Irish Eccentric to Global Icon: Making Oscar Wilde

MM Wilde

Irish Eccentric to Global Icon: Making Oscar Wilde| Neill Lecture Theatre, Trinity Long Room Hub, Fellows Square, Trinity College Dublin| Wed, October 17, 2018, 6pm – 7:30pm

The Library of Trinity College Dublin will mark the launch of a digital version of its Oscar Wilde collection with a public lecture by Michèle Mendelssohn, Associate Professor of English at the University of Oxford and author of the hugely successful biography Making Oscar Wilde on Wednesday October 17th, 2018.

Entitled Irish Eccentric to Global Icon: Making Oscar Wilde, the lecture will celebrate the launch of the Library’s Oscar Wilde digital collection.  The manuscript collection, comprising some 150 items including letters, photographs, theatre programmes and items of memorabilia, will now be made freely available online to a global audience. In addition, a new catalogue of the Library’s significant Oscar Wilde book collection, consisting of over 500 printed items is also now available online.

The event, organised by the Library of Trinity College Dublin and hosted by Vice-Provost and Seamus Heaney Professor of Irish Writing, Chris Morash, will also mark Oscar Wilde’s birthday, which is on October 16th.  Michèle will share her research which underpinned her 2018 biography of Oscar Wilde, published by Oxford University Press. Her book is renowned for its gripping and stylish account of Wilde’s tumultuous rise, fall, and resurrection.

One of Trinity’s most famous alumni, Oscar Wilde is one of the best-known Irish personalities of the 19th century and is one of the great writers of the Victorian era. Besides literary accomplishments, Wilde became a figure of some notoriety for his lifestyle and involvement in the ‘art for art’s sake’ aesthetic movement as well as the circumstances of his imprisonment and early death. Mendelssohn’s book charts Wilde’s extraordinary rise to fame through his tour of the United States, and the public perception of Wilde linked to his Irish identity at that time.

The Library acquired the Oscar Wilde collection in 2011 from Julia Rosenthal, a London-based rare book dealer and a keen collector of both manuscripts and printed works relating to Wilde. Rosenthal purchased her first autographed Wilde letter in 1976 and she continued to collect over the following decades, creating what is thought to have been one of the largest privately-owned Oscar Wilde collections in the world. It is now the only Wilde collection held in a public institution in Ireland.

Now for the first time items from this wonderful collection are freely available to Wilde fans and researchers worldwide, via the Library’s Digital Collections platform. The collection is unique in its focus on the playwright’s downfall and exile years and contains items of symbolic significance for Wilde’s biography, such as a receipt for a loan of money he received on leaving Reading Gaol in 1897, and the only known letter written to his son, Cyril.

The Oscar Wilde book collection contains over 500 books relating to Wilde, including both books by Wilde himself and works about him. Many of the books are first editions and/or inscribed copies, which makes them particularly valuable. Among these is a first edition of An Ideal Husband inscribed by Wilde to the book’s dedicatee, Frank Harris. Another rarity in the collection is a copy of the auction catalogue for the sale of Wilde’s possessions at his home in Tite Street at the time of his trial in 1895 – only four copies of this catalogue are known to survive. Several biographers of Oscar Wilde were given access to the collection by Julia Rosenthal in the past when they were researching their subject. This book collection has recently been catalogued and is now visible on the Library’s online catalogue providing an invaluable resource of material relating to this Irish writer for researchers. These books can be consulted in the Library’s Department of Early Printed Books.

Last year the Library hosted the first major Irish exhibition on Oscar Wilde entitled ‘From Decadence to Despair’. Curated by Assistant Librarian Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin, the highly personal display mapped out the playwright’s meteoric rise to fame and also his dramatic fall from grace. The exhibition was launched by actor Rupert Everett and Senator David Norris. An online version of the exhibition is available to view here.

