William Wordsworth: A letter to Longman, 1820

Written by Adam Lines, Reading Room Supervisor.

William Wordsworth to Longman, 11 April 1820 - MS 1393 2/67/2

William Wordsworth to Longman, 11 April 1820 (MS 1393 2/67/2).

Before I started working at the University of Reading Special Collections, I spent a year in Grasmere working with the collections at the Wordsworth Trust. Before that I studied for a BA and an MA in English Literature and centred both of my dissertations on William Wordsworth. So by the time I left Grasmere at the start of 2015 it’s fair to say that I had the poet, his work and legacy firmly etched in my mind. My first search on the University of Reading Special Collection’s online catalogue was, not surprisingly, for ‘William Wordsworth’. To my delight there was a result: a single letter written by Wordsworth from 1820. The majority of original Wordsworth manuscripts are housed by the Wordsworth Trust but a few can be found scattered in archives across the world. The reason an example can be found in Reading is because it is part of the Longman Group Collection, the firm responsible for publishing much of Wordsworth’s work during his lifetime.

R. G. Longman's volume of letters.

R. G. Longman’s volume of letters (MS 1393 2/67).

The letter doesn’t stand alone. It is housed in a small volume with other letters to Longman by Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy as well as his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It belonged to R. G. Longman and these letters were clearly treasured by the Longman family as the volume was created especially to house them. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the volume contained only letters written by Coleridge as his name is the only one to grace the spine. A note inside the cover states: ‘4 ST Coleridge letters left to me by my uncle, T. N. Longman’. A further note underneath this was added many years later recording the addition of the letters by William and Dorothy. Given the strong bond of love and friendship between the three of them, it seems only fitting that the letters should reside together.

The inside cover of R. G. Longman's volume of letters, with the inscription '4 ST Coleridge letters left to me by my uncle, T. N. Longman’.

The inside cover of R. G. Longman’s volume of letters, with the inscription ‘4 ST Coleridge letters left to me by my uncle, T. N. Longman’.

The year 1820 saw Wordsworth at a mid-point in his life as a writer. His ‘golden decade’ (1799-1808), during which he wrote the majority of his greatest works, was behind him and widespread fame and notoriety was still a few years ahead.  On the 11 April 1820 he wrote to Longman asking them ‘to transmit the following additional corrections and Errata to the Printer without delay.’ The alterations were for The River Duddon, a series of sonnets about the river in his native Lake District following it from its source to the sea. He was also concerned about the reprint of another of his volumes, Miscellaneous Poems, and gave precise instructions as to how he wished it to be printed. After initially favouring three volumes, he wrote ‘I prefer a smaller size in 4 vols. and likewise a Paper more of a cream colour than has recently been used.’  The exchange of manuscripts, proofs and corrections between writer and publisher would take a lot longer than it would today, especially in the case of Wordsworth who is famous for his constant desire to revise his work, and that he lived far from the publishing centre of London. This letter came late in the preparation process as the Longman divide ledger shows that The River Duddon was published by the end of April.

Divide ledger entry for 'Wordsworth's River Duddon' MS 1393 1/A3

Divide ledger entry for ‘Wordsworth’s River Duddon’ MS 1393 1/A3

What’s wonderful about the context of this letter is that the publication history can be traced beyond the letter itself using the same archive. Much of Wordsworth’s poetry is celebrated for its quality, but did it sell?

The River Duddon was printed in an edition of 500 copies and 14 years after it was first published there were 30 copies left unsold. These figures are roughly in line with Wordsworth’s previous volumes demonstrating a consistent but fairly low circulation among the reading public of the time. This changed as his popularity grew, and it’s interesting that the postscript of this letter (‘Announce in the Ad [for The River Duddon]: the Topographical description of the lakes’) refers to a work that would go on to outsell anything Wordsworth had written before. In 1810 he supplied a description of the Lake District to accompany a set of etchings by the Revd Joseph Wilkinson, however his name was not attributed to it. The River Duddon volume, therefore, was the first proper outing of the work fully credited to Wordsworth, but here it was still an addition to something else.  When it was published separately for the first time in 1822 in an edition of 500 copies, it quickly sold out within the year and a second edition was published in 1823 amounting to 1000 copies which went on to sell out as well. This makes sense because the guidebook market in the early nineteenth century was saturated by guides to the Lake District which was fast becoming one of the places to travel to. Although Wordsworth seemingly added to a large market of literature on the subject, his Guide to the Lakes (as it became known) stands out above the rest in its unique approach to landscape. The majority of picturesque guidebooks at the time directed tourists to designated ‘stations’ where they could find a suitable viewpoint. Wordsworth’s Guide, written with an insider’s perceptive, considers the landscape as a whole and how people can be emotionally affected by nature.

