Ghost Stories from the Library

On the 30th of October the Library held its annual ghost story readings, an on-line event this year for obvious reasons, although compered from the environs of the Library itself. The following is a true relation of proceedings.

This year, to encourage imaginings amongst the College community, stories from current College members and staff were solicited, and two of these were read during the event.

Our winner of the competition was Ungodly Things by Krystalia Karamichou.

Another story entitled A Runner by a member of staff was also read.

There were also readings of poetry, Abiku by Wole Soyinka, and Windigo by Louise Erdrich.

This was followed by a presentation of some of the Historic Collections relating to demons, possession and witchcraft held in Balliol’s Library and Archives.

The oldest of these was our first printing of the Formicarius by Johannes Nider dating to 1473 (although written some 40 years earlier). This instructional work in the form of a teacher-pupil dialogue, uses an ant colony as a model of a well-structured Christian society. Within it, book 5 (the opening of which is shown here), discusses witches. This is the second book ever printed to discuss witchcraft and the one in which the modern idea of a witch as an uneducated female in thrall to the Devil appeared. In earlier centuries the chief focus of discussions of witchcraft was of an educated male wizard indulging in ornate esoteric ritual. Our copy still has its original 15th-century binding (pictured).

George Giffard’s A Discourse of the Subtill Practises of Deuilles by Witches and Sorcerers of 1587 was written by a Puritan and although considered moderate in its assessment of cases of alleged witchcraft, still accepted its reality. Indeed it was written to argue against the first edition of the following work, published in 1584.

Reginald Scott’s Discovery of Witchcraft was an encyclopedic book on the topic which aimed to disprove the existence of its subject matter. This angered James I, who believed there had been an attempt on his life by witches, and there is an apocryphal tale that he had all copies of the first edition burned. To some degree its very encyclopaedic nature worked against its case and it was often cited by those who believed in witchcraft to demonstrate their case, and indeed, also, by those who used the formulae and spells listed to tell fortunes and concoct potions. It became a source-book for magic (see the above diagram showing the layout for a ritual to trap a spirit in a crystal), and also conjuring, as its final section discusses stage magic. This section was later published  separately with additions as The Art of Jugling or Legerdemain, and then as Hocus Pocus Junior. Illustrated above is a trick called the ‘decollation of John the Baptist’ in which the conjurer appears to have his head cut off and put on a plate. Our copy is the second edition of 1651.

Sebastian Michaelis published his Histoire Admirable de la Possession et Conversion d’une Penitente in 1612, and here we have an English translation of the following year. Michaelis was Dominican Prior and Inquistor at Aix en Provence and had already served as Vice-Inquisitor at Avignon, being involved in witch trials there in the 1580s that led to the burning of 14 women. In 1610 a case of possession at the Ursuline convent at Aix was handed to him. One of the nuns accused her confessor, a priest, Louis Gaufridi, of being a witch. Other nuns began to show symptoms of possession too. One would talk in a deep voice, another scream obscenities. Despite protesting his innocence Gaufridi was tortured, strangled and his body burned. Note the addition on the title page of our copy from a sceptical reader.

In 1659 Meric Casaubon was pressed into translating and publishing a manuscript belonging to his patron Sir John Cotton, when a guest at his house. This was a handwritten account of the adventures across Europe of Elizabeth I’s court astrologer, John Dee, and one Edward Kelly. Together they visited the courts of Europe, and looked into the ball-shaped glass Dee is shown holding above. There they would transact with spirits, and the results of their conversations are recorded almost in the form of a play script, together with a representation of a holy table, also used to communicate with the beyond. The traditional view is that Dee’s reputation was being exploited by the conman Edward Kelly, who is pictured middle left in the selection of esoteric thinkers above, along with Dee who is bottom right.

The final item displayed was this tale of possession and manifestation from a 17th century Dartmoor village. When the spirit of a Gentleman appears to a servant in a field and badmouths his dead wife, be sure no good can come of it. Laces will writhe like snakes, fire-breathing dogs will appear, horses will fly through windows, flitches of bacon will unhook themselves from the chimney, and terror will reign. Again Scot and other sceptics come in for a good deal of abuse as the anonymous author uses the tale to demonstrate the existence of demonic possession. A slightly abridged version (mainly cutting out a page or two of the aforementioned abuse) of the entire pamphlet was read during the event.

From cardiology to imperial mythology: a selection inspired by graduate research

What do cardiology, the Armenian language, early saints’ lives and Matthew Arnold have in common? They are some of the current research topics which Balliol’s graduates challenged library staff to find in the collections in advance of their visit to our Historic Collections Centre last week.

Here are some of the research topics with the material that staff picked to match. It’s an amazing selection.


Research interest:

The Middle East and British imperial rule

Sketch of 'A Persian woman of low rank & her children'

Sketches made in Persia, 1809-1815, by James Justinian Morier, diplomat and novelist. Balliol preserves the letters and papers of five generations of James’ family of traders and diplomats in the Middle East.

[Morier Papers N3.4]

Page from a letter to Louis du Pan Mallet from Blanche Ovey, dated Athens, 19 November 1914.

‘I wish I could tell you half the thrilling things that happened after you left…’

Letter to Louis du Pan Mallet, British Ambassador at Constantinople (1913-1914) from Blanche Ovey, wife of William Ovey, member of Embassy staff in Constantinople, dated Athens, 19 November 1914. It describes the departure of Embassy staff and British subjects from Constantinople after the outbreak of World War I. Ovey makes frequent reference to Henry Morgenthau, the American Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and Talaat Pasha, Ottoman Minister of Finance at the time.

[Mallet Papers IV 11.10]


Research interest:

Cardiology or cardiovascular medicine

Engraved plate (table 1) showing diagrams of the heart

Richard Lower’s Tractatus de Corde, London, 1669, is an extension of William Harvey’s ground breaking work on blood circulation, De Motu Cordis [Balliol’s copy: 820 c 12]. Lower was part of an Oxford based group performing laboratory experiments during the interregnum. His work included the first successful blood transfusion, between two dogs. His book also documents his observation of the differences in colour between arterial and venous blood and his hypothesis that this was due to its interaction with air supplied by the lungs.