Further information and registration details about the public lecture are available here: https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/irish-eccentric-to-global-icon-tickets-50740667703

Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin & Lydia Ferguson

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Illuminating the Middle Ages

The Library is home to a unique collection of around 450 medieval Latin manuscripts, spanning a period of 800 years. Until now, the catalogue has existed solely in hard copy but it has been taken from the shelves of the reading room and made globally accessible online through our Manuscripts and Archives online catalogue, available here. You can search specific manuscripts by title, reference number or any keyword relevant to your area of interest – or simply search for the phrase ‘medieval manuscripts’ to have a browse.

TCD MS 52, folio 32v

The most effective way to illustrate the scope of this project is to provide some insight into the array of items that come under the umbrella of Trinity’s Latin manuscript collection. Perhaps the most well-known group consists of seven Early Irish Christian manuscripts dating from Ireland’s golden age of faith and culture. Among the seven are the Book of Armagh (TCD MS 52) and the Book of Kells (TCD MS 58), which are among the most famous manuscripts in Ireland and, in the case of the latter, the world. All seven of these manuscripts have now been conserved, fully imaged and are available freely online through the Library’s Digital Collections.

The medieval collection includes luxuriously illuminated Books of Hours, confessors’ handbooks, psalters and bibles, to name but a few. The Book of Kells may be the most magnificently decorated Insular manuscript in existence but does it have a plate-spinning dog? No.

TCD MS 35, folio 17v

TCD MS 632 presents a kind of fifteenth-century classical handbook for medieval readers. Through articles, diagrams and maps, the book accounts for multiple aspects of classical study including mythology, geography and history. These small circular diagrams represent the rivers of the classical world. The larger infographic here relates to the length of time it takes individual planets to orbit the earth (the word terra is marked in the centre). The seven zones of the earth (including the arctic and temperate) are illustrated on folio 108r, identifying which zones are habitable and which are not. There is also a brief note beneath the diagram referring to the nine Muses of Greek mythology.

TCD MS 632, folios 107v-108r

TCD MS 10994, folio 1r

This charming fellow situated inside the large letter Q of TCD MS 10994, likely depicts Michael of Belluno in Italy; the named scribe of this manuscript. The text serves as a guide for confessors, a list of sins and omissions committed by society, including (but not limited to) boasting, dancing, fighting, superfluous drinking, cursing, gluttons who eat too quickly, men in curled wigs, women who indulge in cosmetics and listening to arousing music.

Other standout examples include the Ricemarch psalter, a Latin text of Welsh origin in an Irish style, and the Dublin Apocalypse (TCD MS 64, pictured below), a fourteenth-century manuscript depicting the Final Judgement in gold and vivid colour that is simultaneously beautiful and grotesque. This particular illustration is the horseman of war, identifiable by his fiery red horse and his big ol’ sword.

If you would like to learn more, here is a quick and shameless plug for our Illuminating the Middle Ages online exhibition which went live in January of this year, available at the following link.

TCD MS 64, folios 3v

What is Life? Celebrating Erwin Schrödinger and the science collections in the Library of Trinity College Dublin

In 1943, Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961), Nobel-prize winning physicist and Director of Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS), delivered three public lectures entitled What is Life? at Trinity College Dublin as the DIAS statutory lecture. The lectures were published as a book in 1944 and had an immediate and powerful impact on the development of molecular biology including inspiring the discovery of DNA.

To mark the anniversary, and to coincide with the major international conference ‘What is Life?’ Schrӧdinger at 75 – the Future of Biology, Archivist Estelle Gittins has collaborated with Professor Luke O’Neill, one of the conference organisers, to curate an exhibition now on show in the Old Library of Trinity College Dublin. The exhibition, and accompanying online exhibition, showcase some of the Library’s most significant scientific and mathematical collections.

At the outbreak of World War II, Schrӧdinger was invited to Dublin by President Éamon de Valera to become Director of the School of Theoretical Physics at Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, where he stayed until 1956. The exhibition examines what attracted him to Dublin; one of the reasons was the chance to walk in the footsteps of one of his heroes, Ireland’s most renowned scientist Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865).

