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Stoking the imagination

TCD MUN SOC HIST Officers 1872-73
Bram Stoker seated centre

Today is the 165th anniversary of the birth of Bram Stoker (1847-1912), well-known civil servant and author of The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland, which he published to some acclaim in 1879. He wrote the more popular, but considerably less practical, novel, Dracula, almost 20 years later. Stoker was a graduate of Trinity, a top-class student athlete (despite being quite ill for most of his early childhood) and a member of the student societies the Hist and the Phil. The Library has a good collection of manuscript material relating to the Stoker family generally, although only a small amount of it relates to the great man himself.

One of the items in the collection supposedly links the idea of Dracula – with its themes of blood infection and the ‘undead’ – to an epidemic of cholera which was witnessed by Stoker’s mother, Charlotte Thornley, in Sligo in 1832. Stoker scholars believe Charlotte’s vivid descriptions of the suffering she had seen may have fuelled her son’s Gothic imagination in later life. Among the papers in the Library is a copy of Charlotte’s account of the onslaught of the disease.

Cholera epidemics were not unheard-of in the nineteenth century but the one in 1832 was particularly virulent; infection was believed to be so rapid that a man, becoming infected on one side of town, was said to have fallen from his horse, dead, at the other. It was thought more than 1,500 people died from the epidemic; that carpenters were unable to keep up with the demand for coffins and local legend suggested that some people were buried alive, so great was the haste to dispose of the corpses.

TCD MS 11076/2/3
TCD MS 11076/2/3 f2 Stoker, Mrs CMB (Thornley) Experiences of the Cholera in Ireland ?1832

Jane Maxwell

Sir Walter Raleigh’s Ghost

TCD MS 862 f232
TCD MS 862 f232

Sir Walter Raleigh, soldier, courtier and explorer, was beheaded on 29 October 1618 after imprisonment in the Tower of London. His fame and popularity ensured a posthumous reputation as an English martyr, a national hero executed to appease the Spanish in revenge for his attack on one of their new-world ports.  There was a belief that his death had been engineered by the Conde de Gondomar, the Machiavellian Spanish ambassador to the court of King James I. Such beliefs were dangerous.

The document imaged above, ‘Vox Spiritus or Sir Walter Raleigh’s Ghost’ (TCD MS 862 232r-275v) is a handwritten pamphlet, produced in 1620 to promote the ideals of the late Sir Walter, namely the mistrust of Catholicism and all things Spanish.

‘Raleigh’s Ghost’ imagines a meeting between Gondomar and a Jesuit priest on 20 November 1620 which is interrupted by the apparition of Raleigh who calls upon officials to defend England against the spread of ‘popery’. The vengeful ghost pointing an accusing finger at its quaking murderer is a classic dramatic device which crops up in contemporary tragedies.

The author could have been either Thomas Gainsford, described as a ‘poore Captaine about London’, who was discovered with the seditious manuscript and imprisoned; or Thomas Scott, a minister who fled to Utrecht to continue his anti-Spanish writings. Gainsford died of the plague in 1642 and Scott was assassinated in 1626. ‘Raleigh’s Ghost’ was only available in manuscript form until it was published in 1983.

When not haunting Spanish ambassadors, Sir Walter Raleigh’s actual ghost is said to reside in the Tower of London.

Estelle Gittins

One hundred years ago in TCD…

TCD MUN V5 20 f264r
TCD/MUN/V5/20 f264r

The Board of Trinity College, comprising: the Provost, nine Fellows and two professors, met every Saturday from October to July.  The official minutes of each were recorded in large bound volumes, which constitute one of the most important series (TCD MUN V 5) of the College archives.

TCD MUN V 5/20 covers the years 1910-1913.  A glance at entries for the year 1912 shows that the Board was concerned with day-to-day academic and administrative business, such as the approval of degrees, and decisions regarding lecturers’ salaries and pensions.  A programme of activities to celebrate the Medical School bicentenary was regularly discussed and was estimated to cost around £500.  There is no mention of the anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of the Old Library, but in February the librarian was authorised to consult Sir Thomas Deane regarding a possible extension to the building.  Benjamin Guinness (Viscount Iveagh) was Chancellor at the time, and proved to be a very generous benefactor to the College, donating large sums throughout the year, part of which were invested in stocks and bonds.  Although concerned primarily with the internal machinations of the College, an acknowledgement of events in the outside world also appeared in the minutes, in the form of numerous references to the third Home Rule bill and to War Office grants, both ominous forewarnings of the troubles to come in subsequent years.

Ellen O’Flaherty

Tulip Mania

TCD MS 1706/1 f6
TCD MS 1706/1 f6

Financial bubbles are nothing new. The first extensively recorded economic bubble was that of ‘Tulip mania’, a period in the Dutch Golden Age when contract prices for the recently introduced tulip bulbs reached dizzying heights and then suddenly collapsed. In February 1637, the date inscribed on this manuscript (TCD MS 1706), the market imploded. The breakdown began in Haarlem when buyers failed to attend a bulb auction, most probably deterred by the bubonic plague then raging in that city. The overheated market for tulips evaporated immediately although the financial crisis was restricted to a fairly small group of speculators.

TCD MS 1706 is a Tulip Catalogue from the library of Hendrik Fagel, chief minister of Holland, purchased for the College by the Erasmus Smith Charity in 1802.

The tulip depicted here, the ‘Viceroy’, was priced at 3,000 guilders, approximately ten times the annual wage of a skilled craftsman in Holland at that time.

Felicity O’ Mahony and Estelle Gittins

Sandals and scandals

The Book of Kells TCD MS 58 f145v

The Book of Kells is generally recognised as the greatest treasure in the Library. A copy of the four Gospels in Latin, it was produced around the year 800 AD. While the extent of its decoration makes it famous, the frequent carelessness of its scribes in copying the Gospels is less well known.

Folio 145v provides one example. At Mark’s Gospel 6.3-9, those who listen to Jesus identify him, disparagingly, as ‘[the carpenter, the son of Mary,] the brother of James, and Joseph, and Jude, and Simon’ (the top line reads, frater iacobi et ioseph et iudae et simonis), and are scandalised by the attention being paid to one of such humble background. Jesus remarks on their lack of belief, saying ‘A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country’. He calls together the apostles, sending them out to preach in pairs. They are to carry only a staff – no money or food – and are to be shod in sandals. At the last line, the scribe has become confused between the words for scandals and sandals, mistakenly writing that the apostles were to be ‘shod with scandals’ (calciatos scandalis); he should of course have written sandaliis. This is a typical scribal slip caused by inattention to the meaning of a text.

The Book of Kells TCD MS 58 f145v detail

Bernard Meehan

[adapted from Bernard Meehan, The Book of Kells, to be published by Thames & Hudson in November 2012]