[820 b 15]


Research interest:

Saints’ lives 600-1100 

Detail from title page of Arch b 7 4 showing woodcut images of saints

This book of saints’ lives was originally written by 14th-century Venetian, Petrus de Natalibus. This early printed version was made in Paris in 1514, less than 100 years after the birth of European printing. It is highly illustrated with woodcuts some of which have been reused many times for different saints, others, like the martyrdom of Saint Agatha, were less transferable.

Final page and end papers of Arch b 7 4 showing graffiti and recycled printed waste

The final pages reveal contemporary graffiti and a page from an older book recycled by the binder to make the end papers.

[Arch B 7 4]


Research interest:

Matthew Arnold (Balliol 1841) & Arnold Toynbee (Balliol 1875)

Letter from Arnold Toynbee to his nurse from Margate, 31 October 1876

This collection of letters from Arnold Toynbee to his family include quite a few to his childhood nurse Mrs Sheppard. The one on display is from a trip Toynbee made to Margate. It was donated by Arnold’s niece Margaret Toynbee in 1982. Arnold Toynbee was a social reformer and political economist who was committed to improving working class conditions. After gaining his MA he stayed on at Balliol as lecturer in Economic history from 1878-1882. Although only 30 when he died, Toynbee’s liberal reformist ideas inspired many others. Toynbee Hall, the site of the first university settlement which encouraged closer relations between the working classes and those educated at the universities, was named in his honour and still stands at Whitechapel in London.

[Toynbee Papers 1]

Page from an exercise book belonging to the Arnold family

This Brown leather-covered notebook stamped in gilt on front cover, “Rugby School. Fifth Form. 1837”, begins with a Latin prose essay for which 14-year-old Matthew Arnold won first prize at Rugby school in 1837. A few pages in, however, it erupts into a visual feast of fairy tales and domestic scenes of games and dancing. The drawings were contributed mostly by Matthew’s sister Frances and his daughter Eleanor from 1846-1879. On display is a riddle accompanied by a helpful visual aid, and a joke: Why is an ironmonger the most likely person to make the alphabet quarrel? Because he can make A pokeR & shoveL.

Balliol’s Historic Collection Centre houses the personal papers of many of the Arnold Family including Matthew’s brother Tom and his niece the celebrated author and social reformer Mary Augusts Ward.

[Arnold Family Papers. Wode 1.I.3]


Research interest:

Medical imaging, ultrasound, inspection of the human body

Engraving showing a tumour in the stomach

A Series of Engravings, Accompanied with Explanations, which are Intended to Illustrate the Morbid Anatomy, London, 1812 is considered the first systematic study of pathology. It is illustrated with detailed engravings of problems inside the body. An inscription in the front of the book explains that the author, Matthew Ballie (Balliol 1779) gave ‘the whole of his most valuable collection of Anatomical Preparations to the College, and £600 for the preservation of the same; and this too, (after the example of the illustrious Harvey) in his life time’.  The Anatomical Preparations were passed on to another institution but Ballie’s portrait still hangs in Balliol’s Library Reading Room.

[615 e 11]


Research interest:

Biochemistry and/or cancer

Engraving of an operation to remove cancer

A Compleat Treatise of Preternatural Tumours by John Browne, London, 1678, depicts early modern operations to remove cancers. The author was surgeon-in-ordinary to Charles II and a surgeon at St Thomas’s Hospital in London.

[300 i 11 (1)]


Research interest:

Imperial and colonial narrative building (histories, philosophies, mythologies)

Title page and engraved portrait of Tipu Sultan

A View of the Origin and Conduct of the War with Tippoo Sultaun by Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Beatson, late Aide-de-Camp to the Marquis Wellesley, London, 1800. Tipu Sultan, known as the Tiger of Mysore, clashed with the British East India Company. A series of wars ended in his death whilst defending his fort of Seringapatam in May 1799. This contemporary narrative, written by a soldier on the winning side, looks like it has been rushed through the printing press with the text askew in places.

[2050 c 1]


Research interest:

Armenian language manuscripts or early printed books

A handwritten Armenian compilation of prayers and teachings, the Treasury of Truth. The binding, complete with metal clasps to hold they book shut, looks early modern but this manuscript is nineteenth-century.

[MS 375]


An early printed Psalms of David in Armenian that belonged to a 17th-century Fellow of Balliol, Nicholas Crouch. We catalogued the rest of Crouch’s library during a Wellcome Trust funded project in 2016-17 but staff did not have the language specialism to catalogue this. We still don’t know exactly when or where it was printed.

[Arch c 10 10]


Research interest:

Woman Philosophers (Mary Astell & Catharine Macaulay) in 17th and 18th century Britain and the relationship between moral and political philosophy

Title page for An Impartial Enquiry into the Causes of Rebellion and Civil War in the Kingdom, London, 1704

An Impartial Enquiry into the Causes of Rebellion and Civil War in this Kingdom: In an Examination of Dr. Kennett’s Eermon, Jan. 31. 1703/4. And Vindication of the Royal Martyr by Mary Astell, London, 1704, deplores the execution of Charles I. As a Tory, Astell believed in the necessity of a citizen’s absolute obedience to a monarch.

[905 i 10 (9)]

Title page of Observations on the Reflections of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke on the Revolution in France, London, 1790

Observations on the Reflections of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke, on the Revolution in France: in a letter to the Right Hon. the Earl of Stanhope by Catharine Macaulay, London, 1790 is an impassioned republican response to Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. This publication gave rise to a correspondence and mutual admiration with Mary Wollstonecraft and in Balliol’s volume, Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Men is bound next to Macaulay’s work.

