Conserving Crouch: an introduction

A large part of the project is the conservation of the collection, to enable researchers access to the books while preserving the original materials and format of the volumes. The binding structures are an integral part of how the collection has been used historically, giving us an insight into the workings of a seventeenth century academic. A large proportion of the collection’s bindings were commissioned directly by Nicholas Crouch. They collate together the pamphlets and tracts in tightback volumes covered  with thinly pared calf or sheepskin leather, blind tooled fillets and corner fleurons on the cover, and primary endbands in blue and plain colours. Usually although not always the edges are heavily trimmed to make the miscellaneous tracts a uniform size, and Crouch would frequently stain the textblock edges to demarcate the individual pamphlets. Often he would add a handwritten contents page, including notes on the cost of both the binding and its contents.

The structural damage to the volumes is typical of bindings that have to cope with a variety of tightly packed variable material. Splitting spines, broken joints and abraded paper edges are all indicative of the kind of use the volumes received; often illustrating how the collection was a functioning resource rather than a mere depository. The damage is itself a mirror of its use. For a conservator, it is therefore important to bear in mind how to preserve this aspect of the object’s history while simultaneously restoring functionality to the book.

As part of the funding application, a condition survey and work schedule was carried out assessing the scale of damage across the collection and the quantity of work required to treat the books. This survey highlighted priority items and demarcated items for particular levels of treatment. Over the course of the year I will work through the collection, applying a range of treatments from small tear repairs to major board reattachment and rebacking spines.

The project began by lightly surface cleaning every item in the 406 strong collection. This was primarily done using a conservac: equipped with a HEPA filter and a range of specialist nozzles this machine allows you a fine degree of control over dust removal. It ensures that every book in the collection is at least superficially cleaned, a factor that greatly improves handling of the collection. The numerous coloured paper slips that had been inserted by previous researchers were removed: they were cumbersome to handle, would imprint their colour if they got wet and were made of poor quality paper. They were replaced by archival paper flags denoting their shelfmark.  Working through the collection over 5 days gave me a chance to handle every book, assess its criteria for treatment, and carry out some minimal repairs such as stabilising detached endbands and readhering lifting labels.

With every book checked off and cleaned the next stage of the project is underway: bringing batches back to the studio here at the Oxford Conservation Consortium and starting to reattach boards, repair textblocks and fix broken sewing!

By Nikki Tomkins
Project Conservator

The collection in situ prior to treatment (Photograph by Nikki Tomkins)
The collection in situ prior to treatment
Example of typical damage: detached left board (Photograph by Nikki Tomkins)
Example of typical damage: detached left board
Nikki Tomkins (project conservator) surface cleaning along the head edge using a conservac (Photograph by Nikki Tomkins)
Nikki Tomkins (project conservator) surface cleaning along the head edge using a conservac
The in situ conservation work station set up (Photograph by Nikki Tomkins)
The in situ conservation work station set up
Example of the coloured fore edge (Photograph by Nikki Tomkins)
Example of the coloured fore edge

Medical snippets #2: An extraordinary boyling

‘It is to be imagin’d then, that a Fever or Ague is an extraordinary Boyling or Fermentation, excited in the Mass of Blood; that this Fermentation against Nature does alter the Blood, disturbs its motion, and perverts the Oeconomy of the whole Body, that the principle or immediate Cause of that Fermentation, is an evil Leven, which partakes of Acides or Sharpness, which infects and agitates the Humours in divers manners, whence proceeds the difference of Fevers, as well as the Division which may be made of them, into intermittent, continual, accidental or Symptomatick Fevers.

In the intermittent Fevers, the Leven does often arise from a portion of bad Chyle, or from those Aliments which we have taken, of which the first Degree of Corruption, is to contract a fermentative Eagerness, which excites the Fever. Those strange Juices not being capable of joyning with the rest of the Mass of Blood, cause in it a boyling and a disturbance, till they be corrected, or separated from the other Humours.’

