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Advent Definitions: Festive wishes from Special Collections

HelenBiggs24 December 2017

Contributed by Sarah Aitchison, Head of Special Collections

 

‘Festival & Festivity’ in R 221 DICTIONARIES ANNANDALE 1893 – UCL0135711: Annandale, A concise dictionary of the English language : etymological and pronouncing, literary, scientific, and technical (London, 1893) (London, 1893)

For the final definition in our seasonal list, it seemed appropriate to talk about festivals and feasts. The definition above has changed very little over the centuries and reflects the joyous, positive and entertaining nature of the word.

It was only a brief step from that warm feeling to a seasonal reflection on the work of Special Collections over the past year. The advent definitions project perfectly sums up the motivations of the Special Collections team – to take wonderful, rare or unique books and archives and shine a light on their importance and relevance to the modern day.

We do this through our collection managers, who have built and grown these wonderful collections; our cataloguers, who create the resources to make these rare items available; our conservation team, who mend and preserve our unique material; our reading room teams, who provide the space and expertise so that researchers can enquire about and consult the items; our digital curation team, who digitise the items for preservation and online access; and our outreach team, who work with academics and the general public to make everything available in a myriad of ways.

From the whole team, we wish you a very merry (and of course festive) Christmas.

 

Advent Definitions: Christmas Box

NazlinBhimani11 December 2017

The definition of ‘Christmas Box’ from the 19th century dictionaries is ‘a box for collecting Christmas presents; a Christmas present’ (1885). Christmas as we celebrate it today has its origins in the Victorian period, thanks to Prince Albert bringing to England the German tradition of a Christmas tree lit with candles. By the end of the 19th century, the Christmas tree was a familiar sight in the homes of many well-to-do families and the joy of opening a Christmas box part of the excitement of the festivities.

One of the children’s books in the Baines Collection held in the UCL Institute of Education’s Special Collection is an annual (the first for children published in England) with the title The Christmas Box. As the title is so relevant to this time of the year I would like to share the delight of this little book as a Christmas treat for everyone. The book, edited by T. Crofton Croker, is small in format as was typical of children’s books at the time so that they could fit in a child’s hands.  It is only 16.2 x 10.2 cm in size and was published between 1828 and 1829.  It has lovely wood cut prints  and includes short stories, verses, plays and articles and even a brief history of the Napoleonic wars.

The stories include ‘Battle of Frogs and Mice’, a short animal epic ascribed to Homer in the ancient world and ‘The Three Caskets’ which was used in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. The book also contains a couple of firsts:   the first appearance of a Norwegian folk tale ‘The History of Asim and Asgard’ and the first publication of Scott’s poem ‘The Bonnets of Bonny Dundee’ (Hahn, 2015, p. 127). In addition, there are writings by the prolific author of adult and children’s stories Maria Edgeworth (1768 – 1849) who also wrote the well-known education treatise Practical Education (1801) (also in the IOE’s Special Collections) in which she and her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth combine ideas of different philosophers including John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

The book concludes with a collection of carols and a message for the reader which seems very appropriate for both the book and this blog post:

And now, little dears, we have only to wish you all good wishes,

and to thank you for your patience in perusing our small present.

May you all spend your Christmas holidays pleasantly, with every enjoyment and entertainment,

and be ready, when we meet again, to glance over our pages with the same good humour and glee as we trust you have done.

And so GOOD BYE.

Have a lovely Christmas and Best wishes for the New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advent Definitions: All that glitters

Vicky APrice7 December 2017

‘Gold’ in R 221 DICTIONARIES WORCESTER 1855 – Worcester, A universal critical and pronouncing dictionary of the English language (London, [1855])

There is much to be celebrated about gold in its many forms. From the most precious jewellery to the cheapest golden glitter pen, for me gold always brings about a giddy fascination.

As the definition suggests, it’s a material and colour that usually denotes value, beauty, godliness or importance.  When I see it in art I often think of the adoring artist, unashamedly displaying admiration and enchantment with someone – think Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I – or a pious artist creating an icon intended to glow with luminosity above an awe-struck congregation.

 

Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

The same is the case when I happen upon gold in UCL’s Special Collections.  We hold many manuscripts and rare books that feature gold leaf – either on the pages’ edges, the binding or within the text and illustrations themselves. Perhaps the most staggering example is a copy of the Persian poet’s Masnavi-I Akbar Sultan (‘Romance of the Sultan Akbar’) from 1749. The cover is gilded and ornately decorated, while the leaves inside radiate a dazzling richness only possible through the use of gold leaf:

 

The beginning of the Masnavi-i Akbar Sultan poem

This tome, along with other manuscripts and manuscript fragments were the inspiration for a community art project in the Summer with with Sidings Community Centre. They host regular adults’ colouring in sessions, during which local residents for whom social isolation is a high risk come together to enjoy some light-hearted art.  I brought them copies of UCL’s most glamorously golden items, and together we had a go at doing some of our own gilding, inspired by the collection.