[60 h 19 (01)]


Research interest:

Infections, microbiology, penicillin

Illustration from Anatomia seu Interiora Rerum

Anatomia seu Interiora Rerum : cum animatarum tum inanimatarum, ope & beneficio exquisitissimorum microscopiorum detecta… by Antonio à Leeuwenhoek, Paris, 1687. The largely self-taught author was a pioneer of microbiology. He used single-lensed microscopes of his own design to experiment with microbes, which he originally referred to as ‘animacules’ or tiny animals. He was also the first to document microscopic observations of muscles fibres, bacteria, spermatozoa, red blood cells and blood flow in capillaries.

[825 d 10]


Research interest:

Electrical power grids (specifically power electronic converters, power management, DC microgrids, solar power)

Folding plate with diagram to help sailors determine latitude

De Magnete by William Gilbert, London, 1600, coined the word electricitas (derived from the Greek word for amber) and expanded the range of electric and electrostatic experiments.

[470 d 14]

Balliol Writers of the First World War

To mark the centenary of the end of the First World War on 11 November 2018, Balliol Library created a display, drawn from across our Historic Collections, to commemorate the lives of Balliol members who took part in the Great War.

Over the course of four years, 900 members of College saw active service, 200 of whom were killed and a further 200 wounded.[1]

The novelist John Buchan, in his memoir Memory Hold-the-Door[2] characterised the Balliol generation which ‘flourished on the eve of the War’ as ‘a brilliant group’. We count among them poets, scholars, artists, musicians, journalists and statesmen. Their works, in such forms as poetry, drawings, reportage and letters, represent an important part of the Library’s collections and the College’s history.

The College War Memorial Book. Oxford, 1924 (Balliol Shelfmark: 88 d 13/10 and 88 d 13/11)

In addition to the War Memorial in the Chapel Passage, a two-volume book was produced by the College in 1924 to commemorate the Balliol members who died in the War. It contains an account and photograph of each, together with selections of their verse, musical notation and sketches. Among them are the poetry and sketches of Gerald Caldwell Siordet (1885–1917) who studied at Balliol from 1904–1909 and was killed near Kut, 9 February 1917. Balliol Library holds in its collection two editions of his work, which include the poems ‘Autumn 1914’ (first published in The Times, 13 November 1914) and ‘To the Dead’ (first published in The Times, 30 November 1915). The College War Memorial Book has been digitised and is available to view in full on our Flickr site.


The Minute Book of the Hanover Club. May 1911 — April 1913 (Institutional archives: Societies. 1.)

The Hanover Club was a University society in which many Balliol members were prominent, which aimed to ‘promote the course of good-feeling between Germany & England, by giving Englishmen and Germans in the university opportunities of meeting and discussing topics of interest & importance to both nations’ [p.1]. On the page shown we see a prophetic motion tabled for debate on 27 February 1912: ‘That under the present situation of European politics a rapprochement between England and Germany is an unrealistic ideal’. The motion was carried by 7 to 6.


Julian Grenfell: His Life and the Times of his Death by Nicholas Mosley. London, 1976 (Balliol Shelfmark: 81 e 25/2)

Pages from a Family Journal, 1888-1915 edited by Ethel Desborough. Eton, 1916 (Balliol Shelfmark: 81 e 25/1)

Into Battle by Julian Grenfell

The naked earth is warm with Spring,
And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun’s gaze glorying,
And quivers in the sunny breeze;

And life is Colour and Warmth and Light,
And a striving evermore for these;
And he is dead who will not fight,
And who dies fighting has increase.

The fighting man shall from the sun
Take warmth, and life from glowing earth;
Speed with the light-foot winds to run,
And with the trees to newer birth;
And find, when fighting shall be done,
Great rest, and fulness after dearth.

All the bright company of Heaven
Hold him in their bright comradeship,
The Dog-Star, and the Sisters Seven,
Orion’s belt and sworded hip.

The woodland trees that stand together,
They stand to him each one a friend;
They gently speak in the windy weather;
They guide to valley and ridge’s end.

The kestrel hovering by day,
And the little owls that call by night,
Bid him be swift and keen as they,
As keen of ear, as swift of sight.

The blackbird sings to him “Brother, brother,
If this be the last song you shall sing.
Sing well, for you may not sing another;
Brother, sing.”

In dreary doubtful waiting hours,
Before the brazen frenzy starts,
The horses show him nobler powers;
O patient eyes, courageous hearts!

And when the burning moment breaks,
And all things else are out of mind,
And only Joy-of-Battle takes
Him by the throat and makes him blind,

Through joy and blindness he shall know,
Not caring much to know, that still
Nor lead nor steel shall reach him, so
That it be not the Destined Will.

The thundering line of battle stands,
And in the air Death moans and sings;
But Day shall clasp him with strong hands,
And Night shall fold him in soft wings.

Julian Grenfell’s (1888–1915, Balliol from 1906–1910) poem Into Battle features in a great many collections of WWI poetry. It was composed in April 1915 and published in The Times, 28 May 1915 (the same day his death-notice appeared in the paper). Indeed, many of the poems written by Balliol authors were first published in newspapers and biographies, written as they were by young men at the beginning of their careers. The original printing of the poem in The Times is available for Oxford University members to view via the University’s subscription to the Times Digital Archive. Also exhibited were: Julian Grenfell: His Life and the Times of his Death by Nicholas Mosley, and Pages from a Family Journal, 1888-1915 edited by Ethel Desborough, both from the Balliol Biographies Collection, which paint a picture of his time in College and at War.

Patrick Shaw-Stewart by Ronald Knox. London, 1920 (Balliol Shelfmark: 81 f 1a)

Achilles in the Trenches by Patrick Shaw-Stewart

I saw a man this morning
Who did not wish to die:
I ask, and cannot answer,
If otherwise wish I.

