Alas, and thrice woe (from my point of view anyway), this is my last ever blog for the Cambridge Library Collection. I now slip away into the sunset, leaving others to ramble on (or, even better, write snappily and coherently) on the subject of our wonderful CLC books.
I thought I’d end with a list of books and authors on my conscience, because I should have blogged about them and never did. First and foremost comes Jane Welsh Carlyle, whose three volumes of letters are a delight from start to finish, in spite of the disadvantage that her husband Thomas’s annotations witter on about his poor dear Jeannie rather more than they explicate her references to people and places.
Next, Tycho Brahe, in the biography by his compatriot John Louis Emil Dreyer (1852–1926) (who also wrote a History of the Royal Astronomical Society, 1820-1920 (1923), and edited William Herschel’s scientific papers). I never got around to reading this, but who could resist a blurb which begins, ‘Famous for his metal prosthetic nose, and for being associated with “unlucky” days in Scandinavian folklore …’.
And I have never really got to grips (however feebly) with Linnaeus, though of course he pops up a great deal in a botanical/horticultural context. One of the fascinating things to emerge from our many classificatory works from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is that it looked for a long time as though Linnaeus’s system would not end up as the universally accepted one, for plants at any rate: the so-called ‘natural’ system was much more popular with many writers including the great Lindley – several of whose works, by the way, will be appearing in the next month or so.
Maths is not so much a grey area to me as a completely blank one, but, even so, perhaps I should have tackled Herbert McKay’s Odd Numbers (1940), allegedly the antidote to mathematics as dull and difficult. However, I have more sense than even to contemplate physics, except at the ‘soft’ end, i.e. biographical material (Somerville, Lodge, Babbage, etc.).
I should have done more on classical subjects, especially the terrifyingly learned nineteenth-century German editions of the Greek dramatists – but of course they are terrifyingly learned, and surely beyond any comment I could sensibly give. Some of the most exciting works (to me) have been the early nineteenth-century accounts by learned travellers such as W.M. Leake and Robert Pashley, but it’s also interesting to see the beginnings of the application of the techniques and approaches of modern history to the ancient world: J.P. Mahaffy’s Social Life in Greece from Homer to Menander is one example, or Heitland’s Agricola (though this did get a mention in the context of the Bateson family).
As the bicentenary commemorations of Waterloo get under way, we have lots of stuff, from Wellington himself to a British Rifle Man to John Kincaid, to Siborne’s two-volume account: not forgetting, of course, Vanity Fair. ‘No more firing was heard at Brussels – the pursuit rolled miles away. Darkness came down on the field and city: and Amelia was praying for George, who was lying on his face, dead, with a bullet through his heart.’ And, so as not to forget Napoleon, we have another account of his days on St Helena, from his Irish personal physician, Barry O’Meara.
We have some lovely books on London coming through shortly, including C.L. Kingsford’s Chronicles of London and his two-volume edition of Stow’s 1603 Survey of London, to say nothing of the startlingly ambitious three-volume Anecdotes of the Manners and Customs of London from the Roman Invasion to the Year 1700, by James Peller Malcolm, to go with Charles Roach Smith’s wonderful Illustrations of Roman London, which I wrote about quite recently. (There are two more works by Smith in the pipeline as well.)
Or there are new books on China, Tibet, Japan, and Korea, in which you can learn (among much else) the export quantities from China of sugar-candy, tea of every description, camphor, cassia lignea and dragon’s blood, and that the Chinese materia medica contains forty-three kinds of water and eleven of fire.
I could go on (and on), and indeed my blogging (and tweeting) days are not yet over – I will shortly resurface in a different guise. But I really envy the new writers on this blog their job of getting to read the amazing books in the Cambridge Library Collection and then writing about them. Finally, thanks to our followers for all their kind remarks over the years – and keep reading the books!