1893: A story of scary librarians and brave students

Student helpers at New College Library 1893 ( from the New College Library Archives AA 1.8.1)

New College Library and its students have always had a special relationship. Recently, for example, our students chose their preferred most iconic items from our special collections and contributed to our beautiful exhibition ‘Steps through Time’ (you can check the corresponding post here).

However, not everyone knows that from the early stages of New College Library’s existence, students have played a fundamental role in the organisation and establishment of the library. For example, in 1843, when New College was founded, it was ‘student curators’ who stamped and listed the first donations that arrived at the library from various sources (see Disruption to Diversity, D.Wright and G.D.Badcock, p.187).

In spite of their initial involvement though, in its early days browsing New College Library was not a particularly student friendly experience. In fact, until 1893, the library was entirely the domain of the Librarian – he was the only one who had an overview of the entirety of the catalogue and the only one who was able to peruse the shelves and collect the books requested by the students.

Not only were students not allowed to browse the shelves freely, they were also kept in relative ignorance of the contents of the library, especially if some of the books did not meet with the Librarian’s criteria of safe readings. For example, Dr Kennedy, who was the Librarian of New College Library from 1880 until 1922,  ‘even adopted the stratagem of frustrating any reader, privileged to inspect the shelves, who sought to escape his lynx-like vigilance, by secreting scores of “dangerous” volumes on shelves hidden behind tables or forms ’, as Hugh Watt writes in New College a centenary history (p.162). The catalogue was also a fairly complicated affair, since for several years it consisted of written slips kept in packages accessible only to the Librarian.

Unsurprisingly, this was a most unsatisfactory system for the poor students. Therefore, in 1892, six students braved the phenomenal Dr Kennedy, and under his ‘lynx-like’ vigilance, they assisted him in re-arranging the catalogue to make it more user accessible. After a year of hard work, they published what you can consider as one of DiscoverEd’s ancestors: The Abridged Catalogue of Books in New College library, Edinburgh,1893.

And here, from the depths of New College Library’s Archive collection, is the picture of our student heroes:

From the New College Library archive, ref..AA.1.8.1

New College Library Archives (AA.1.8.1)

And here, with a well-deserved drink after a year of work with the impressive Dr Kennedy:

New College Library Archives (AA 1.8.1.)

While we are not encouraging you to drink beer in the library, or to rebel against our lovely library staff (nowadays, certainly not as scary as good, old Dr Kennedy), we want to celebrate those students with you today. It was also thanks to their hard work that New College Library became the much loved library that it is today.

Not much is known about those student heroes, their names are faded, a scribble at the back of an old photograph. But perhaps next time you wander through the library, send them a grateful thought. They will surely appreciate it.

Barbara Tesio, IS Helpdesk Assistant, New College Library

 

 

That would be an ecumenical matter … Celebrating 70 years of the World Council of Churches

In our New College Library Hall display for September 2018, we’re celebrating the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the World Council of Churches. Inaugurated in 1948, the World Council of Churches (WCC) is one of the leaders of the modern ecumenical movement, working towards the goal of Christian unity. The WCC brings together churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 500 million Christians. New College Library contains nearly a thousand WCC publications, including many unique or rare pamphlets. In the New College Library Archives, we hold the papers of several individuals and organisations who worked with the WCC, including Rev J.H. Oldham, Rev Robert Mackie and Rev. Tom Allaallenn. Continue reading

Thomas Chalmers and The West Port Experiment

Those with an interest in Scottish church history are likely to be very familiar with Thomas Chalmers and the role he played in the Disruption of 1843 but how many know much of his West Port experiment? Continue reading

The Myth of Robert Burns

It was some months ago that among the many sermons and talks given by Rev Tom Allan (1916-1965), one entitled ‘The Myth of Robert Burns’ caught my eye (ref. AA6.2.18). While the Kirk and Burns were not exactly best pals, there has been many an Ayrshire minister who would definitely subscribe to the term ‘Burnsian’. The question was, with a title such as this, on which side was the Ayrshire born Tom Allan going to stand?

The talk (definitely not a sermon) opens by observing that the 25th of January, Burns Night, is also ‘the day set aside in the remembrance of St Paul.’ As Allan writes,

“Indeed, if we were to pursue the speculation on these two notable anniversaries, it would not be difficult to argue that there is much in the character of the Scottish people which has emerged through the conflict of the genius which inspired Paul of Tarsus with the genius which inspired Robert Burns. And it is certain that the life of the Poet himself can only be understood in the light of that conflict.”

He goes on to state,

“It is doubtful if there has been any character in Scottish History – or in any other history for that matter – about whom men have so willingly suspended their critical faculties. For a great multitude of otherwise rational people, the cult of Robert Burns is taken as seriously as it is possible for a cult to be taken. He has become a mythical figure in the manner of the ancient gods, and tonight, all over the world, men and women are meeting in their yearly pilgrimage to the holy place.”

First page of Rev Tom Allan's talk 'The Myth of Robert Burns' (ref. AA6/2/18).