Fair broke the day this morning
Against the Dardanelles;
The breeze blew soft, the morn’s cheeks
Were cold as cold sea-shells.

But other shells are waiting
Across the Aegean sea,
Shrapnel and high explosive,
Shells and hells for me.

O hell of ships and cities,
Hell of men like me,
Fatal second Helen,
Why must I follow thee?

Achilles came to Troyland
And I to Chersonese:
He turned from wrath to battle,
And I from three days’ peace.

Was it so hard, Achilles,
So very hard to die?
Thou knowest and I know not—
So much the happier I.

I will go back this morning
From Imbros over the sea;
Stand in the trench, Achilles,
Flame-capped, and shout for me.

Patrick Shaw-Stewart (1888 –1917) studied at Balliol from 1907–1910.The first stanza of his poem Achilles in the Trenches (I saw a man this morning) has become a particularly resonant example of First World War writing and the poem has placed him in the canon of First World War poets, together with his friend and fellow Balliol alumnus, Julian Grenfell. It was composed on a blank page in his copy of A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad (July 1915) and published for the first time in Patrick Shaw-Stewart (1920) by Ronald Knox, who was another of his Balliol contemporaries. The book, the first edition of which is in the Library’s collection, is chiefly a compilation of letters by Shaw-Stewart to his family and friends, detailing his observations of war, as well as his life and friends at Balliol.

The Diary of a Dead Officer: Being the Posthumous Papers of Arthur Graeme West. London, 1919 (Balliol Shelfmark: 81 f 6/3)

The Diary of a Dead Officer: Linocuts, Text Selection and Afterword by John Abell. Llandogo, 2014 (Balliol Shelfmark: 81 f 6/3a)

Arthur Graeme West (1891–1917) studied at Balliol from 1910–1914. He is particularly known for the posthumously published book, The Diary of a Dead Officer (1919), which consists of an introduction by the editor, Cyril Joad, extracts from West’s 1915–17 diary, and a handful of essays and poems. Poems like God, how I hate you, whose ‘prevailing mood is bitter, satirical’[3] provide a sharp contrast to works like Grenfell’s Into Battle seen earlier: ‘a paean celebrating the sensations and joys of the soldier about to enter combat’.[4] West’s pacifism has been further interpreted by the artist John Abell in a modern special edition with linocuts, numbered and signed by the artist. A copy was recently purchased by the Library as part of our continuing commitment to collect and make accessible the intellectual heritage of the College.


Linocut images by John Abell from Arthur Graeme West’s The Diary of a Dead Officer published by The Old Stile Press Reproduced with their kind permission.

A Scholar’s Letters from the Front by Stephen Henry Hewett. London, 1918 (Balliol Shelfmark: 81 f 8)

The title of this work serves as a reminder of how recently some of these writers had left their academic lives at Balliol. Stephen Henry Philip Hewett (1893–1916) studied at Balliol from 1911–1914 and was then commissioned part-way into his fourth year. Balliol remains a strong presence in his letters, particularly in those addressed to the Tutors and friends he made here, such as the legendary Dean F. F. ‘Sligger’ Urquhart, who also wrote the foreword to the book, in which he remembers Hewett as a talented man of independent thought and creativity. He was reported missing and killed near High Wood, July 22, 1916.

Charles Lister: Letters and Recollections with a Memoir by his Father, Lord Ribblesdale. London, 1917 (Balliol Shelfmark: 81 e 27)

Charles Lister (1887-1915) studied at Balliol from 1906-1909 and was part of the circle including Shaw-Stewart and Grenfell. At Balliol he was known for ‘his generous enthusiasms, his reckless fun, his nervous breeziness of manner, his embarrassing conviction that every second person he met was a “good chap”, his bewildering organisations, his despairing jeremiads, his inexhaustible vitality’[5], the product of some of which resulted in him being rusticated.[6] Aside from this though, he was known for his practical Socialism during his time in Oxford: founding the Oxford branch of the Fabian Society and supporting a strike by women at the Clarendon Press. The exhibition included a volume of his letters and remembrances by others, published in 1917, now held in the Balliol Biographies Collection.


Disenchantment by C. E. Montague. London, 1968 (first published 1922) (Balliol Shelfmark: 1 f 31/3)

The Attack and Other Papers by R H Tawney. London, 1953 (Balliol Shelfmark: 81 e 16/3A)

The documents in this display convey a variety of sentiments towards the war, from enthusiasm to stoicism to dissension. Charles Edward Montague (1867–1928), journalist, novelist and essayist, studied at Balliol from 1885–1889. Montague was opposed to the First World War prior to its commencement. Once it started, however, he came to believe that it was right to support the war effort in the hope of a swift resolution. In 1914, Montague was 47, which was well over the age for enlistment. Yet in order to enlist, he dyed his white hair black to fool the Army into accepting him. The essay collection Disenchantment (1922), the 1968 edition of which is displayed here, was one of the first prose works to strongly criticise the manner in which the First World War was fought. A pivotal text in the development of literature concerning the War, it criticises the British press’ coverage of the war, and the conduct of British generals.

R H Tawney (1880-1962), historian and political thinker, who matriculated to Balliol in 1899 and was elected to a Balliol Fellowship in 1918, was another voice to raise objections to the War. In an essay entitled ‘Some Reflections of a Soldier’ first published in 1916 in The Nation and later reprinted in his book The Attack, a copy of which was in the exhibition, he debunked the myth of the glorified soldier which had been popularised in the press.


The Souvenir ‘A’ Coy, No. 6 Officers’ Cadet Battalion, Balliol College, Oxford, 1917-1918 (Balliol Shelfmark: 1 d 11)

Record of ‘A’ Company No. 6 Officers’ Cadet Battalion


Although the numbers of students at Balliol were greatly reduced in the War years, the College was far from empty. Between 1914-1918 around 3,000 members of the armed forces passed through, quartered here or on short training courses

The Balliol Authors Collection holds two numbers of The Souvenir, a journal produced by ‘A’ Company No. 6 Officers’ Cadet Battalion. While none of the officer cadets who resided and trained at Balliol during WWI matriculated into the college, these journals – which contain poetry, visual caricatures and illustrations, anecdotes, articles and group photographs conjure a real sense of College life in the First World War, a unique period during which a small body of Fellows and students would have been rubbing shoulders with the soldiery.