Hamilton made numerous advances in maths and science reflected in the vast collection of his papers held in the Library, but he is most famous for developing Quaternions, the mathematical notation for representing orientations and rotations of objects in three dimensions. Quaternions are essential for calculating orbital rotation in space flight; they are routinely employed by NASA, and are also relied upon by the computer gaming industry. The exhibition includes the tiny notebook containing Hamilton’s first scribbled recording of the Quaternion equation made as he walked by the Royal Canal at Broome Bridge in Dublin. The display also includes poetry and sketches that provide a glimpse of the private man as well as the genius. Schrödinger has been described as the scientific heir to Hamilton and made use of the Hamiltonian operator in his wave equation.

Whilst in Dublin, the sociable Schrödinger joined a circle of intellectuals sheltering in neutral Ireland including Irish physicists Shelia Power and Kathleen Lonsdale who had returned from Edinburgh and London respectively. The exhibition includes the papers of some of those friends and colleagues, including a first edition of What is life? inscribed by Schrödinger for his close friend and Trinity College Provost Albert McConnell (1903-1993). Schrödinger also spent time with fellow Nobel-prize winner, Ernest Walton (1903-1995). Walton, a Trinity graduate and lecturer, is most famous, (along with John Cockcroft), for the splitting of the atom in 1932, which constituted the physical demonstration of Einstein’s law E=mc. On display is Walton’s first communication of the breakthrough, an understated letter to his fiancée Freda Wilson confiding, ‘Cockcroft and I made what is in all probability a very important discovery in the lab … It opens up a whole new field of work which may go a long way towards elucidating the structure of the nucleus of the atom’. This is displayed alongside Walton’s Nobel medal. Ernest Walton very generously donated his scientific and personal papers to the Library in 1993.

The exhibition also looks at the important academic and cultural legacy of the What is life? lecture series including the 40th anniversary commemorations where an older Professor Walton met a younger Professor Hawking. There is also a selection of the literary and artistic works inspired by the notion of ‘Schrödinger as a Dubliner’ such as the musical Improbable Frequency produced by the Rough Magic Theatre Company, whose own archives were donated to the Library in 2017.

The conference Schrödinger at 75: the future of Biology will be streamed live on the website https://www.tcd.ie/biosciences/whatislife/

The exhibition What is Life? Celebrating Erwin Schrödinger and the science collections in the Library of Trinity College Dublin will be on display in the Long Room of the Old Library until 31 October and the online version can be accessed here http://www.tcd.ie/library/exhibitions/what-is-life/

Estelle Gittins

With thanks to Prof Luke O’Neill, Prof David Wilkins, Dr Jane Maxwell, Aisling Lockhart, Gillian Whelan, Greg Sheaf and Clodagh Neligan

Davitt Down Under

Michael Davitt, who was born in 1846 and died in 1906, was a radical Irish nationalist, social reformer and champion of the Irish diaspora of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Davitt’s papers are held in the Manuscripts’ Department of the Library of Trinity College Dublin. The photographs within the collection are in the process of being catalogued and digitised.

In 1895, Michael Davitt departed Dublin for a tour of Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Hawaii and the United States. 

Mining shacks in Tipperary Flat, Queensland, 1895

One of the aims of the tour was to re-connect with the Irish communities in Australia after Charles Stewart Parnell’s adulterous relationship with Kitty O’Shea became public knowledge and caused major damage to the Irish Parliamentary Party’s (IPP) reputation internationally.

Irish-Australians had been major financial contributors to Irish famine relief, the IPP and the Land League throughout the nineteenth century. Their support was essential for continuing the campaign towards Irish Home Rule in Westminster. Other reasons for the tour were personal; including Davitt’s need to make money for his family by lecturing in Australia and New Zealand.

MS 9477/4425 Telegraph from Mary to Michael Davitt, 1895

During Davitt’s journey to Australia, disaster struck his family in Ireland, when his six-year-old daughter Kathleen died suddenly from the flu. However, Davitt’s wife pressed him to continue his ‘mission’, in a telegram he received from Mary in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Following his wife’s advice, Davitt continued on his voyage to Australia. 

Following his tour of Australia and New Zealand, Davitt published Life and Progress in Australasia in 1897. His book focuses on the gold rush in Western Australia and particularly on the town of Coolgardie.