François Monginot, A new mystery in physick discovered, by curing of fevers & agues by quinquina or Jesuites powder. Translated from the French, by Dr. Belon, with additions (1681)

Balliol College Library shelfmark: 905 b 5 (4)

Cataloguing Crouch: an introduction

The cataloguing side of the project has now been underway for two months, and over 100 volumes, containing more than 750 items, have been catalogued.

One of the initial surprises with this material is how varied it is in terms of subject matter. Most of the volumes have gold-tooled leather spine labels; these are not contemporary with the bindings but were added at a later point after their arrival in the college library. However, a glance across the spines provides a useful ‘rough guide’ to the collection.

Many of Crouch’s books in the second half of the collection are labelled ‘Medical’, as one might expect from the collection of a physician. In contrast, most of the early volumes are labelled ‘Miscellaneous’. Crouch collected on subjects including (but not limited to!) religion, science, politics, language, travel, poetry, philosophy and mathematics.

 

Tractatus miscellanei: the early part of the collection is varied in subject matter (Photograph by Lucy Kelsall)
Tractatus miscellanei: the early part of the collection is varied in subject matter
Tractatus medici: many of the later books in the collection are related to medicine (Photograph by Lucy Kelsall)
Tractatus medici: many of the later books in the collection are related to medicine

One of the most striking features of Crouch’s library is his meticulous hand-written contents lists. Crouch would frequently inscribe on the endpapers of a volume a list of the titles inside, often including individual prices, the price of binding and the name of the binder. This makes the collection a fascinating source for the history of the book trade.

Occasionally these contents lists will span four or five pages; Crouch would often include details of the title, author and price of each item, and sometimes imprint dates. In none of the works catalogued so far has he noted the date of purchase or binding.

Above left: contents list for an item bound by Doe (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 e 4)

Above right: contents list for an item bound by Ingram (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 e 3)

Crouch would often annotate his texts, usually with factual information: bibliographical references, corrections, hand-written indexes. So far the tone of his marginalia appears to be brisk and pedantic. The MS contents lists are carefully laid out, using a grid of ruled lines to assist. Crouch even drew lines to ensure his marginal notes were level. Sometimes these ruled lines appear without corresponding marginal notes. This seems a curious oversight for one so thorough: did he intend to return and annotate at a later point?

Above left: an example of Crouch’s factual marginalia (Balliol College Library shelfmark 905 i 1 (7))

Above right: ruled lines without marginalia (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 e 4 (3))

Crouch’s keen mathematical eye is evident in his careful calculations and corrections. He will often step in to improve or clarify a computation.

In the example below, a 1678 text with the title Artificial versifying enthusiastically promises that ‘any one of ordinary capacity, that only knows the A.B.C. and can count 9 (though he understands not one word of Latin, or what a verse means) may be plainly taught (and in as little time, as this is reading over) how to make thousands of hexameter and pentameter verses which shall be true Latine, true verse, and good sense’.

A further claim that such a person may make ‘Six hundred thousand different Latine Verses’ is swiftly disproved by Crouch, in a note that will not fit in the margin: ‘That is, there may be made 531,441 verses, which is the Cube=cube of 9, and noe more, I suppose.’

Above: Crouch is affronted by a vague estimate (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 d 2 (3b))

These initial glimpses of Crouch’s character will, we hope, be supplemented by further finds as the cataloguing continues. It will be particularly interesting to see how Crouch’s annotations in these early ‘miscellaneous’ texts compare with his notes in the later medical works. With between two and three thousand individual items yet to be catalogued, much remains to be discovered!

By Lucy Kelsall
Early Printed Books Cataloguer

Medical snippets #1: A flux of bloud

‘I have some acquaintance with a Gentlewoman who could by no means possibly be cured, who was brought so weak with this continual flux of bloud, that she always fainted away when she was but turned in her bed, insomuch that her friends and Physitians despaired of her life, seeing that all those means which have been effectual to others, proved not at all succesful to her: At length she was advised to have a live Toad put up in a Napkin and bound to her back; which was no sooner done but her flux of bloud was staid from thence forward; and to the admiration of all, this Gentlewoman was thereby recovered.’