Also displayed was a record of ‘A’ Company No. 6 Officers’ Cadet Battalion, which contains invaluable details concerning the officers’ training regimes, accommodation, mealtimes, chapel services etc. while they resided and trained at the College. You can find more images from ‘The Souvenir’ on our Flickr pages.

No Patched-Up Peace by Herbert Henry Asquith (Privately printed, Ely, 1916) (Balliol Shelfmark: 1 a 5)

The Volunteer and Other Poems by Herbert Dixon Asquith (London, 1917) (Balliol Shelfmark: 1 b 174)

Herbert Henry Asquith (1852–1928), British Prime Minister 1908-1916, studied at Balliol from 1870–1874, and was a Fellow at the College from 1874–1882. In August 1914, Asquith took the United Kingdom into the First World War, but resigned amid political conflict in December 1916, and was succeeded by his War Secretary, David Lloyd George. Various speeches and writings presented to Balliol College Library can be found in the Balliol Authors Collection such as No Patched-Up Peace, a reproduction of a speech given in the House of Commons in October 1916 in which he states a resolve to see through stated policies.

H H Asquith’s son, Herbert Dixon Asquith (1881–1947), a poet and novelist, also studied at Balliol from 1900–1904. Asquith was greatly affected by his service with the Royal Artillery in World War One, as can be inferred from his powerful war poetry and fiction such as The Volunteer, the second edition of which was on display.

Herbert Dixon survived the War, but his older brother, Raymond Asquith, was killed at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.


Wheels, 1919 edited by Edith Sitwell, Osbert Sitwell and Sacheverell Sitwell (Oxford, 1919) (Balliol Shelfmark: 1 b 165/31)

Another important piece of WWI literature with a Balliol connection is the 1919 edition of the modernist poetry anthology, Wheels. It is in this issue that several of Wilfred Owen’s poems were published together for the first time, having been requested by the editors several months before. In the time between request and publication, Owen was killed in action, a week before the Armistice was signed[7]. The issue is dedicated to his memory. Owen himself did not attend a university, but the editor and writer Sacheverell Sitwell (1897-1988) was up at Balliol in Hilary and Trinity terms 1919 and the Library holds a collection of his works, including an exciting recent donation by the family of Sitwell scholar Gordon W. Bennett, to be catalogued by the Library in a project next year.

Strange Meeting by Wilfred Owen

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which Titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall.
With a thousand fears that vision’s face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
“Strange friend,” I said, “here is no cause to mourn.”
“None,” said that other, “save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled,
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery;
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now. . . .”


Items in this display have been drawn primarily from two rich Library collections: The Balliol Biographies Collection (housed at the Historic Collections Centre at St Cross Church) and the Balliol Authors’ Collection (housed in the Library Stack at Broad Street), as well as the College’s institutional archive and main collections.

For more photographs and information on Balliol in the War, see also our Flickr album. Please contact the Library if you would like to consult any of this material further.

Text by Lauren Dolman (Assistant Librarian) and Alexander Blaney (3rd year, English Language and Literature).


Poems by Julian Grenfell, Patrick Shaw-Stewart and Wilfred Owen: Public Domain

[1] John Jones, Balliol College: A History, 2nd ed. revised (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 247.

[2] John Buchan, Memory Hold-the-Door (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1941), 52.

[3] I. M. Parsons (ed.), Men who March Away: Poems of the First World War (London: Chatto & Windus, 1968), 20.

[4] John H. Johnston, English Poetry of the First World War: A Study in the Evolution of Lyric and Narrative Form (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964), 38.

[5] Ronald Knox, Patrick Shaw-Stewart (London: William Collins Sons & Co, 1920), 41.

[6] John Jones, Balliol College: A History, 2nd ed. revised (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 231.

[7] “Poems of Wilfred Owen, published in Wheels,” British Library, accessed November 8, 2018,

Seventeenth-century Food and Thought

Thank you to everyone who came to the Nicholas Crouch Research Day on Friday. For anyone who could not be there, Jason Scott-Warren has written a great summary of the event on the Centre for Material Texts at Cambridge blog. Here are some pictures of the thought and the food. Crouch Research Day - Nikki Tomkins- croppedvenison-pasty

Exhibition and catalogue: Reconstructing Nicholas Crouch

catalogue-cover2 We are pleased to announce an exhibition and catalogue celebrating the project to increase access to Nicholas Crouch’s 17th-century library. The exhibition will be open to the public during Oxford Open Doors. The Library’s Exhibition and Outreach page has details of more opening times.

The exhibition catalogue is available as a PDF or in hard copy (£5, contact the Library to order).

The Elephant in the Room Part 2

This is the second of two posts on the current exhibition about elephants in Balliol College’s Historic Collection Centre, St Cross Church. You can see the first post here. The Elephant in the Room is open to the public on Wednesday 15th August 11.00-4.00pm, all other times by appointment to

Sporting Elephants

Duing the colonial era hunting big game, particularly elephants, became a facet of imperialist identity, reinforcing the ideology of dominance and creating a romantic vision of the ‘civilising’ mission of European peoples abroad.

