New exhibition: Slavery in the Age of Revolution

Paper art featured in the exhibition:
Revolution by DobrowolskiDesigns©per stellas Ltd.
Image ©ClickSka Photographer, Laura Hinski.

We are pleased to announce our Michaelmas 2021 exhibition and catalogue, Slavery in the Age of Revolution.

This exhibition examines the Transatlantic Slave Trade at the turbulent end of the 18th century through the lens of Balliol College’s collections. Taking the long view from 15th-century encounters between established African societies and emerging European nation states to the legacies of Transatlantic slavery in our present, it foregrounds narratives of resistance to slavery and the voices of enslaved people, as well as exploring how slavery was viewed by those consuming its products in Europe.

The exhibition will be open to the public during Oxford Open Doors on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 September 2021. The Library’s Exhibition and Outreach page has further details and more opening times.

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

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.

A Balliol find from the library of Christopher Gardyner (c.1596–c.1662)

610 b 04 - title page-detail

Sue Hemmens, Deputy Keeper at Marsh’s Library, writes about her research discovery at Balliol:

In my home institution, Marsh’s Library, Dublin, there is an edition of Euclid in Arabic, printed at the Medici Press in Rome in 1594, which came to the library in the collection of the founder of the library, Narcissus Marsh (1638-1713). On the title-page is a signature, ‘Chr. Gardyner’, and a Greek motto.  The book was to be displayed for the Seeing Euclid networked exhibition in Summer 2018, so I decided to see whether this former owner could be identified. One of the search results was an article by Vera Keller on the alchemy of the Royalist Sir John Heydon (1588–1653) [Vera Keller (2012) The Authority of Practice in the Alchemy of Sir John Heydon (1588–1653), Ambix, 59:3, 197-217, DOI: 10.1179/174582312X13457672281740] where an alchemical letter from Christopher Gardyner to Heydon was transcribed from a manuscript now in the State Papers and digitised in the State Papers online.

Vera Keller had identified the writer of the letter as Sir Christopher Gardyner, Heydon’s brother-in-law, who turned out to have been a colourful character, to say the least. Imagine my delight on finding that the signature on the letter matched the signature on the Euclid, and on three other books in Marsh’s (there is one more, which bears a slightly variant signature).

Even on the evidence of the books in Marsh’s, Gardyner was well-educated, and able to read Latin, Greek, and Arabic. I have now set out to trace his library, which has been widely dispersed. In Prague, there is a 1619 copy of Robert Abbot’s De Suprema Potestate Regia; a 1592 Kāfiya by li-Ĭbn al-Ḥāǧib is held by the UniversitätsBibliothek in Basel; and a Copernicus De Revolutionibus is to be found in Chatsworth. In Oxford, books with Gardyner’s signature are in University College (a 1560 Morel Leitourgiai Tōn Hagion Paterōn), in Christ Church (a 1620 London Euclid, with parallel Greek-Latin text), and in Corpus Christi (a 1549 Greek Etymologikon which once belonged to John Dee: the alchemical associations alone make this book of interest). Many thanks are due to Elizabeth Adams at University College, Julie Blyth at Corpus Christi, and Cristina Neagu and her colleagues at Christ Church for their help with the other Gardyner association copies in Oxford.

While in Oxford on a two-month David Walker Memorial fellowship in the Weston Library, I attended the stimulating Nicholas Crouch research day organised by Balliol’s Librarian Naomi Tiley, where I was delighted to meet again her colleague Amy Boylan, who had volunteered with us at Marsh’s before starting her library career. I told them the story of this rather naughty knight, with his irregular lifestyle and unusual reading, and emailed a note of thanks including a link to a blog post on Marsh’s website which included an image of Gardyner’s signature and motto, on the off-chance that he might turn up among the books at Balliol. I got an email almost by return showing the signature, this time on a beautiful 1525 printing from the Aldine press of a collection of Greek texts attributed to the 15th-century philosopher George Gemistos Plethon (Balliol classmark 610 b 4) . What is even better about this book is that we know its history shortly after it left Gardyner’s hands as Thomas Wendy (1614-1673) included it in his bequest to Balliol. Is it possible that they knew each other in Royalist circles?