Richard Bunworth, The doctresse: a plain and easie method, of curing those diseases which are peculiar to women. Whereunto are annexed physicall paradoxes, or a new discovery of the æconomy of nature in mans body (1656)

Balliol College Library shelfmark: 910 a 2 (5)

Reconstructing Nicholas Crouch

A Wellcome Trust-funded project to restore a 17th-century library

December 1634: Nicholas Crouch, a 16-year-old from a small hamlet just north of Luton, Bedfordshire, arrives in the city of Oxford to enrol at the University.

July 1690: He dies at Balliol College, his home for the intervening 56 years. He leaves a collection of books that encompasses the intellectual, spiritual and political life of the turbulent middle years of the 17th century. Balliol College Library’s donor register records 319 volumes which he left to the College on his death; and other volumes in his library, probably given during his lifetime, are identifiable by their similar bindings and his handwriting inside them. His total library consists of an estimated 4,000 separate titles.

July 2016: Supported by a Wellcome Trust grant, the College embarks on an ambitious project to make this collection of books accessible through cataloguing and conservation.

Nicholas Crouch was a true 17th-century character. His books, diary, notes and prescription books, all surviving at Balliol, show that he studied and practised medicine, perhaps as a politically neutral subject after supporting the losing side in the English Civil War. The minutes of the Philosophical Society of Oxford also show him joining in with contemporary scientific experimentation and debate; at the gathering on 19 January 1686 he ‘acquainted ye Society, that in ye Abdomen of Mr Hodges, who lately died of a dropsie, 7 gallons of watery humor were found’ (Gunther, R.T., Early Science in Oxford, (Oxford, 1925), v.4, pp. 171).

Typically for his times, his interest in medicine did not limit his reading to scientific publishing. Alongside medical books in his library there are also plenty of political, literary, and religious texts. Most of the titles in his library are bound together in groups of anything up to about 65 short texts. For example, in one book a catalogue of medical books is sandwiched between two catalogues of theological works, one in English, one in French. Crouch’s collection shows medicine from a 17th-century perspective, at the nexus of science, politics and religion – a vision that is often obscured by today’s more distinct disciplines. It is hoped that once the project is complete, medical humanities researchers will be able to use Crouch’s library to explore the connections between disciplines in the 17th century.

The short publications that make up the bulk of Crouch’s library are of an ephemeral nature and the cataloguing project has already found items that are completely unique to Balliol’s collection, so demonstrating the desirability of having this collection fully catalogued.

Entry in Crouch's hand in Balliol College Lease Book (Photo: Catherine Casson)
Entry in Crouch’s hand in Balliol College Lease Book (photo: Catherine Casson)

Nicholas Crouch played a major part in the life of Balliol College. His handwriting appears frequently in contemporary records in the College Archives and the survival of many of them may be down to his meticulous administration.

His attention to detail extends to his library, where he has left a treasure trove of book history in the form of handwritten contents pages for each volume, detailing what he spent on each title, how much it cost to bind the whole, and sometimes even the name of the binder.

Handwritten contents and costs note in one of Crouch's pamphlet volumes (Photo: Lucy Kelsall)

Project staff – cataloguer Lucy Kelsall and conservator Nikki Tomkins – will spend a year working to achieve a much higher level of accessibility for Crouch’s books. Lucy’s cataloguing will allow researchers to find all the titles in Crouch’s amazing library on the University’s public catalogue (SOLO), including details of the rich copy-specific information such as the handwritten contents pages. Nikki’s conservation will allow us to use the collection without fear of damaging it and make sure it is preserved for posterity. The benefits of the project will extend beyond academia helping Balliol to make the most of the collection’s potential for public exhibitions, school sessions and University teaching, so benefitting a wide range of audiences.

By Naomi Tiley, Librarian at Balliol College

 

Knowing who’s who in Absalom and Achitophel

‘Annabal’ was the Duchess of Monmouth; ‘Zimri’ was the Duke of Buckingham; ‘Saull’ Oliver Cromwell, ‘Corah’ Titus Oates and so on.

In a volume of literary miscellanea bequeathed by Nicholas Crouch to his college library in 1690, there is a 1682 edition of Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel.