MS 9649/348 Crowd of men at a sale of mining lots in Coolgardie, 1895

 

Davitt describes Coolgardie as ‘full of the gold-seeking fever’, with miners from vastly different backgrounds. In his diary for Western Australia MS 9565 he lists these as ‘any number of men with University training, pressmen, politicians, barristers, lawyers…all here on same gold hunting purpose’. The independence of the miners from the Australian authorities is illustrated by his photographs of a fire on Bailey Street in Coolgardie, which he reports in his diary was caused by the burning of an effigy of the Mayor of the town. 

MS 9649/373 Group of Aboriginal Australians under a tree near Great Boulder, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, 1895

 

 

Davitt includes an interview with Catholic bishop Matthew Gibney in his book. Gibney discusses the mistreatment of Aborigines, the privatisation of Aboriginal land and hunting grounds in Western Australia. In Life and Progress Davitt declares that ‘the white man’s law justifies him in stealing the black man’s country, his wife, and daughters whenever he wants them; but to take a sheep from this moral professor of the ten commandments is to earn the penalty of a bullet!’

Davitt, as a radical politician and writer from a famine emigrant, working class background, was an important figure to the Irish diaspora in Australia. Davitt’s family were part of the million people who emigrated from Ireland to England, the United States and Australia to escape starvation after the failure of the potato crop during the Irish Great Famine. His importance to the Irish diaspora is evident throughout the Davitt photographic collection as large welcoming committees were organised to from MS 9649/32 below, where Davitt is welcomed at the train station in Maryborough, Victoria, Australia.

Reception Committee for Davitt during his lecture tour of Australia
in Maryborough, Victoria, 1895

The online catalogue has now been updated and can be viewed here.

Dáire Rooney

Æthelflæd: an Anglo-Saxon ‘Queen’ and Viking Nemesis

Detail of Æthelflæd glass from the West Window of Chester Cathedral, by WT Carter Shapland, 1961.

12 June 2018 marks the eleven-hundredth anniversary of the death of the remarkable Æthelflæd: daughter of King Alfred the Great, Lady of the Mercians and – to her Viking foes – ‘most famous Saxon queen’. Her impressive reputation and unique position in Anglo-Saxon England are recorded in two medieval sources housed in the Library, one English, one Irish. Both stand as testament to her enduring legend at home and abroad.

Diagram of the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms identified as making up England (Essex, Kent, Sussex, Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria, and East Anglia). The kingdoms appear as petals with Mercia appearing bottom left. TCD MS 496, ff. 127v-128

The eldest child of Alfred the Great (d.899) and Eahlswith (d.902), Æthelflæd was born into a fragmented England: Alfred’s Wessex was one of a number of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in turbulent co-existence with the constantly encroaching Viking Danelaw. Alfred, it seems, intended each of his children to play important roles in furthering his aim of uniting the English kingdoms against the Danes, and this was to be achieved through a variety of means: through political power, through property, through strategic marriages, and through religious influence. However, Alfred’s contemporary biographer, Asser, describes a society that did not promote female leadership: ‘The West Saxons do not allow a queen to sit beside the king, nor to be called a queen, but only the king’s wife’. This makes Æthelflæd’s achievements all the more startling.

It is not known where Æthelflæd grew up, although she was possibly raised with maternal relatives in Mercia rather than Wessex. Her marriage to the Mercian ruler, Æthelred (d.911), was a strategic power-play for both her father and husband. Despite being a princess of Wessex, she did not officially graduate to becoming Queen of Mercia, rather she was merely designated the wife of the Lord of Mercia in recognition of Alfred’s overlordship of that kingdom.

Statue of Æthelflæd with her foster son and future King of England Æthelstan, Tamworth Castle grounds, Edward George Bramwell, 1913.