Colonial Sport: Capt Walter Campbell’s The Old Forest Ranger, or, Wild Sports of India on the Neilgherry Hills. London, 1845 (2055 c 017)

The author informs us in the preface that his objective in writing The Old Forest Ranger is ‘to present my Readers with a faithful sketch of some of the more exciting Field-Sports of India’. What follows are the ‘heroic’ pursuits of a party of fearless hunters who All-focusdispatch any creature that crosses their path. Bears, elephants and tigers are all done away with, sometimes to save the life of a comrade or damsel in distress, but mostly for the sheer sport of it. The Old Forest Ranger is an early example of the adventure tales that gripped the imagination of the Victorians. These stories cultivated a romantic view of imperialism back home, and encouraged support for expansion. The big game hunter of these tales embodied the ideal Victorian empire builder who subdued wild beasts as part of the mission to ‘civilise’ colonial outposts in India and Africa. The ideas of sportsmanship were key to the colonists’ self-image: British sportsmen used ideas of fairness in hunting to distinguish themselves from the indigenous hunters. This allowed the colonists to justify their exploitation of local animals, while the local hunters were often fined and imprisoned.

Lyddeker’s The Great & Small Game of India, Burma & Tibet London, 1900 (2055 c 004)

The exquisite illustrations in this book might seem better suited to a natural history book than one devoted to hunting. 2055 c 4 Big game headsThe Victorians, however, do not seem to have shared our modern sensibilities; indeed the author, Richard Lydekker, was a naturalist and geologist of some renown. The text comprises his detailed zoological descriptions, followed by material of hunting interest by ‘well-known sportsmen’. Lydekker exploits his own extensive knowledge of animal anatomy to offer guidance on how to ‘despatch’ the animals efficiently. India and Africa provided plenty of exotic animals for hunting, a popular pastime amongst colonists. Certain animals were considered ‘pests’ and colonial administrators encouraged hunters to clear game to make areas of wilderness available for cultivation. What had once been common land was privatised, and the peoples who had hunted there were often displaced. By the late 19th century the exploitation of fauna in parts of India had taken such a toll that animal conservation laws were introduced, including the Elephant Preservation Act (1879), which outlawed elephant hunting unless the animals posed a risk to human life or property. The publication of this book 21 years later indicates that legislation did little to quash the popularity of hunting. This edition consisted of 250 copies that were numbered and signed by the publisher, of which this is number 77. The illustrations were based on photographs taken by the Duchess of Bedford, Mary Russell, to whom the book is dedicated. Russell, a celebrated ornithologist and aviator, made record-breaking flights to Karachi and Cape Town in her sixties.

Literary elephants

Our literary elephants are an eclectic bunch: we see them in an erotic dreamscape, satirical children’s verse and as the innocent entertainment in the Garden of Eden.

Elephants in the Dreamscape: Hypnerotomachia Poliphilii. Venice, 1545 (30 e 107)

Possibly the oldest depictions of elephants in the Library’s collections appear in an erotic fantasy. 30 e 107 Secundus elephant carriageHypnerotomachia Poliphilii was originally published in 1499 by the celebrated humanist scholar and printer, Aldo Manuzio, who published fine editions of many classical authors for the first time. The copy here is the second edition produced at his press by his children, 29 years after his death. The Hypnerotomachia was a departure for Manuzio, being both a contemporary romance and involving illustration, and was the only book he produced as a commission. The sponsor was Leonardo Crasso, a nobleman, but who the author and illustrator were remains uncertain. The narrative concerns a rejected lover, Poliphilo, who dreams himself into a strange landscape, full of beasts but also striking architecture, where he pursues his beloved, Polia. Triumphal processions to love wander past before eventually they are brought together by Venus, only for Polia to disappear as Poliphilo wakes. It’s pretty weird stuff written in a rather strange version of Italian full of invented words, and appears to have been as impenetrable to contemporary audiences as it is today, as most copies were unsold a decade later. Elephants appear at a couple of points in the dream. Here elephants draw a carriage bearing Leda and Zeus, as a swan, in one of the processions. Another appears amongst the architectural features of Poliphilio’s dreamscape, skewered by an obelisk. In the text it is described as black flecked with gold and silver, there are stairs into its belly, and, inside, symbolic statues of a man and woman. This is all very mysterious but nevertheless provides one example of the book’s influence, as it seems likely that Bernini used this illustration as inspiration for his elephant sculpture in Rome. The book might not have sold immediately but its reprinting in France, the year after this edition, launched it into the popular imagination and its footprint can be seen throughout Renaissance art and architecture.


Elephants in Paradise: John Milton’s Paradise Lost. London, 1669 (525 a 5)

All Beasts of th’ Earth, since wilde, and of all chase
In Wood or Wilderness, Forrest or Den;
Sporting the Lion rampd, and in his paw
Dandl’d the Kid; Bears, Tygers, Ounces, Pards
Gambold before them, th’ unwieldy Elephant

To make them mirth us’d all his might, and wreathd
His Lithe Proboscis;

(Book 4, lines 341-347)

Luther bible Garden of Eden straight on detail
The Garden of Eden from the Lutheran Bible. You can see an elephant in the centre (though you may need to squint)

An elephant provides a memorable comic turn in the Garden of Eden, doing tricks with his trunk, for Adam and Eve’s entertainment, from the greatest English epic poem. The unselfconscious antics of such an exotic and powerful beast provide a suitable image of innocence for this pastoral section of the poem, in which all the animals live in harmony under the stewardship of Adam and Eve. But the viewpoint is that of Satan, who has sneaked into Paradise disguised as a serpent, and although in the succeeding soliloquy he expresses regret at their impending downfall, it is nevertheless going to be inevitable. In many contexts elephants have been totemic of power and also wisdom. But whilst their size and motion might seem to give them an inherent dignity, their exotic appearance (big noses, big ears), playfulness and sociability have often been subject to a softer or comedic rendering, particularly in later 20th and 21st century culture. From Kipling’s Just So Stories, through numerous Disney films (Fantasia, Dumbo, Jungle Book) to Dr Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who, popular culture aimed at children has often used elephants for comic or sentimental effect. In spite of the entertaining elephant, Paradise Lost was not an immediate best-seller. It was completed in 1663 but Milton’s republican sympathies, often betrayed in the poem, meant that it was difficult to publish immediately after the Restoration of the Monarchy, and it was not until 1667 that the first print run of 1300 copies appeared. It took another two years and six different issues with different title pages (of which this is the sixth) to sell out. The second and third editions were also only moderately successful. It was not until Jacob Tonson secured the rights to the poem after Milton’s death that he set about propelling it to the central position in the English canon it has now by producing several editions enhanced with pictures and scholarly notes, some in luxury editions.