Having researched and written about Wordsworth’s Guide whilst I was at university, it’s fascinating to see an early mention of it in such a peripheral manner. In fact, it’s rather nice to know that his handwriting, so familiar to me after my time in Grasmere, is just down the corridor.

You can find out more about the Longman Group Collection here, and how to access our archives here.


Travel Thursday: Captain Cook and H.M.S Endeavour

Written By Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

This month sees the anniversary of the first European ship landing in Eastern Australia. Led by

H.M.S. Endeavour

H.M.S. Endeavour

British explorer, James Cook, the crew of the H.M.S. Endeavour reached Botany Bay at the end of April 1770.

The Special Collections Library has a number of volumes on the voyages of Captain Cook but the narrative in “An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of his Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere and Successfully performed by Commodore Bryon, Captain Carteret, Captain Wallis and Captain Cook in the Dolphin, the Swallow and the Endeavour,” by John Hawkesworth (1773), is perhaps one of the most detailed.  The reason for this is clearly explained by Hawkesworth himself in the preface to volume II:

The papers of Captain Cook contained a very particular account of all the nautical incidents of the voyage, and a very minute description of the figure and extent of the countries he visited […] But in the papers of Mr. Banks, I found a great variety of incidents which had not come under the notice of Captain Cook…

Mr. Banks, or Sir Joseph Banks, was an explorer, naturalist and president of the Royal Society who accompanied Cook as the lead scientist on the voyage.  Hawkesworth combines the journals of both Cook and Banks to give a thorough and detailed survey of the journey.

As the first scientific expedition to the Pacific (Villiers, 2016) the voyage had set out with two main goals; the first was to observe the transit of the planet Venus across the Sun on 3 June 1769 at Otaheite (Tahiti):

The whole passage of the planet Venus over the Sun’s disk was observed with great advantage by Mr Green, Dr Solander, and myself.

The second aim was to find the theoretical southern continent ‘Terra Australis’.   So, on leaving Tahiti,

Map of Botany Bay

Map of Botany Bay

Cook opted for a route divergent to his predecessors, sailing south and southwest, (Villiers, 2016), a decision which led him to the discovery of New Zealand.  He and his crew spent several months exploring and charting the island before sailing on to Australia, where they made their first landing at Botany Bay:

The place the ship had anchored was abreast of a small village, consisting of about six or eight houses […] we intended to land where we saw the people, and began to hope that as they had so little regarded the ship’s coming into the bay, they would as little regard our coming on shore: in this however, we were disappointed; for as soon as we approached the rocks, two of the men came down upon them to dispute our landing, and the rest ran away.

They stayed at Botany Bay for eight days, and despite several brief encounters, the Captain and his crew were unable to make significant contact with the Aboriginal people, who were unsettled by the new arrivals, often throwing lances at the crew or running away in fear:

A lance was immediately thrown at him out of the wood, which narrowly missed him.  When the Indians saw that the weapon had not taken effect, they ran away.

Although Cook and his crew were unable to form any fruitful relationships with the people they encountered on this occasion, Mr Banks and his assistant, Dr. Solander, a Swedish botanist, were able to collect a wealth of botanical materials, earning the Bay its name:

The great quantity of plants which Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander collected in this place induced me to give it the name of BOTANY BAY.

The Special Collections Library holds a copy of ‘Illustrations of the Botany of Captain Cook’s Voyage Round the World in H.M.S. ENDEAVOUR in 1768-71’ by Sir Joseph Banks and Dr. Daniel Solander, (1900).  The two part work contains beautiful engravings of a number of plant specimens, including some of those Banks and Solander found at Botany Bay:

Plants collected by Banks and Solander at Botany Bay

Plants collected by Banks and Solander at Botany Bay

The success of the expedition for Sir Joseph Banks and his team helped to establish the tradition of sending scientists on naval voyages and inspired interest not only in the discovery of new lands but in the possibility of new discoveries in science, (Villiers, 2016).

Following this journey, Cook continued his epic sea voyages, his explorations eventually showing that, “a real Terra Australis existed only in the landmasses of Australia, New Zealand, and whatever land might remain frozen beyond the ice rim of Antarctica,” (Villiers, 2016).