I look forward to being able to find more information about Gardyner’s library and reading, and perhaps about his alchemy, of which his correspondence with Heydon gives such a tantalising glimpse.

20180474590_2dd8d803e1_o
Thomas Wendy’s bequest in the Library’s donation book

610 b 04 - title page
Christopher Gardyner’s inscription on the title page of a collection of Greek texts attributed to  George Gemistos Plethon (Balliol classmark 610 b 4)

OU_BLLI_39
Portrait of Thomas Wendy which hangs in Balliol’s Library

Medical snippets #9: The fourth cause of the pestilence

‘The fourth Chapter sheweth the fourth cause of the Pestilence.

The fourth cause is the aptnesse of mans body, thorough euill humors to receiue the effect of a venemous aire, putrifieng and corrupting the bodie: whereof the disease is ingendred. The bodie is made apt to be infected by the abuse of things not natural (as Phisitions terme them,) that is to say: by taking of meate and drink out of measure, specially by feeding of many dishes at one meale, or by too much lacke of good nourishing meat, by too much sleepe, or watching, by too much labor or ease: finally, by too much anger, greefe of minde, and feare of the disease. As all these things are dangerous: so the last is sufficient of it selfe to infect the bodie, & consequently to bring death: as I have heard it declared by diuers examples.’

Thomas Brasbridge, The poore mans iewell: (So called bicause of the great commoditie that may come vnto the poore, by the vse, and practise of the documents, and instructions therin contained: and bicause both the booke, and the contents therof are cheape, and easie to be gotten, and practised of the poorest.) Now the second time set foorth, somwhat augmented by the author. It containeth a treatise of the pestilence, togither with a declaration of the vertues of the hearbs carduus benedictus, and angelica: (which are very medicinable, both against the plague, and also against many other diseases:) gathered out of the bookes of diuers learned physitions (1592)

Balliol College Library shelfmark: 910 a 13 (1)

How Bede’s Works came to Balliol: a sidelight on the Reformation

Tracing the trajectory of an early edition of Bede’s Works from Hailes Abbey, dissolved under Henry VIII, to Balliol Library

Manuscript additions on the title page of this book provide a little snapshot of English Reformation history. It is an edition of Bede’s Latin Works ([Paris]: Josse Badius, 1521). Abbot Stephen Whalley (or Sagar) of Hailes Abbey had acquired this volume of Bede’s works in 1538 and written his name at the head of the title page, as this detail shows:

‘Ex exempc[i]o[n]e dompini Stephani Whalley abb[at]is de heyles pro domo cap[itu]lari 1538.’
[Purchased by master Stephen Whalley, abbot of Heyles, for the chapterhouse 1538.]

The abbot's ownership inscription replaced by Grisset's donation note
The abbot’s ownership inscription replaced by Griffith’s donation note  (Photo: Paris O’Donnell)

By the year of acquisition, 1538, the dissolution of English monasteries by Henry VIII was under way.

Hailes Abbey was home to a popular relic, a phial of blood thought to have been collected from the dying Christ. This attracted huge numbers of pilgrims, to the consternation of the reforming Bishop of Worcester, Hugh Latimer. The relic was investigated and declared a fake in 1538. By the following year, Stephen, the last abbot of Hailes, had surrendered the abbey to Henry’s men.

Stephen’s title-page inscription was then supplanted by the donation note of John Griffith, probably an alumnus of Balliol, who donated the book to the College.

The note reads: ‘Liber collegii ballioli ex dono d[o]m[ini] Joh[ann]is Gryffyt’. Griffith’s inscription (‘Ioh[ann]es Gryffytt’) is repeated at the foot of the title page.

John Grissett’s ownership inscription
John Grissett’s ownership inscription (Photo: Paris O’Donnell)

Griffith’s donation is noted in Balliol’s benefactions book (below), and seems to have taken place between 1540 and 1543.

Detail from benefactions book  (Photo: Paris O'Donnell)

Balliol College Library shelfmark 30 f 115