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Wilde About Oscar!

On 28 September in Paris, all eyes will be on the Petit Palais Musée des Beaux-Arts, as the city opens its first major exhibition on the life and works of the flamboyant Irish writer, Oscar Wilde. Manuscripts, photographs, paintings and personal effects are among almost 200 exhibits coming from public and private collections worldwide for the exhibition, which is co-curated by Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland. Included in the  exhibits are three items borrowed from the Oscar Wilde collection held in Trinity College Library.

Tithe Street Sale Catalogue (EPB Quin Case)
Tite Street Sale Catalogue (EPB Quin Case)

Known for his biting wit, extravagant dress and glittering conversation, Oscar Wilde is one of the best known personalities of the 19th century. His love affair with France began as a child, having learned to speak French from a native governess. He considered himself an ardent Francophile and regularly visited Paris, eventually dying there in 1900, when he was hounded out of England after his conviction for homosexuality. His tomb, in Paris’s Père Lachaise cemetery, is now a place of pilgrimage.

The Oscar Wilde collection was acquired by the Library of Trinity College Dublin in 2011 from Julia Rosenthal, a rare book dealer and avid collector of Wildeana, based in London. Rosenthal purchased her first autograph Wilde letter in 1976 and built her collection from there, and it has  been of immense value to Wilde scholarship. Richard Ellmann, Thomas Wright, Horst Schroeder and Neil Mc Kenna all made extensive use of it for their biographical works on the author. This truly unique collection of both manuscript and print materials, contains autographed first editions; letters (a small number of which are unpublished); photographs and portraits; theatre programmes and music; and some rare items of memorabilia.

One subject of the Dublin-Paris loan is a letter from Wilde in 1891 to his son Cyril, who was aged five at the time. Writing from Paris, he remarks that he is going ‘to visit a poet, who has given me a wonderful book about a Raven’. The poet was Mallarmé and the book was a translation of Poe’s The Raven. Signed ‘your loving Papa, Oscar Wilde’, it is the only known surviving letter from Wilde to either of his children.

Letter from Oscar Wilde to his son Cyril, 1891 (TCD MS 11437/1/1/1)
Letter from Oscar Wilde to his son Cyril, 1891 (TCD MS 11437/1/1/1)

Another highlight of the Trinity collection, and also included in the loan, is the ‘Tite Street Sale Catalogue’ of Wilde’s books and household goods. Among the items listed for sale are inscribed editions of Wilde’s parents’ writings and the rabbit hutch and toys belonging to his two young sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. These effects were sold at the demand of Wilde’s creditors at the time of his trial in 1895, and only four copies of the auction catalogue are known to have survived.

The final item loaned to Paris is a moving letter from Wilde to his friend, the writer Eliza Stannard (who used the pseudonym John Strange Winter), written shortly after his release from Reading Gaol in May 1897. Some of Wilde’s most poignant letters were written during these few short years of exile in France, until his death in Paris in 1900. Writing from a hotel in Bernaval-sur-Mer, Normandy, Wilde remarks, ‘of course I have passed through a very terrible punishment and have suffered to the pitch of anguish and despair’ and refers to himself as ‘an unworthy son’. ‘France has been charming to me and about me during all my imprisonment’, he writes, ‘and has now – mother of all artists as she is – give me asile’.

Letter from Oscar Wilde to Eliza Stannard, 1897 (TCD MS 11437/1/1/5)
Letter from Oscar Wilde to Eliza Stannard, 1897 (TCD MS 11437/1/1/5)

The exhibition at the Petit Palais runs from 28 September 2016 – 18 January 2017.

Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin

And then a Nero comes along …

NeroPosterThe Library of Trinity College Dublin has recently loaned a papyrus fragment (TCD PAP F.18) to the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Trier for their exhibition Nero – Kaiser, Künstler und Tyrann (Nero – Emperor, Artist and Tyrant) on the life of the notorious Roman emperor Nero.  This exhibition will run from May to October 2016.

This small fragment, written in Greek and dated 54 AD, announces the death of the emperor Claudius, and the accession to the imperial throne of his grand-nephew Nero.  The new emperor is hailed as ‘the expectation and hope of the world … the good genius of the world and source of all good things’.  This description echoes the optimism that was engendered across the empire at the beginning of Nero’s reign.  The exhibition attempts to highlight some of the more positive aspects of his story – his popularity during the early years of his rule, and his love of the arts, as well as dealing with his darker and tyrannical side.