Hawkesworth, J. (1773) An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of his Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere and Successfully performed by Commodore Bryon, Captain Carteret, Captain Wallis and Captain Cook in the Dolphin, the Swallow and the Endeavour. [Overstone Shelf 26 E – Available on request]

Banks, J., Solander, D (1900) Illustrations of the Botany of Captain Cook’s Voyage Round the World in H.M.S. ENDEAVOUR in 1768-71’ [Reserve Middle Folio 581.944 BAN – Available on request]

Alan John Villiers (2016) James Cook. Britannica Academic. Available from: http://academic.eb.com.idpproxy.reading.ac.uk/EBchecked/topic/135983/James-Cook

Sir Joseph Banks 2016. Britannica Academic. Retrieved 27 April, 2016, from http://academic.eb.com.idpproxy.reading.ac.uk/EBchecked/topic/52035/Sir-Joseph-Banks

Incunables identified

Written by Erika Delbecque, UMASCS Librarian

Last month we wrote about the process of identifying loose leaves from incunables, books printed in Europe before 1501. We also asked for your help in identifying the remaining four leaves. With help from Geert Lernout and the team behind the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke, all leaves have now been identified!

The leaf below was identified as part of Jacobus Magni’s Sophologium, printed by Adolf Rusch around 1470. It is a popular anthology of extracts from ancient and medieval writers including Muhammad Abu Mashar (Persian astrologer), Seneca, and Chaucer. Adolf Rusch (1435-1489) was a printer and paper merchant based in Strasbourg. He was one of the first printers north of the Alps to start using roman instead of Gothic type. Because he did not include his name in the books he printed, he was initially known only as the “R-printer”,  referring to a special Roman type capital “R” he uses in his early works. An example of this letter is included on our leaf. Some have argued that it is in fact a monogram derived from his initials, A.R.

Unidentified edition of Summa de exemplis by Giovanni da San Gimignano. May be early 16th century

Magni, Jacobus. Sophologium. Strassburg: The ‘R-printer’ (Adolf Rusch), about 1470.

The  striking capital R used by Adolf Rusch

The striking capital R used by Adolf Rusch

A complete copy of this publication can be browsed online here.

The other unidentified fragments were identified as a leaf from Casus longi Sexti et Clementinarum by Élie Regnier (Strasburg, 1496), a leaf from Agenda sive Benedictionale (Basel, 1518) and a leaf from Postilla super totam Bibliam by Nicolaus de Lyra (Rome, 1471-72).

Memoir on the Dodo

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

One of the interesting finds from our cataloguing and reclassification of the Cole Library Collection is ‘Memoir on the Dodo’ by Sir Richard Owen, an eminent English biologist and palaeontologist.

The initial discovery of Dodo remains in the mid nineteenth century led to some controversy in the scientific community.  Owen, who was somewhat notorious for his ruthless behaviour, is said to have intercepted material intended for another researcher, Alfred Newton.  Owen then argued that, “possession of the best material was a prerequisite for publication priority, which provided him with a complete monopoly,” (Hume, Cheke & McOran-Campbell, 2009).  With the success of his application as a Professor in danger of being side-tracked by Owen, Newton was unable to complain and was forced not only to, “relinquish access to the best Dodo bones promised to him, but he also had to withdraw the Dodo manuscript that had already been submitted,” (Hume, Cheke & McOran-Campbell, 2009).

Despite the circumstances surrounding its author, Owen’s work remains a significant contribution to the Zoological sciences.

Author dedication to the Bishop of Mauritius

Author dedication to the Bishop of Mauritius

The book consists of a historical introduction by naturalist William John Broderip; an explanation from Owen on how he came to be in possession of the collection of bones discovered on Mauritius by George Clark in 1865, and finally a description of these bones alongside several illustrative lithographic plates.  According to Hume, Cheke & McOran-Campbell (2009), the book had a limited run of only 100 copies with 20 intended for presentation to Owen’s supporters.  Our volume is dedicated by the author to the Bishop of Mauritius; the friendship between the two having played a key role in Owen’s receipt of the Dodo remains.

Broderip’s introductory history focuses on both written and pictorial evidence for the existence of the Dodo.  He examines first-hand accounts from travellers to Mauritius from as early as 1598, quoting their descriptions of the bird.  The following is from  Jacob van Neck and Wybrand van Warwijk’s

Drawing of a Dodo by Jacob van Neck and Wybrand van Warwijk

voyage in 1598:

As large as our swans, with large heads, and a kind of hood thereon; no wings, but, in place of them, three or four black little pens (penekens), and their tails consisting of four of five curled plumelets (Pluymkens) of a greyish colour.


Broderip also makes mention of the Dodo remains held in Oxford and the remains of a leg that had been held by the British Museum.  Following Broderip’s death, Owen took up the narrative, describing other museum artefacts as well as art works featuring the Dodo.  All three Dodos depicted in this beautifully coloured plate (below), taken from the front of the book, are from paintings by Roelandt Savery, a Flemish-born Dutch Painter.  Owen combined the figures to create an ‘Ideal scene in the island of Mauritius before its discovery in 1598.’

