Saturday, 19 September 2020

Westcountry Studies. Issue 17. September 2020.

Westcountry Studies

bibliographical newsletter

on Devon and its region

Issue 17

September 2020

Covid-19 - again 
There is little to report on the Devon bibliography front and few new publications have been added to the list of 2020 publications. I remain concerned about the documentation of Covid-19 in Devon and actually approached Granicus to see whether there is any way of obtaining URLs for the bulletins that they distribute on behalf of many local authorities and other bodies. They replied that it was a matter for the individual local authorities and, of those I subscribe to, only Devon offer a web alternative. I am way behind in updating the list of bulletin URLs I have received from Devon County Council which I included in my last newsletter and it is not really up to me to chase the other local authorities in Devon. Hopefully they will be archived by the UK web archive as the Wayback Machine seems very haphazard in picking them up. My tentative bus trips round Devon have found few tourist offices open and the few 2020 tourist guides and leaflets I have picked up were clearly produced and distributed before lockdown and are blissfully unaware of the existence of Covid-19, with lists of events that never took place. Not that publishers have been entirely idle. The Newton St Cyres History Group for example have produced two publications: Stella Cork's Newton St Cyres in the 1940s and 1950s and Newton St Cyres and the Civil War 1642-46 by Jean Wilkins. There may be other local publishers and local organisations active, but distribution is a major problems with many outlets closed and post offices often remote. In Crediton Andrew Davey at the wonderful Crediton Community Bookshop drew my attention to a Mint Press publication which Waterstones in Exeter had not yet picked up: T. P. Wiseman's Exeter and the ancient world. Generally though, I am leaving the Devon bibliography dormant as I have other fish to fry.  

Libraries and archives are now opening again and are also providing on-line services but in Westcountry Studies Library Covid-19 has clearly taken its toll. While the catalogue lists just over 100 Devon books and pamphlets for 2019 (the 443 items claimed include over 300 for "19--"), there is only one item for 2020 as of 18 September. Exeter Central Library participated in Heritage Open Days this year in a number of ways, including a virtual stack tour by Stock Manger Jo Lawrence featuring Exeter Library's oldest book, dating from 1480. And of course The Box is due to open its doors in Plymouth at the end of September. The previews are stunning, and all at a cost of a mere £37m and only £13m over budget - eye-watering sums from the perspective of  Exeter and Devon but hopefully a good investment in the city's heritage. And, despite Covid, they managed it during Mayflower year. 

Sabine Baring-Gould
I have recently received news of the death of Roger Bristow, the compiler of the bibliography of Sabine Baring-Gould's extensive output of more than 1,000 publications. A sad loss - his work was most helpful in connection with my work on the Baring-Gould Library in Lewtrenchard. Earlier in September I visited Lewtrenchard Manor to deliver items from the Shacklock Collection that had been sent to my home for cataloguing during lockdown and was pleased to find the hotel once more open and busy. 

Two rival Devon publications of 1829.

On 1 September 1829 the first part of two publications appeared simultaneously, each containing two topographical prints of Devon, and parts of each continued to appear monthly until July 1832 in the case of Fisher, Son and Co's Devonshire and Cornwall illustrated and until July 1833 in the case of Jennings and Chaplin's The history of Devonshire from the earliest period to the present, by Thomas Moore. By that time each had published 94 finely engraved plates of Devon, plus Cornwall items in the case of Fisher's publication. These were a far bigger tally than any previous illustrated publication for Devon and were only exceeded later by the Devon plates in the series of small vignettes by Henry Besley whose 117 vignettes appeared between 1852 and 1875, and the national series of Barnstaple born William Rock, published between 1848 and 1876. In Germany this rivalry has intrigued Kit Batten, author with Francis Bennett of cartobibliographies of Devon and I have been helping him to unravel the complex publishing history by examining the incomplete set of original parts of Moore's volume held in the Westcountry Studies Library. Kit is publishing the results of his researches online in Two illustrated books on Devon, 1829 and has provided me with an almost complete set of high resolution images from the two publications which will be included in the revised Etched on Devon's memory website. The images can now be allocated to individual parts and more precisely dated, which will enhance the bibliographical information available for each print.  

Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival
The festival is running as I draft this newsletter, from 16-20 September, and all events are freely available on the web until 30 September. Those I have watched are excellent and, of course they include our local literary luminary Hilary Mantel, two of whose publications are included in the virtual bookshop. The organisers are to be applauded at the way they have circumvented lockdown and deserve the donations that they have requested for mounting the events on-line without the benefit of ticket sales. 