First page of Rev Tom Allan’s talk ‘The Myth of Robert Burns’ (ref. AA6/2/18).

Allan certainly seems to be taking the Kirk’s tone something which is underlined in his comments on ‘two old and dusty volumes in the Library of the University’ he consulted while preparing his talk. He goes on to state that the myth he intends to examine is that of ‘Burns the Saint’ and ‘Burns the Poet’ because

“I sincerely believe that we are doing Burns an injustice which he himself would probably have treated as a colossal joke unless we try to see this man as he really was, and try to estimate his poetry as it really is.”

As far as ‘Burns the Saint’ goes, the talk deals with the reality of his morality, the manner in which ‘the popular Burns orator… attempts to clothe this very human man in the robes of sainthood’, and the excuses others make for his behaviour: whether it is to blame him as a child of his time, society or indeed the Church for it. He concludes,

“There is little of nobility in the life of Robert Burns: there is much that is tragic. It is not ours to judge him. Neither is it ours to worship him for qualities he never possessed.”

When he turns to examine the myth of ‘Burns the Poet’, Tom Allan observes that Burns’ writing is at its best when in his native Ayrshire dialect. Interestingly, he questions how many people could truly say that they understood every word of even the best-loved poems such as ‘Tam o’ Shanter’. He takes a swipe at some other poems such as the ‘Ode to General Washington’s Birthday’ for being ‘woefully artificial’ and ‘bombastic, insincere and trivial.’ However, it is when Allan draws to the conclusion of his talk that his genial side, for which he was renowned, makes itself known. He states that it is Burns’ satiric verse, his narrative poems and songs which are the best of his compositions, the last of these being described as ‘incomparable’.

“Here in the Songs I could almost submit myself to the myth of Robert Burns. Here at last is sincerity and tenderness and a great compassion and a bewitching sadness and an irresistible appeal.”

He might have been a man of the Kirk but this is certainly not the conclusion of a man agin the National Bard.

The papers of Rev Tom Allan (ref. AA6) are available for consultation in New College Library and the catalogue for the collection can be found here: http://archives.collections.ed.ac.uk/repositories/5/resources/86134

Kirsty M. Stewart, New College Collections Curator

Images of The Myth of Robert Burns by Rev Tom Allan (ref. AA6/2/18) [PDF – 1.3MB]

Student interns in Stack III this summer

Over this summer, our three student interns, Thomas, Holly and Mila have been hard at work behind the scenes in New College Library’s Stack III. Their task was to work with the X Collection, a collection of large (folio) early printed books. Over the years this collection had gathered a layer of dust, which our interns carefully removed with a museum book hoover. Having our interns handling each of these books was also a great opportunity to learn more about them, and to understand how the collection was composed in terms of date, language and place of publication. These details were logged using methodology adapted from projects on collections in National Trust Houses.

We’re delighted to say that that our interns have tackled three full bays of the X Collection, and cleaned and logged over 1600 books. We now know that the collection (as logged so far) is almost entirely pre-1800 in date, predominantly in English and Latin and pretty equally split between European and UK imprints. All this information will help us to develop future projects to catalogue this collection online.

It was a pleasure to work with our student interns, and through their enthusiasm to rediscover these collections. Hope to do it all again next year!

Christine Love-Rodgers, Academic Support Librarian – Divinity.

With thanks to Margaret Redpath, NCL Library Services Manager and Karen Bonthron, ECA/NCL Helpdesk Team Lead

Jewish Studies Collections at New College Library : archives

Currently on display at New College Library for the British Association for Jewish Studies Conference to Edinburgh at New College is this lovely manuscript item from New College’s historic archive collections, originally coming from the Library of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

Yitzchaki, Shlomo. Commentary on Deuteronomy, undated. MS BOX 25.2

This is the first page of an illuminated Hebrew manuscript known as Rashi’s Commentary on Deuteronomy. Rashi was Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105), an acclaimed French medieval scholar, whose explanations of scriptures were valued for their precision and simplicity.

The New College Library archives hold the papers of Old Testament and Hebrew and Semitic Languages scholars such as Prof Oliver S Rankin (1885-1956), which contains many writings in German, teaching notes and notes on Jewish festivals, Prof John Duncan (1796-1870) and Prof Norman W Porteous (1898-2003). These papers are important sources for researching Christian academic engagement with the Jewish people and Jewish-Christian Relations. Continue reading

Jewish Studies Collections at New College Library : nineteenth and twentieth centuries

The British Association for Jewish Studies Conference to Edinburgh at New College today covers a wide range of topics under its theme of ‘Jews on the Move’ including the theme of Jewish-Christian relations. New College Library’s collections from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries provide a window into Jewish-Christian relations, particularly through travel writing, and through development of missions to Jews in the Middle East.

