We have been packing up some of the books which are to go into the sale at the Cambridge University Press Bookshop from 16 June onwards. We do this yearly, to clear our limited shelving space of some of the single advance copies which we get of each book, and it is a time of both great interest and great frustration: interest because I come across books I’d forgotten we had done, and frustration because I pack up so many titles which I will now (probably) never read.
For example, Major-General William Napier’s narrative of his brother Sir Charles James Napier’s exploits, in The Conquest of Scinde (1845), and Sir James Outram’s The Conquest of Scinde: A Commentary (1846), two very different accounts of the same event – the conquest by the British of the territory of Sind in India – involving former friends and comrades-in-arms whose conflict over the politics of the annexation led to bitter enmity afterwards.
Then there is Luke Howard’s two-volume The Climate of London (1818–20), an outline of the systematic approach to gathering weather data devised by the Quaker chemist and meteorologist who gave the beautiful Latin names to cloud formations which we still use today.
I am unlikely to find out whether ‘the Swan of Lichfield’ Anna Seward, poet and letter writer, deserved the epithet, now that her Letters Written between the Years 1784 and 1807, in six volumes, have been packed up. Devoted friend and biographer of Erasmus Darwin, edgy antagonist of Samuel Johnson, and friend/foe of James Boswell, she sat in her provincial market town, publishing pseudonymous poetry and corresponding with all the above, as well as Sir Walter Scott, Josiah Wedgwood, Hannah More, and Humphry Repton, to name but a few.
North Ludlow Beamish, a soldier and antiquarian, published his two-volume History of the King’s German Legion in 1832–7. This is the definitive account of what was effectively the Hanoverian army in exile. After Napoleon’s troops overran George III’s German kingdom in 1803, thousands of officers and men made their way to England to form the King’s German Legion, which consisted of several regiments of cavalry and infantry, as well as artillery and engineers. These forerunners of the Polish, Czech and Free French units who re-grouped in Britain during the Second World War provided Wellington with arguably his finest cavalry during the Peninsular War and the Waterloo campaign.
How about the edition of Linnaeus’ correspondence (1821) by J.E. Smith, founder and first president of the Linnaean Society of London, or the General View of the Writings of Linnaeus, To Which is Annexed the Diary of Linnaeus, Written by Himself, and Now Translated into English, from the Swedish Manuscript in the Possession of the Editor, originally published in 1781 by Richard Pulteney, of which we reissued the second edition (1805), edited by William George Maton?
And along the same lines, Hortus Kewensis (in three volumes). The horticulturist William Aiton (1731–93) became Joseph Banks’s superintendent at Kew Gardens in 1783. In compiling this 1789 botanical catalogue, he was assisted with the identification and scientific description of some 5,600 species by Banks’ colleagues and librarians Daniel Solander and Jonas Dryander.
I haven’t read the two-volume Memoirs of Lieutenant Joseph René Bellot (1855), the heroic young French naval officer whose travels took him to the Arctic on a British expedition in search of Franklin before his tragic death at the age of twenty-seven. Popular subscriptions (listed in the book) supported the erection of a monumental obelisk to his memory on the river embankment at Greenwich, which is still there today.
The Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Mrs Frances Sheridan, by Alicia Lefanu, her granddaughter, apparently ‘depended heavily upon unsubstantiated family tradition’, but are probably all the more interesting for that. And for a table-turning narrative, I ought to have read Evliya Celebi’s three-volume Narrative of Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa in the Seventeenth Century, which for a change reveals the weird lives and customs of Europeans to an avid Turkish readership.
I can’t pretend to regret Gesammelte Werke, Herausgegeben auf Veranlassung der Königlich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, in eight volumes, of the German mathematician C. G. J. Jacobi, nor indeed Principles of the Manufacture of Iron and Steel, by Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, grandfather of Gertrude. But from these books and hundreds like them, you are bound to find something that matches your own interests, however specialised or eccentric!