Bound with it is a manuscript list identifying prominent contemporary figures which the poem’s characters represented:

‘Annabal’ was the Duchess of Monmouth; ‘Zimri’ was the Duke of Buckingham; ‘Saull’ Oliver Cromwell, ‘Corah’ Titus Oates and so on.

In his Life of Dryden, Samuel Johnson repeats Addison’s claim that Absalom and Achitophel  was popular because readers enjoyed decoding its allegory and identifying its characters.

But Johnson disagrees:

‘There is no need to enquire why those verses were read, which, to all the attractions of wit, elegance and harmony, added the co-operation of all the factious passions, and filled every mind with triumph or resentment.’

Such resentment could be a stimulus to physical violence. In 1679, Dryden was ‘soundly cudgell’d by 3 men’ in Covent Garden. The biographer Anthony Wood, wondered (mistakenly)  whether the assault had been provoked by Absalom. In other poems, Dryden used more obscure allegory to frustrate hostile interpretation or scrutiny. But to contemporaries Absalom’s characters seemed dangerously identifiable.

Nonetheless, the binding of the written list with the play suggests that identification was not straightforward for everyone.

Perhaps Crouch found the key (one of many circulating in print and in manuscript) useful to stir his memory.

The writing is certainly not Crouch’s, so someone else has given him this list.

There is a tantalising entry in Crouch’s diary for 6th April 1665 which reads ‘Dined with me Mr. Dryden & Rothera[m?]’

Entries for April 1665 in Nicholas Crouch's diary (Balliol College MS 355). Photo: Paris O'Donnell

The rest of the entry is difficult to decipher but seems to refer to the proctors of Cambridge University.

The Mr.  Dryden with whom Crouch dined was probably not the poet, although his identity could merit further investigation.

Perhaps Crouch’s crib came from someone in the know.

By J. Hinchliff &  P. O’Donnell.

The following sources were used in the creation of this post:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. ‘John Dryden’.

Samuel Johnson, ‘Dryden’, in Lives of the poets, ed. R. Lonsdale (Oxford: Clarendon, 2006), vol. 2.

Steven N. Zwicker, Politics and language in Dryden’s poetry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984).

Andrew Clark, The life and times of Antony Wood (Oxford: Clarendon, 1898).

Comments welcome: email library@balliol.ox.ac.uk.

Hobbes’ Leviathan: editions in disguise

The head, the bear and ‘the ornaments’

Balliol’s copy of the first edition of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan has recently returned from conservation by the Oxford Conservation Consortium. The front board has been reattached and several leaves cleaned.

In addition to the iconic engraved title page, the first edition was issued with a letterpress title page. Three distinct editions would eventually appear with this imprint between 1651 and 1680.

The first edition of Leviathan had sold for a mere 8s 6d in 1651. By 1668, Pepys records that a secondhand copy ‘was mightily called for’, and was going for 24 shillings.

The second edition, printed by John Redmayne in 1670, copied the imprint of 1651. Noel Malcolm notes that it also contained text reprinted almost page-for-page from the first edition. After the Restoration and the 1662 Printing Act, powers of censorship were returned to the bishops. Charges of atheism against Hobbes led to the banning or suppression of many of his works.

Malcolm suggests that the 1670 edition may have been designed in this way to minimise attention to Leviathan’s republication.

The undertaking attracted attention nonetheless. Printed sheets were seized from Redmayne’s workshop on the orders of the Stationers’ Company in the autumn of 1670. They were taken away for ‘damasking’ (obliterating the text), although many sheets were probably salvaged and eventually issued.

The 'head' word cut ornament from the title page of the 1651 edition of Leviathan (Photo: Paris O'Donnell)

At first glance, the one obvious difference among the three ‘first editions’ is the printer’s ornament on the title page, above the imprint. The copy in Balliol library carries the woodcut ornament known as ‘the head’, while the 1670 edition carries ‘the bear’ and the 1680 edition ‘the ornaments’. This is how we know that ours is from the genuine first edition of 1651.

Balliol College Library shelfmark 30 d 139

Sources

Noel Malcolm, ‘The printing of the “Bear”’. In Aspects of Hobbes. Oxford: Clarendon, 2002
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. ‘Thomas Hobbes’