Composite picture of Roelandt Savery's Dodos

Composite picture of Roelandt Savery’s Dodos

However, Owen’s belief that Savery’s paintings were drawn from a living bird, caused him to make a serious mistake in his reconstruction of the creature.  Owen recreated the bird’s image by fitting the skeleton into an outline traced around Savery’s Dodo image but, “this produced an unnatural, squat and overly obese Dodo,” (Hume, Cheke & McOran-Campbell, 2009).  While Owen rectified his error in a later publication, the original image stuck and remains a common misconception.


Outline of a Dodo skeleton using a tracing from Roelandt Savery's Dodo paintings

Outline of a Dodo skeleton using a tracing from Roelandt Savery’s Dodo paintings



 Owen, R. (1866) Memoir of the Dodo. London: Taylor and Francis [COLE 196F/103 – available on request]

  • A scan of ‘Memoir of the Dodo’ is available here.
  • P. Hume, A.S. Cheke & A. McOran-Campbell (2009) How Owen ‘stole’ the Dodo: academic rivalry and disputed rights to a newly-discovered subfossil deposit in nineteenth century Mauritius, Historical Biology, 21:1-2, 33-49

New exhibition: Ex libris – marks of ownership in rare books from the University of Reading Special Collections

Rare books often contain a variety of features which make them important and interesting historical artifacts beyond their texts. Marks of ownership and provenance can reveal not only who once owned a book, their profession and an indication of their interests and character, but also where they acquired the volume, what they paid for it and their opinions about the text. Ownership marks also serve to document the unique history and journey of a book as it passes through the hands of different owners over time.

Our new exhibition, ‘Ex libris – marks of ownership in rare books from the University of Reading Special Collections’, invites the viewer to explore the private relationship between readers and their books, and the variety of different ways in which book owners (both famous and long forgotten) from the seventeenth to the twentieth century have indicated ownership of their books through the use of bookplates, decorated bindings, inscriptions and annotations.

view of exhibition


One of the items that is on display is this extraordinary binding on a 1664 edition of Justin’s History, in which a wax portrait was inserted. Before the 1830s, when automated bookbinding was introduced, bookbinding was carried out by trained artisans working individually or in small workshops. Customers often had their bindings personalised, usually by having their initials or coats of arms stamped onto the leather. This previous owner, however, appears to have come up with this original way of conveying his ownership of the book.



Iustini historiarum ex Trogo Pompeio lib. XLIV. Amsterdam: Elzevier, 1664. RESERVE–878.9-JUS


This book, a set of six metaphysical exercises, was designed for university use. A previous owner has had several additional blank pages added to the book, and filled them with copious notes in shorthand on metaphysical problems.


Thomas Barlow. Exercitationes aliquot metaphysicæ de Deo. London : Richard Bishop, 1640. RESERVE 110 BAR


The exhibition also includes a large selection of bookplates. A bookplate, or ex libris (meaning ‘from the books of’), is a small print or decorative label, usually produced as an engraving, for pasting inside the cover of a book to express ownership. The use of bookplates as marks of ownership dates back to the last quarter of the fifteenth century.


The exhibition will be on display in the staircase hall at the Special Collections Service until 1 July 2016.

Art Collections in Conversation

Art Collection


Art Collections in Conversation: a series of FREE 45-minute lunchtime events


An opportunity to see and collectively discuss material from the University of Reading’s diverse Art Collections in a series of object-focused events.

Artworks which are usually in storage will be brought to venues around campus.

Learn how to access and use the Art Collections within your research. Led by the University’s Art Collections Officer, Collections Officer and invited guests.

Each event will be broadcast live via Periscope. Live Periscope streams can be accessed through the University of Reading’s Art Collections twitter @UniRdg_ArtCol


Free to attend, but booking is essential.

No food or drink is permitted.


Information about the Art Collections

The University of Reading has an eclectic Art Collection. Artistic works are held within the University’s Special Collections, and within the University’s museums – including the Museum of English Rural Life.

A number of significant artists are represented. This includes: Camden Town Group member Walter Sickert, printmaker Stephen Buckley, surrealist painter and poet Julian Trevelyan, figurative painter Leon Kossoff, Isotype pictogram designer Gerd Arntz, master of the woodcut Allen W. Seaby, cubist Max Weber, engraver Stanley Anderson, abstract photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, renowned naturalist painter Charles Tunnicliffe, 17th century Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens, and many others. The collection includes oils, works on paper and printmaking practices.

Artworks relate to the history of the University, its teaching methods and the varied interests of individuals who have acquired works for the collection over the years. The collection is further enhanced by the work of previous students.

The University of Reading also cares for over 700 boxes of original artwork used to illustrate  Ladybird children’s books.

The University continues to inventory and catalogue the Art Collections. As we do this, the intention is to build the profile of the collections. Our aim is to make the artworks accessible and relevant to the University’s students and specialist researchers. We would like to continue to engage a wider community of users, including the public.