Historic libraries hold secrets which it has taken centuries to unlock. It’s not just the books, but the stuff hidden inside them - signatures, marginalia, scraps of paper, all bearing witness to the people who owned them, read them, scribbled in them (not today, please!) and loved them. The task I set our last trainee, Alison Winston, was to compile an index to these hidden treasures in the Hurd Library. But she’s given us far more than an index - she left us last week, having compiled a complete access database, with which I have been getting to grips this week, with a little help from my friends. We can now search for bookplates, notes and provenances, such as Alexander Pope. A typical entry looks like this:
The column at the side shows all the books in which Pope’s name appears. Here is one of them:
This is on the flyleaf of a book given by Pope to Ralph Allen in 1742.
The bookplate of Treadway Nash, the historian of Worcestershire, who gave Bishop Hurd many books. And we can see here the library stamp which Hurd had cut for his books, in the hopes, no doubt, that .they wouldn’t roam too far.
This one belonged to Archbishop William Laud. And this was in the library of Bishop John Prideaux ,who was kicked out of Hartlebury in the Civil War:
We can see a later owner was Henry Sutton who, with scant respect for his predecessor, has written his name in the loops of the J. This book (the works of Saint Augustine) eventually joined the collection of Charles Shipley, Rector of nearby Grimley (where, followers of this blog may remember, he had some trouble with his sister-in-law); he gave it to the Hurd Library, along with several other magnificent gifts, such as this one:
The Aldine Suidas of 1514.
We know Hurd himself began collecting books at the age of 17, for here is the evidence:
And there are countless entries for the Bishop’s beloved nephew, Dickie. Here is one:
And here’s Dickie’s note, in Galt’s George the Third, his court and his family - a book Hurd never saw as it was published in 1820:
This is the story of a little boy who, allowed by the kindly old king to run about in his closet, picked up a piece of paper from the floor and refused to show it until the king promised to let him keep it. It was a banknote for £1,000 which had fallen from the bureau. The king took his wife’s advice and wrote the child a cheque. £1,000 then was worth about £100,000 now and could have bought the Hurd Library three times over.
Alison has done us proud. New research possibilities are now opened up - book-collecting in Worcestershire is one of them. And only yesterday, when I felt I was getting to know what she’d done for us, I had an email from a scholar asking if we have any marginalia by Pope and William Warburton. We have indeed - we knew we had but now we can find them.
Hurd had a copy of Racine’s works, published in 1728, and he will have been familiar with this extract from the play Britannicus:
Il n’est point de secrets que le temps ne revele - there are no secrets which time does not reveal. Or, in this case, computers. Thank you, Alison.
Christine Penney, Hurd Librarian