About Connie Bettison

St. John's College Graduate Trainee, 2016-2017

Scandinavia in the Special Collections

This month, we gather together a number of different items which share a northern theme: twentieth-century cartoons, seventeenth-century astronomy, nineteenth-century literature, sixteenth-century history, eighteenth-century exploration, and a seventeenth-century Bible.

Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus [Description of the Northern people], Olaus Magnus (1550) ∑.2.14

Olaus Magnus (1490-1557) was a Swedish writer and Archbishop of Uppsala, and this book was his magnus opus. With over 800 pages of Latin text – and littered with pleasing woodcut prints – Magnus systematically makes an effort to describe the people and the land in full. He writes on religion, law, government, lifestyle, food, wildlife, mythology and more.

The woodcut prints cover a similar range of subjects. The examples shown below include a rendering of a runic alphabet, depictions of a giant, a bear dancing with a woman, a battle between an army of cranes and an army of dwarfs, a King, and Norwegian seamonsters.

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“excuse the scrawl”: literary letters from St. John’s special collections

Alongside collections of manuscripts and early printed books, St. John’s College’s Special Collections include personal papers of a number of well-known literary figures: Robert Graves, A.E. Housman, Jane Austen, Philip Larkin, Spike Milligan and Professor J.B. Leishman. Included in these papers is a great deal of correspondence, occasionally between other literary figures, or concerning literary topics.

The library’s current exhibition (Trinity Term – Summer Vacation 2017) displays the letters of twenty-two of these correspondents. All members of St. John’s College are welcome to attend the exhibition and to bring their guests. Non-members should contact the Librarian (library@sjc.ox.ac.uk) to arrange a viewing appointment.

Literary Societies

1) W.B. Yeats to Charlotte Shaw, 22nd September 1932

W.B. Yeats writes to Charlotte Shaw in 1932

While certain literary groupings such as the “war poets” and the Movement of the 1950s were never formally endorsed by its supposed members, the Irish Academy of Letters, discussed in this letter from W.B. Yeats to Charlotte Shaw, was different altogether. The Academy sought to organise Irish writers chiefly in order to counter censorship. By September 1932, when this letter was sent, James Joyce had refused an invitation to join the Academy, while authors such as Padraic Colum and James Stephens, the novelist Edith Somerville, the short story writer Frank O’Connor, and the dramatist Lennox Robinson, had all become members.

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Album of Prints, William Hogarth (1756)

One of St John’s treasures from the eighteenth-century is an album of 77 of William Hogarth’s prints, a seemingly unique contemporary collation including a broad range of his works. 

William Hogarth (1697-1764)

William Hogarth in his ‘Self-portrait with pug’ (1745) as printed on the first page of SJC’s ‘Album of prints’

A painter and printmaker who used his art to make satirical commentary on eighteenth-century social issues, Hogarth was an innovator in the field. His ubiquity gave rise to the term Hogarthian as a particularly high accolade of comparison in relation to satirical illustration and sequential art.

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Robert Hooke, Micrographia (1667), and Lectures and Collections (1678)

The works of Robert Hooke are well preserved at St John’s College Library with the library holding copies of 17th-century publications of Hooke’s work on microscopy, observations of comets, and the proposition of his eponymous law of elasticity.

Robert Hooke (1635-1703) was renowned in his day for being an early member of the Royal Society – for which he was, at various points of time, curator of experiments, member of the council, and secretary – and for being a leading figure in 17th-century science, working closely with the likes of Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle, and Isaac Newton. Over time his reputation slipped somewhat, and there was a tendency to consider him, in the words of biographer Lisa Jardine, “the man who almost made great discoveries, now tied to the names and enduring fame of others”. More recently his character and the range of his contributions have attracted some interest.

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Mamusse wunneetupanatamwe up-biblum God (the Massachusett Bible), 1661-1663

St John’s College library has a copy of the first Bible published in America. It is written in the Massachusett dialect of Algonquian, a Native American language which missionary John Eliot learnt in part of his attempt to convert the Massachusett people to Christianity and literacy.

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The title page of St John’s library’s copy of the Massachusett Bible, with ownership marks visible at the top of the page showing the book as a gift from a student of St John’s College in 1666.

In 1663, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Samuel Green published John Eliot’s Massachusetts Bible, the first Bible ever published in America. Although there had been printing press established much earlier in Mexico City (1539) and Lima (1584), where over 1,000 documents (several in native languages) had been printed before Samuel Green’s press arrived on the scene, they printed no full Bible. John Eliot’s Bible is written entirely in Massachusett, in a manner devised by Eliot using the Latin alphabet. Massachusett is a dialect within the larger sub-family of Algonquian languages– most of which have been extinct now for over 50 years. The Massachusett Bible is a translation of the Geneva Bible and was produced primarily as an evangelistic device by Eliot to convert the Massachusett people to Christianity.

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Abraham Ortelius, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

In St John’s College Library’s Special Collections there are four copies of Ortelius’s world atlases. These were the first attempts at mapping the known world in its entirety which demonstrate a balance between striving for accurate cartography and presenting the wondrous elements of the distant world.

Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598)

From Antwerp, Brussels, Ortelius was part of the world-renowned Dutch-Flemish school of cartographers. Over his lifetime he worked as an engraver, geographer, cartographer and book trader but he is most well known as the creator of the first world atlas – the first edition of which was published in 1570. Interestingly, Ortelius may also be the first person in history to have formally presented the basic theory of continental drift in his discussion of the ‘matching’ coastlines of Africa, Europe, and South America. It is fitting that his interests covered not only the revolutions in the scientific geography of which he was a primary innovator but also historical geography: his early works include detailed maps of ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire.

256px-abraham_ortelius_color

 Abraham Ortelius, 1579, Wikimedia Commons

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Ælfric and Ælfric Bata, Grammatical Texts, Manuscript 154

Ælfric and St John’s College

At St John’s College special collections and manuscripts are the treasures of the Library. These are often invaluable for research purposes and, in some cases, are unique volumes.  Such irreplaceable objects require equally distinctive care and treatment, and St John’s is a member of the Oxford Conservation Consortium which provides excellent conservation possibilities for its texts.

Recently this has been significant for one of the college’s greater treasures: manuscript 154, a broadly contemporary copy of grammatical works by Ælfric of Eynsham (ca. 955-ca. 1010) and his namesake, Ælfric Bata, who would also appear to have been his pupil. Written in England during the very early 11th century, this is the only book amongst the Library’s collections which is fully Anglo-Saxon, and has received praise from Professor Ralph Hanna, Oxford’s Emeritus Professor of Paleography, for representing ‘a virtually unique insight into late Anglo-Saxon schooling’. Continue reading