Trier is the oldest city in Germany, and the only one that was a seat of the Roman Empire. This major exhibition features over 700 exhibits, including statues, pottery, coins, jewellery and other artefacts relating to Nero and his world.  A substantial amount of these are from the museum’s own holdings, but there are also many items on loan from European repositories including the Vatican Museum, the Louvre, the British Museum, and of course, the Library of Trinity College Dublin.

The collection of Greek papyri in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library dates from between the 13th century BC to the 7th century AD, and it is ranked second, after Oxford, among papyri collections in Britain and Ireland.  Documents include literary and sacred texts, as well as official and administrative documents: letters, tax receipts, accounts, contracts, leases and valuations.  Most of the several thousand fragments in the Library’s possession came from the excavations of Sir W. Flinders Petrie during the 1880s in the Fayyûm district of Egypt.  The fragment on loan to Trier is part of a find of papyrus documents discovered during the excavations of Hogarth, Grenfell and Hunt of the Egyptian Exploration Fund, which TCD part sponsored.  It was found in the ancient rubbish dumps of the town of Oxyrhynchus, which was roughly 300km south of Alexandria.

In September 2013, the Preservation and Conservation Department commenced work on a small selection of Greek papyri – including the Nero document – which had been housed between glass and Perspex pressure-mounts. The project involved the conservation of 300 papyri fragments and the implementation of an improved housing system as several of the glass mounts were smashed or cracked, so replacement was a priority. Many Perspex mounts also needed to be removed, because of its tendency to scratch and its electrostatic nature.

The papyrus itself was in a fragile condition; many of the fragments had never been surface cleaned and were heavily soiled. They were brittle and fragile, and several different types of tape had been attached in an attempt to hold fragments together; however, more often the tape obscured text or were causing more damage.

Treatment included removing the tapes and other material from direct contact with the papyrus, humidifying and flattening creases and folds. Realigning fibres and fragments and bridging and mending fractured areas. Once treatment was completed the papyri were returned in new glazed pressure-mounts permitting safe handling. The conservation of the papyri was key for their continued preservation and have ensured future accessibility through digitisation and exhibition.

Nero_Ausstellung_RLMT_Foto_Th_Zühmer (11)
© GDKE – Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier, Th. Zühmer

Ellen O’Flaherty (Manuscripts & Archives Research Library)
Clodagh Neligan (Preservation and Conservation Department)

“Blast” at 100

“Blast” 1, 1914. Shelfmark: OLS X-2-126 no. 1

The avant garde journal Blast was first published on 2 July 1914, on the eve of the First World War. It marked the emergence of Vorticism, a modernist British art movement which paralleled other European art movements such as Futurism in Italy and Expressionism in Germany. Edited by Wyndham Lewis, who also wrote much of the text and provided illustrations as well, the two issues of this short-lived periodical encompassed the different areas of painting, design, sculpture, poetry, prose and drama, as well as reproducing the text of the Vorticist ‘Manifesto’ in its first issue. The second and last issue was entitled ‘War number’ and appeared on 15 July 1915. As exemplified by the bright, puce cover and bold typography of issue 1, Blast was experimental in both content and visual design and can be seen as a predecessor to later ventures in modernist print and visual culture. Apart from Lewis himself, contributors to Blast included the writers Ezra Pound, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, T.S. Eliot and Ford Madox Ford as well as illustrators such as Helen Saunders, Jacob Epstein, Frederick Etchells and C.R.W. Nevinson.

The Department of Early Printed Books and the School of English are marking the centenary of Blast with a small exhibition in the Long Room, coinciding with a one-day symposium, “BLAST at 100” which takes place in the Trinity Long Room Hub on 2 July. An online version of the exhibition is also available on the Library website.

"Blast" 2, 'War number', 1915. Shelfmark: OLS X-2-126 no. 2
“Blast” 2, ‘War number’, 1915. Shelfmark: OLS X-2-126 no. 2
The Italian Futurist journal "Lacerba", 15 July 1914. Shelfmark: PER 80-413
The Italian Futurist journal “Lacerba”, 15 July 1914. Shelfmark: PER 80-413
C.R.W. Nevinson: The roads of France (London, 1918?). Shelfmark: 22.aa.8 no. 17