Some members of the group brought in a chosen fable or poem:

 

A gilded chicken!

Others preferred to stick to colouring in, tackling copies of some ornate lettering:

 

A slightly psychedelic take on an image from Biblia Latina, an illuminated bible from the 13th or 14th century (MS Lat 9)

We even experimented with ‘aging’ the gold leaf:

 

Not a bad first try with using gold leaf!

We look forward to more community and school projects that explore the incredible collection of manuscripts and manuscript fragments at UCL – especially if it means we get to bring the glamour of gilding to more workshops!

Advent Definitions: Don’t be a goose!

HelenBiggs1 December 2017

December begins today, and with it we welcome you to Advent Definitions.

Each day this month, UCL Special Collections will be tweeting a festive word, together with a historical definition from our Rare English Dictionaries Collection.

Linked to the tweets will be regular blogposts highlighting aspects of the department’s work with UCL’s treasure of archives, rare books and records.

To get you into the spirit, we start with a traditional food around Michaelmas time: the poor goose:


‘Goose’, in: R 221 DICTIONARIES SHERIDAN 1800: Sheridan, Sheridan’s pronouncing and spelling dictionary (London, 1800)

But while the goose might have suffered from a reputation for foolishness in 1800 and having its name used as a general term of abuse in 1869, there were other more respectful applications of the word:


‘Goose’, in: R 221 DICTIONARIES WEBSTER 1869: Webster, The people’s dictionary of the English language (London, [1869?])

And this is the kind of comparison for which the Rare English Dictionaries Collection was put together. When I started as Rare-Books Librarian at UCL, I was immediately interested in a small collection of English-language dictionaries gathered by my predecessor. I had worked in the past as a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary, and knew how helpful former dictionaries could be for researchers tackling the challenges of tracing English usage through time.

As my colleagues and I worked through various other collections of books at UCL, I came across more and more English dictionaries, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries. Individually these books were not as significant as treasures we already kept in some of our more famous named collections, such as the Ogden Collection with its strength in language and communication. But gradually it became clear that, put together and used as a single resource, the less prized dictionaries could enable research that simply wouldn’t be possible using single editions of titles we already held, so the Rare English Dictionaries Collection was formed.

Most of the dictionaries in the Rare English Dictionaries Collection were published as ordinary household or student reference books, often intended to help with spelling or pronunciation. The title of Webster’s famous dictionary (which was to run into many editions over generations) indicates this: The people’s dictionary of the English language.

As a consequence, it is rare for copies in multiple editions to have survived, but in our collection, you can trace the appearance or disappearance of individual words across 50 or even 100 years of publication of dictionaries by lexicographers such as Bailey, Ash, Dyche or Entick. Former definitions would often simply be reprinted in later editions until the point was reached when the discrepancy between the old definition and current usage of the time became too stark. Being able to trace this in our collection gives C21st readers invaluable insight into how the language has changed.

Forming a usable collection takes a lot more than picking appealing books and putting them together. Our Conservation team, with the help of our invaluable volunteers from UCL and elsewhere alongside our placement students from Camberwell College of Arts, surveyed and cleaned the books. Our long-serving rare-books cataloguer Bill Lehm catalogued the collection before retiring after many years of wonderful work in UCL Library Services. I worked with academic staff to integrate the collection into UCL students’ curriculum, and we now hold regular classes with the collection for MA students studying English language.

For the Advent Definitions project, I would like to thank two student volunteers – undergraduate Odile Panette and MA student Christopher Fripp – who researched and read selected dictionaries to produce a shortlist of their favourite dictionary entries related to advent, Christmas or the holiday season. Finally Steve Wright, head of our Enquiries Team, photographed the entries you will see in our tweets, and Helen Biggs has managed the process of bringing you your daily word.

We hope you enjoy your daily advent definitions. To find out more about the dictionaries available, browse our catalogue by the shelfmark R 221 DICTIONARIES. And if you need convincing of the extraordinary power of keeping such material together in a classified collection, or just want a good library drama for the holidays (admittedly more 20th-century than, I hope, our 21st-century approach), try Stephen Poliakoff’s 3-part BBC drama, Shooting the past. (Viewers from UCL or other subscribing institutions can view this on Box Of Broadcasts.

For more daily advent-inspired definitions from our Rare English Dictionaries collection, follow @UCLSpecColl on Twitter.

Contributed by Tabitha Tuckett, Rare Books Librarian