Bible Plants, 1887

New College Library’s collections are rich in the area of nineteenth century Christian encounters with Jews, usually in the form of mission to Jewish communities. The New College object collections include objects collected from trips to the Holy Land, including the pressed flower album of ‘Bible Plants’ above, phylacteries, a prayer shawl and a scale model of the Temple of Jerusalem. The book and archive collections include some fascinating materials from the Church of Scotland’s development of missions to Jews in the Middle East, including books, archives and objects relating to Rev. Andrew A. Bonar and Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne. Bonar and McCheyne were appointed by the Church of Scotland in 1838 as part of a deputation to visit Jewish communities in Europe and the Middle East, with a view to future mission activity.

Books from the William Foakes Jackson Collection

The William Fulton Jackson Collection preserves the collection of man who was an enthusiastic armchair traveller to the Holy Land, with a popular, rather than academic interest in Israel and Palestine. His collection also includes many works on Jewish Studies, including encyclopedias and dictionaries, and demonstrates a keen interest in understanding Jews and Judaism.

New College Library’s Pamphlets Collection of over 35,000 items reflects a deliberate policy from the foundation of New College library in 1843 to collect pamphlets and ephemera on historical, religious and current issues. The collection includes these three pamphlets are examples of the publisher Victor Gollancz’s campaign to draw attention to the plight of the Jews in Europe and to demand that the British Government provide rescue and sanctuary for Jewish victims.

Nazi massacres of the Jews & others : some practical proposals for immediate rescue made by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Rochester in speeches on March 23rd 1943 in the House of Lords. London, Gollancz, 1943. Z.h.30/24

One of the founders of the Council of Christians and Jews in 1942, Temple was at the forefront of the campaign to draw attention to the plight of the Jews in Europe and to demand that the British Government provide rescue and sanctuary for Jewish victims. His speech urges:

The Jews are being slaughtered at the rate of tens of thousands a day on many days … we cannot rest as long as there is any sense among us that we are not doing all that might be done.”

Sadly no changes to refugee policy were made by the British Government and after William Temple died in 1944, the impetus for rescuing the Jews did not continue.

“Nowhere to lay their heads” : the Jewish tragedy in Europe and its solution. London : Gollancz, 1945. Z.h.30/33

“Let my people go” : some practical proposals for dealing with Hitler’s massacre of the Jews and an appeal to the British public. London : Gollancz, 1943. Z.h. 30/1

Christine Love-Rodgers – Academic Support Librarian, Divinity

Psalm singing and the Reformation

New College Library welcomes delegates to The Cultures of the Reformation: A Colloquium in Honour of Professor Jane Dawson on Thursday 1 June 2017. We have updated our current display of early psalm books and Scottish liturgy to include two new items.

The CL. Psalmes of David in meter : for the vse of the Kirk of Scotland : the contents of this buke follovve in the next page after the kalender. Imprinted at London : By Thomas Vautrollier dwelling in the Black-Friers, 1587.  tUR 77 1587

Continue reading

Psalms in public and private

New College Library welcomes the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland this week with a display of early psalm books.

The psalmes of David in metre : according as they are sung in the Kirk of Scotland … Edinburgh, 1596. tUR 77 1596

During the period 1564-1644, around 70 editions of the Psalme Buik were produced for used in the Church of Scotland. Continue reading

My dear Playfair

A guest post from Eleanor Rideout, Helpdesk Assistant – New College Library

Letter of Henry Cockburn to William Playfair. Box 49.1.7, New College Library

One of my favourite things about working with historical collections is the unexpected find, like this letter of Henry Cockburn to William Playfair discovered while shelving.

9 Dec [18]41

 My Dear Playfair

 No one can rejoice more cordially than I do; & chiefly on your account. It will do you so much honor, – to say nothing of anything else. It is the best recipe for all your ailments. Get it up while I have eyes to see, – & God bless you.

Ever

Cockburn

 

New College Library through the scaffolding, April 2017

New College is currently deep under scaffolding for cleaning works so a message to the original architect stood out. Henry Cockburn’s name is also familiar – he was a prominent advocate for conservation in Edinburgh and nearby Cockburn Street is named for him.

I had hoped that Cockburn’s excitement was about New College itself, but swiftly realised that the key date of the 1843 Disruption rather prevented this. Checking Playfair’s entry in the Dictionary of Scottish Architects showed that at this time he was working on Donaldson’s Hospital.[1] Getting final design approval seem to have been a difficult process but on 7 December 1841 his plans were finally accepted.[2]

Cockburn for one was impressed: even before work was completed in 1852 he described the building as ‘of itself sufficient to adorn a city’.[3] He lived to 1854, so did indeed get to see the result with his own eyes.

[Donaldson’s image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Edinburgh_Donaldson%27s_School_view_from_SE.JPG]

Eleanor Rideout

[1] http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/architect_full.php?id=100290

[2] David Walker, ‘The Donaldson’s Hospital Competition and the Palace of Westminster’, Architectural History, Vol. 27 (1984)

[3] Henry Cockburn, A letter to the Lord Provost on the best ways of spoiling the beauty of Edinburgh (1849)