Cautionary Elephants: Hilaire Belloc’s The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts, Together with More Beasts for Worse Children and Cautionary Tales. London, 1923 (1 b 168/2)

12.Belloc croppedGreat children’s books capture the imagination and leave a lasting impression on young minds. This one may have even inspired its owner to become a children’s writer. The description of the elephant you see here, with his incongruous huge trunk and tiny tail, is a perfect example of Hilaire Belloc’s wry wit. Other classics found in this compilation include: ‘The Woolly Mammoth’; ‘The Microbe’; and ‘Matilda Who told Lies and was Burned to Death’. Belloc’s tales were ‘designed for the admonition of children between the ages of eight and fourteen years’, but their sardonic criticisms of Victorian society were clearly intended to appeal to the adult reader also. This edition of Belloc’s verse was published in 1923, and is a compilation of The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts (1896), More Beasts for Worse Children (1897), and Cautionary Tales (1907). The comic verse is complemented by the delightful and amusing pen and ink illustrations of Basil Temple Blackwood (B.T.B.). Belloc and B.T.B. met while students at Balliol where, according to Belloc’s biographer A N Wilson, the men went on long walks and canoe trips together. B T B was killed in action in Ypres in July 1917 at the age of 46. This volume was given to Balliol in the bequest of Sir Robert Charles Kirkwood Ensor, a contemporary of Belloc’s at Balliol. It is dedicated to ‘Margaret Olivia Ensor. Christmas 1923. From father and mother’. Margaret Olivia became an author and wrote 27 books under her married name of Oliva Coolidge, including many for young adults.

Imperial Elephants: Punch magazine 1937-1946

Political cartoons are a powerful tool for shaping public opinion. They grab the audience’s attention and sum up a complex situation in a single, memorable image. The examples you see here capture a period of immense change in the history of the British Empire and India.  Published between 1937 and 1946 in the British satirical weekly Punch, they chronicle the Indian struggle for independence, and provide a scathing view of the British establishment’s handling of decolonisation. Punch attracted a number of high-profile writers and illustrators including E H Shephard, who produced these cartoons. Shephard is best known for illustrating A A Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories and his experience of anthropomorphising animals is used to great effect here. In ‘Mowgli’s Brothers’ we see the Head of the House of Commons at the time, Stafford Cripps, trying to negotiate with India, as represented by an elephant. ‘The Cripps Mission’, as it was called, was an effort by the British to negotiate a deal for total co-operation by the main political party in India, the Indian National Congress (INC), for the duration of the Second World War with the guarantee of progressive devolution of power from Britain to the Indian legislature once the war was over. Refusal to cooperate by the Viceroy to India at the time, the Marquess of Linlithgow, and the collapse of the INC after their failed effort to demand an immediate end to British rule in August 1942 (known as the Quit India Movement), doomed Cripps’ mission. In ‘The New Elephant House’ we see the effect of this failure during the transfer of power in 1946-1947. The harsh suppression of the Quit India Movement and an inability to reach the negotiated settlement that Cripps had advocated laid the foundations for serious unrest. As a result, power-sharing negotiations between the leaders of the secular INC and the separatist Muslim League, represented by the feuding elephants in the cartoon, collapsed. This led to independence from Britain and, just as Cripps had feared, terrible bloodshed as India was partitioned in 1947. The hostility and suspicion that led to the outbreak of violence as the borders of India and Pakistan were established still affects the countries’ relationship to this day.

‘The Non-Co-Operator’ portrays the tensions surrounding the Government of India Act of 1935, which conferred ‘dominion’ status on India and was the intended blueprint for the country’s new constitution. The Act was met with disdain by the Indian National Congress, and the All-Muslim Party, and went through many drafts and rewrites before ratification. The cartoon satirises the British establishment view of Ghandi as an obstacle to an act that may have been imperfect but, in the opinion of the imperialists at least was ‘doing its best’.  For Ghandi and the INC, while ostensibly the act transferred power of governance to the people of India, in reality the provisions for British veto meant that very little would change.

Saving Elephants

By the end of the 1980s the future of elephants in the wild looked bleak: ivory trading  coupled with growing human populations were taking a massive toll. Thankfully creative conservation efforts in the past 30 years have helped to create a brighter future for both elephants and the people around them.

Swarm Enemies: Dr Lucy King’s Elephants and Bees Project

Elephants and Bees_Lucy with ffarmers
Dr Lucy King and some of the farmers from the Sagallan community in Kenya posing in front of a Beehive Fence

Most of us have heard tell that elephants are afraid of mice but fewer might be aware that the world’s largest land animal is ‘frightened’ of honeybees. The mere sound of the buzzing creatures leads elephants to send warning signals to other elephants to stay away from the area. The Elephants and Bees Project led by Dr Lucy King (Balliol, 2005) is an innovative study which uses this understanding of elephant behaviour to help reduce the damage they can cause to human settlements using the animals’ instinctive avoidance of African honeybees. In the 1980s African elephant populations were decimated by poaching: the numbers of elephants in the wild fell by more than half from one million elephants at the beginning of the decade to less than 400,000 ten years later. Concerted conservation efforts were introduced to stem poaching and to help increase populations of these species in the wild. Poaching remains a huge existential threat, but, thanks to the work of conservation, populations of these majestic animals have rebounded in the past twenty years. The human population has also grown in that time; it has quadrupled in certain parts of Kenya resulting in increased numbers of farms, houses and schools, many of which have been built on the elephants’ natural migratory paths. This has caused a lot of friction between people and elephants, with many people resorting to attacking elephants to keep them from destroying their crops.