From 910 the Mercian Register of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles records her rise to prominence, possibly due to the fact that her husband became gravely ill at this time. On his death in 911 she assumed the leadership of Mercia apparently uncontested and was identified as ‘Myrcna hlœfdige’ – Lady of Mercia. The language is important, as this was the precise equivalent of Æthelred’s habitual title of ‘Myrcna hlaford’. This indicates that the Mercian rulers’ assembly did not draw any distinction between her authority to rule and that of her husband’s. She led the Mercians so successfully that on her death in 918, her daughter, Ælfwynn, was also accepted as her successor (albeit for only six months). The uncontested transference of power from one female ruler to another was unprecedented, and it would not be repeated for another six-hundred years, when the English throne passed from Mary I to Elizabeth I in 1558.

Annals of Ulster containing the entry for the year 918. TCD MS 1282 f.46v

Æthelflæd was both a warrior and a builder, planning and leading military campaigns against the Danes, whilst also extending her father’s policy of establishing a series of fortified towns or burhs. She either rebuilt or founded the county towns of Gloucester, Hereford, Worcester, Chester, Shrewsbury, Warwick, and Stafford. Militarily, she was a smart tactician, and just before her death the Danes of York indicated that they were ready to surrender to her. By this point the extent of the lands under her influence was rivalled only by the realms of her brother Edward the Elder Burhs and the King of the Scots, Constantín Mac Áeda (d.952).

Æthelflæd in the Library

Genealogy of Alfred, roundels containing the names of Alfred, Edward and Elfleda (Æthelflæd) TCD MS 496 ff.129v-130r

Ætheflæd appears in two sources in the Manuscripts & Archives section of the Library. She is profiled in an early-fourteenth-century diagrammatic genealogy of the kings of England, ‘Summary chronicle of English history from Beorhtric’s accession (AD 786) to Edward I’s (AD 1272)’ (TCD MS 496). This contains the family tree of Alfred in which she appears in one roundel, with genealogical lines linking him to his children Edward and Elfleda (Æthelflæd). The accompanying inscription reads:

Elfleda sapientissima filia eius cum aliis quattuor
Æthelflæd the wisest daughter of [Alfred] with four others.
And, beneath the circle:

Ista Elfleda omni mulierum sapientissima dicebatur, que multum[?] fratrem suum regem ab regnum suum gubernandum per sapientam suam instruxit. Haec nupsit comiti Edredo.
This Æthelflæd was called the wisest of all women, and through her wisdom greatly instructed her brother the king on the governance of his kingdom. She married count Edred [Æthelred].*

The annals of Ulster’s (TCD MS 1282 f 46v) record of Æthelflæd’s death in 918 also reflects her status:

Eithilfleith, famosissima regina Saxonum, moritur
Æthelflæd, most famous Queen of the Saxons, died.

‘Eithilfleith, famosissima regina Saxonum, moritur’ from the Annals of Ulster record for 918 TCD MS 1282 f.46v

 

 

 

 

 

The inclusion of the death of an Anglo-Saxon royal in the Irish annals may have been due to Ӕthelflӕd’s position as an opponent of the Norse-Gael leader Ragnall Ua Ímair (d.920/921), one of the Vikings expelled from Dublin in 902. The fragmentary Annals of Ireland, (Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale 5301-5320) also suggest that she allied herself with Constantín Mac Áeda, King of Scotland, against Ragnall at the Battle of Corbridge in Northumberland in the year of her death.

Neither her father Alfred’s nor her brother Edward the Elder’s deaths are recorded in the annals, but Æthelflæd is referenced in Irish and Welsh sources as a most famous Saxon Queen. Although this title was not technically correct, the scribe’s singling out of Æthelflæd in such a way is in clear recognition of her unique position and the importance of her achievements from an opponent’s perspective.

The Library’s online exhibition, ‘Transmitting the Anglo-Saxon past’ provides further examples of Anglo-Saxon history manuscripts from the Library’s collection.

The Anglo-Saxon world will become the focus of a major exhibition ‘Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms‘ at the British Library from October 2018.

‘Our Aethel’ statue, Tamworth, Luke Perry, 2018.

The cities of Tamworth (where she died) and Gloucester (where she was buried) are both hosting ‘Aethel’-festivals in June and July 2018, www.aethelflaed2018.co.uk and www.visittamworth.co.uk/aethelflaed

Estelle Gittins
*With thanks to Dr Laura Cleaver, School of Art History