Pike Ward and Iceland
In July I noticed a photograph album of views of Iceland which Pike Ward had put together as a gift in 1904. It was offered for sale at a not inconsiderable sum by an American bookseller. The bookseller had generously placed a number of the images on the sales pitch and it revealed that most of them are already represented in the albums which formed part of the Westcountry Studies Library, so staff at the Devon Heritage Centre agreed that it would not be necessary to acquire them. However Katherine Findlay, author of Pike Ward's Icelandic adventure made contact with the National Library in Reykjavik and it is good to know that the album has now found an appropriate home there. Apparently the library had few original photographs by this notable Devonian Icelander. I have a soft spot for someone who could call his home on the bleak slopes of Isafjordur Rose Cottage and his house in Teignmouth Valhalla. Interestingly Reykjavik is also a UNESCO city of literature, so there may be room for collaborative events with Exeter during the coming four year programme. 

A literary forgery revealed in Exeter 
Digging for illustrations to illustrate the section on early Italian printing in my international survey of printing history, I had confirmed what I had come to suspect, that the second oldest book in Exeter Library's cage is not the real thing. 


The more eagle-eyed among you will notice the slight difference in the two title pages. Exeter's on the left has the spelling "Propetius" while the one on the right from the Internet Archive has the correct "Propertius". I had been surprised that such a lapse should have passed the attention of the scholarly Venetian printer Aldus Manutius and my hunch was proved to be correct. Exeter's copy was produced not in Venice but in Lyon, from the workshop of Baldassare Gabiano. This printer had started his career with his uncle Giovanni Bartolomeo de Gabiano, a bookseller in Venice, but found it more profitable to move to Lyon in the 1490s and issue pirated editions of Aldus Manutius - cheaper but not so carefully produced as the originals. So, it remains Exeter Library's second oldest book, but sheds an interesting light on early book trade practices - and the library does still have genuine Aldine editions in its cage. It receives a passing mention in Fakes and forgeries, the latest post in the World Book Heritage website I am helping to prepare for the UNESCO city of literature project - below. 

A clarion call for libraries
Radio 4's book of the week recently was Richard Ovenden's Burning the books: a history of knowledge under attack (John Murray, 2020). Written by Bodley's Librarian, who has lived through many of the assaults on books and libraries and who works in an  institution which has worked to accumulate and spread knowledge and information for more than four centuries, it is an important statement on the key role of libraries, even in the digital age when funders have breathed a sigh of relief that now the book is finally dead and we no longer need to fund these expensive warehouses with their associated specialist staff. The author is clear that libraries should reclaim the data that is in the hands of a few tech companies. He asks in the section entitled "The digital deluge": Is knowledge less vulnerable to attack when it is controlled by private organisations? Should libraries and archives still have a role to play in stewarding digital memory from one generation to the next as they have done since the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia?" His answer is in the final section: "Why we will always need libraries and archives". He defines five key functions of libraries:
  • They support the education of society as a whole and of specific communities within it.
  • They provide a diversity of knowledge and ideas.
  • They support the well-being of citizens and the principles of the open society through the preservation of key rights and through encouraging integrity in decision making.
  • They provide a fixed reference point, allowing truth and falsehood to be judged through transparency, verification, citation and reproducibility.
  • They help root societies in their cultural and historical identities through preserving the written record of those societies and cultures. 
In the book he follows through a number of case studies of knowledge under attack from nations that have seen the power and danger of knowledge, and have seen the destruction of libraries as the annihilation of the community memory and hence the identity of a society - a form of ethnic cleansing. I remember visiting the shell of the National Library in Sarajevo in 2007.

Propped against the closed main entrance were a number of withered bouquets - a pathetic sign that some people at least realised what Bosnia had lost.

The author brings the discussion closer to home in almost the last page of the book when he states: "Libraries, record offices and local history centres have wonderfully rich collections where often very rare and obscure materials are acquired (often by donation) and gifted to the local 'memory institution'. This work often goes uncelebrated and is often very poorly funded. A renewal of emphasis on local history might help local communities develop a greater sense of their own place, helping to bind them together, encouraging more understanding of who we are and where we come from. 
UNESCO City of Literature
Hopefully this awareness of the key role of local studies collections will be heightened in Devon by Exeter's recent award. Work is well under way in putting together a programme for the four year Exeter initiative. I have been in contact with the organisers and have offered the contents of the Exeter Working papers in book history, the Devon bibliography, and Etched on Devon's memory websites. Rescuing and updating the From script to print to hypertext exhibition of 1999 from the Wayback Machine as a structure, I am also transcribing some of my extensive manuscript lecture notes as the World book heritage website to serve as a resource base for projects. Something to keep me busy, and hopefully inspired, during the coming winter lockdown.