Lucy and her team began a pilot project with communities in Kenya to set up Beehive Fences connected by wires to deter the elephants from passing through people’s farms and destroying their crops and homes.elephants-and-bees-logo-web1 The Beehive Fences are simple and cheap, made with no cement and using only locally sourced materials. Hives, or dummy hives, are hung every ten metres and linked together in a specific formation so that should an elephant touch one of the hives, or interconnecting wire, the beehives all along the fence line will swing and release the bees. The fences not only prevent crop raids, they also provide honey which the locals harvest and sell to generate extra income for their communities. The bees also increase pollination rates in areas that are experiencing human development and expansion. Thanks to the success of the project in Kenya other countries in eastern and southern Africa have implemented their own schemes, and now Dr Shermin de Silva and the Uda Walawe Elephant Research Project are leading an Elephants and Bees project in Sri Lanka, to see if Indian elephants share their African counterparts’ fear of the local honeybees.

The Elephants and Bees is a project of Save The Elephants, aconservation charity founded in 1993 by zoologist Iain Douglas Hamilton to secure a future for elephants by sustaining their populations, preserving their habitats, and developing a tolerant relationship between elephants and humans.

Reconstructing Nicholas Crouch Research Day

We’re pleased to announce a free event to explore directions for future research on Nicholas Crouch’s seventeenth-century library:

Friday 7 September 2018

Faculty of English Language and Literature, St Cross Building, Manor Road, Oxford, OX1 3UL

Delegates are invited to hear speakers from across academic disciplines discussing research directions for a newly accessible early printed and manuscript collection in Oxford. The Library of Nicholas Crouch (ca. 1618 – ca.1690) at Balliol College was catalogued and conserved thanks to a generous grant from The Wellcome Trust. Read more about the project on the Balliol’s Historic Collections blog.

Free event. Sign-up on Eventbrite

Lunch and refreshments included




Session 1: Networks and Connections

(Chaired by Professor Seamus Perry)

  • Professor Adam Smyth: Crouch’s diary and almanacs
  • Dr Will Poole: Crouch and pamphlet collection
  • Dr Jason Scott-Warren: Pricing and splicing with Crouch
  • Dr John-Paul Ghobrial: Beyond Balliol: Crouch’s links to the wider world
  • Nikki Tomkins: The binders behind the books

Questions and discussion




Session 2: From Natural Philosophy to Poetry

(Chaired by Dr Peter Elmer)

  • Dr Olivia Smith: Science and experimentation in Nicholas Crouch’s collection
  • Professor Elizabeth Hageman: Nicholas Crouch, Francis Finch, John Freeman, and Katherine Philips at Balliol College: 1653-1664.
  • Dr Benjamin Wardhaugh: ‘Six hundred thousand different Latine Verses’: Nicholas Crouch’s mathematics
  • Dr Kathleen Walker-Meikle: Nicholas Crouch: Pharmacological receipts and medical book collecting

Questions and discussion




Reconstructing Nicholas Crouch exhibition opening

A chance to see items from Crouch’s Library at Balliol Historic Collections Centre, St Cross Church


For more information email or phone 01865 277709

The Elephant in the Room

This is the first of two blogposts on the current exhibition in Balliol’s Historic Collection Centre. You can also check out part two. The Elephant in the Room is open to the public on Sunday 15th July and Wednesday 15th August 11.00-4.00pm, all other times by appointment to


The subject of the exhibition is everyone’s favourite pachyderm, the elephant. This majestic animal is featured in its zoological, geographical, literary, epic, comic and sporting forms in printed material from the 16th to the 21st century. Also on display is the work of Balliol alumna Dr Lucy King whose work on the effect of honeybees on elephants has helped to improve human-elephant relations in Africa and Sri Lanka.

Zoological elephants

The first six cases of the exhibition show depictions of elephants in early modern texts that contributed to 16th and 17th century Europeans’ knowledge and beliefs about the animals. There is as much fiction as fact to be found in these books, but they tell us a lot about the dissemination of ideas in early modern Europe and how wonder and myth began to give way to rigorous scientific analysis.

Allegorical Elephants: Edward Topsell’s History of Four-Footed Beasts. London, 1658 (470 d 19)

470 d 19 - Topsell's elephantWith ears like bats’ wings and a trunk like a hose, this depiction of the elephant had been roaming through the printed menageries of Europe for a century by the time it appeared here. The woodcut was first produced for the pioneering zoologist Conrad Gessner for use in his encyclopedia of animal life, the Historia Animalium, 1551-8. Gessner’s work was the first attempt at a comprehensive scientific study of the animal kingdom. In its creation he called on a network of learned  colleagues across Europe to send him zoological information as well as pictures of creatures, which he used, alongside copies of popular animal prints, as models for its plentiful woodcut illustrations. In 2012 two albums of the pictures that were sent to Gessner, and his successor Felix Platter, by artists such as Hans Holbein, were rediscovered in the Amsterdam University Library. In 1607 the English clergyman, Edward Topsell, produced this. Although acknowledging a large debt to Gessner on its title page and lifting both the illustrations and large chunks of translated text straight from his work, Topsell’s book was of a very different sort, following an older tradition, with its roots in the medieval bestiary, of using animal lore as spiritual allegory. So Topsell’s account includes references to the elephant’s antipathy to the dragon who attempts to eat its calf, a story that had an established allegory in the machinations of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Topsell also makes reference to the elephant’s monogamy and chastity, mating only infrequently to produce children, as an obvious model for Christian marriage.

Topsell case
This case includes four little known “facts” about elephants as reported by Topsell: they bury their tusks; African elephants are afraid of Indian elephants; there’s a worm that pulls off elephants’ trunks; and they have their own religion

Continue reading “The Elephant in the Room”