wife and son dying within two years of their arrival, Priestley gained some success and a degree of peace in his exile. Of course, the revolution in Britain did not happen, although civil violence in France dragged on for another hundred years. Today, Priestley is remembered for his scientific discoveries while both the religion which fuelled his research and the politics which he believed to be the immediate result of his beliefs and his discoveries are largely overlooked. It probably says something about the way we view the world now that we find it difficult to understand how Priestley saw the world through the triple lens of his radical beliefs, of which his science appears to have been the most conservative.  Despite this, it’s Cobett’s pamphlet which seems to hold the most resonance for me, when he says of Priestley, which might be said for many of us:

An Utopia never existed anywhere but in a delirious brain (p. 67, ‘Observations on the Emigration of Dr. Joseph Priestley)

Priestley may never have found his utopia, but perhaps it’s trying to understand and debate people’s varying beliefs in science, politics and religion which get us closest to Priestley’s ideal of utopian society.