I mentioned back in the spring that we were soon to reissue Christopher Wordsworth’s biography of his uncle, the poet (and Poet Laureate) William. It has now arrived, and is a very good read, not least because the author quotes his more famous uncle’s letters and autobiographical poems very liberally. This was the sine qua non of the biographical enterprise: when Christopher (a scholar who later became bishop of Lincoln) discussed ‘the Biography of departed poets’ with his uncle in 1847, the latter ‘expressed an opinion that a poet’s Life is written in his WORKS; and this is undoubtedly true, in a remarkable manner, in his own particular case’. Continue reading
It’s very easy to wish yourself back to a particular historical period or event: I do it the whole time. But every so often you come across an important corrective to the idyll. One such is William Withering’s An Account of the Foxglove, and Some of its Medical Uses (1785). He published the work with some misgivings, because ‘it is better the world should derive some instruction, however imperfect, from my experience, than that the lives of men should be hazarded by its unguarded exhibition, or that a medicine of so much efficacy should be condemned and rejected as dangerous and unmanageable’.
After 160 years there are claims that one of Sir John Franklin’s ships has been found by a Canadian team that has been searching since 2008. The original, intensive search for Franklin’s lost expedition involved huge resources and numerous voyages to the Arctic. It caught the imagination of the Victorian public in a way comparable to how the MH370 tragedy has resonated in our own time. The Cambridge Library Collection has reissued over 30 accounts of the Victorian searches, many of them by participants, as well as Franklin’s own accounts of earlier expeditions, several biographies of the explorer, and the diaries and correspondence of his wife, who pressed for the searches to continue. It will be fascinating to see how the new discovery fits in with the theories being put forward in the early 1850s. Continue reading
Today we celebrate the rhinoceros – not just any rhinoceros, but the Indian species, Rhinoceros unicornis, the fifth largest land animal. About 3,000 live, mostly, in Assam and Nepal, though it is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUNC (i.e. not as bad as ‘Endangered’, but worse than ‘Near Threatened’). The problem is not so much loss of habitat as of the ridiculous belief in rhino horn as both status symbol and ‘traditional medicine’ in certain countries. Continue reading
The amazingly prolific letter-writing of the Victorians (think of Ruskin, Thomas and Jane Carlyle, George Eliot, Darwin) is ascribed to the introduction of the Penny Post by Sir Rowland Hill in 1840. The setting up of a select committee to investigate and propose reforms to the postal service occurred quite early in Queen Victoria’s reign, as the existing system was increasingly criticised for rising costs, inconsistent tariffs (based on both distance and the number of sheets of paper – double rate if you used an envelope), and general inefficiency. Continue reading