Marginalia and provenance in the Cardiff Rare Books

Last year the Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP), an initiative which provides summer placements for undergraduates in the university research environment, helped fund a research project on Marginalia and Provenance in the Restoration Drama texts of the Cardiff Rare Books Collection. This year, another CUROP award helped fund two more undergraduates to undertake research for Dr Melanie Bigold’s on-going project on Marginalia and Provenance in the Cardiff Rare Books. The focus last year was on the 900 volumes of the Restoration Drama Collection. This year, Victoria Shirley and Thomas Tyrrell began to tackle the larger collection. Supported by the staff in Special Collections and Archives (SCOLAR), Victoria and Thomas were able to inspect over 1100 octavo texts with publication dates between 1660 and 1700. More information about visiting SCOLAR and the Cardiff Rare Books can be found here:

More information about CUROP can be found here:

I. The Rees family and the Cardiff Rare Books collection

by Victoria Shirley

Throughout September, I and another research assistant, Thomas Tyrrell, were given the opportunity to work with the Cardiff Rare Books collection. The collection was acquired by the Special Collections and Archives (SCOLAR) at Cardiff University in 2010, and it totals almost 14,000 books, with works spanning the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. Our positions were funded by the Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP), and we were employed to catalogue the provenance and marginalia throughout the collection covering the period 1660–1700. The project was a continuation of previous work undertaken to catalogue the marginalia and provenance in the Restoration Drama collection, and our job was to examine the collection more generically, taking into account the details of ownership and annotations in various political and theological works.

What interested me most was the number of individual Welsh family collections that can be traced throughout the collection as a whole. Given that the university bought the collection from the Cardiff Public Library, which acquired its books via donations, purchases, and bequests, the records of various Welsh owners is not actually surprising. Indeed, there are a number of books owned by a number of Joneses, Lloyds, Evanses, Jenkinses, Griffithses and so on; but the owners of these books are, unfortunately, untraceable due to the sheer popularity of these surnames in Wales. However, the volume of books owned by one specific family—the Rees family of Ton near Llandovery—is particularly intriguing.

There are three main family members who can be traced throughout the collection: W. J. Rees, David Rice Rees and Rice Rees. W. J. Rees (1772–1855) was a cleric and antiquary who attended Carmarthen Grammar School and Wadham College, Oxford, and entered into ecclesiastical orders in 1796. His brother David Rice Rees (1787–1856) was a shop assistant and bookseller, and he eventually entered into the printing industry with his nephew William Rees (1803–73), who printed Lady Charlotte Guest’s three-volume translation of The Mabinogion from 1848–49. Nevertheless, the main figure who can be traced throughout this collection is Rice Rees (1804–39), a cleric and scholar who attended Lampeter Grammar school before moving up to Jesus College, Oxford which had a particular reputation for admitting Welsh students prior to various reforms in the nineteenth century. Rice Rees went on to become a librarian and lecturer in Welsh at Saint David’s College and he was also elected as a fellow of his Oxford college in 1828 after his ordination in 1827. The Rees family, then, was clearly a wealthy Welsh family with a clerical background who were in the perfect position to donate books to the Cardiff Public Library.

Before the foundation of Aberystwyth Library, the Cardiff Library had aspirations to become the home of the National Library of Wales, and so donors like the Rees family could cultivate their own cultural status and identity by offering their books for the use of the general public.  The question, then, is what kinds of books this family donated to the Cardiff Public Library? Of course, our project was limited to 1660–1700, and so our findings can only account for this time period. Of the books we managed to catalogue in the collection, there are almost 50 works that were previously owned by the Rees family and, as is to be expected from a family with a clerical background, there are many theological works including, for example, Joseph Alleine’s A Sure Guide to Heaven (1689), Richard Allestree’s The Whole Duty of Meditation (1694), William Cave’s Primitive Christianity (1686), and Jeremiah Dyke’s The Worthy Communicant (1689). However, there are also other classical and philosophical works, such as Richard Blackmore’s Homer and Virgil not to be compar’d with the two Arthurs (1700), Basil Kennet’s Romae Antiquae Notitia (1696), and Lucretius’s books on Epicurean Philosophy (1683). While Cardiff University does not hold the exact records as to who withdrew these books when they were in the public library, the fact that the public had access to these sorts of works which would have undoubtedly been expensive to purchase emphasises the importance of donors like the Rees family in the history of libraries.

Despite the large number of books previously owned by the Rees family, they are not the only traceable Welsh family in the collection. Our research discovered that the collection also holds books from the Lewis family of Llanishen, who had estates in Pentyrch, Capel Llaniltern and Tongwynlais. Inscriptions and bookplates in various books indicate that the these books were owned by Wyndham Lewis, either the Revd Wyndham Lewis (d. 1835) or his son (1780–1838) the MP for Cardiff; Colonel Henry Lewis, owner of the Greenmeadow estate and who was involved in the Downlais Ironworks near Merthyr Tydfil; and also the British engineer and antiquary George Thomas Clark (1809–98), owner of the Tal-y-Garn estate and who married Henry’s daughter, Ann, in 1850. Even more interesting is the fact that the collection also holds works owned by Benjamin Wooding (d. 1861) and his son the Welsh genealogist, historian, bibliophile and shopkeeper, David Lewis Wooding (1828–91). David Lewis Wooding’s personal library, which included the works of the Welsh cleric and author David Lloyd Isaac, was given to the Cardiff Library—specifically to the chief librarian, John Ballinger—after his death. As Wooding was a known donor of a large number of books to the Cardiff Library, it means that, besides the translation of the Qur’an from 1688 that we found, there are probably more of his books to be discovered throughout the collection.

The books of the Rees family, the Lewis family, and the Wooding family in the Cardiff Rare Books collection shows that donors to the Cardiff Public Library came from both academic and economically successful backgrounds. Moreover, the records of these names document the histories of these books as they are transferred as cultural objects between various owners and, thanks to SCOLAR, these books are now moving into another stage as they enter the archiving process. Working as a research assistant on this project has provided me with insight into the academic research process, and has also gave me the unique opportunity to work with very rare primary texts. Being able to work on the project has also revealed to me the wealth of scholarly materials and collections that Cardiff University holds, and I hope to utilise these throughout my postgraduate studies.

II. Marginalia and controversy in the Cardiff Rare Books

by Thomas Tyrrell

This September, I was given a chance to spend the month examining the marginalia and provenance information inside over a thousand volumes of the many thousand works in the University’s Rare Books Collection. Having eagerly followed the volumes concerned, from the point where Cardiff Public Library was threatening to sell them off to private buyers, to their current resting place in the SCOLAR section of the Arts and Social Sciences Library, I was eager to explore them for myself.

My colleague, Victoria Shirley, and I were examining books in the date range 1660–1700. As we went through the texts, the overwhelming impression I received was one of massive religious controversy. This was a period when the Puritan Commonwealth gave way to the libertine excesses of the Restoration, when the brief reign of the Roman Catholic James II was overthrown by the Protestant populace, when rumours of a Popish Plot sparked religious paranoia, and when the majority of Non-Conformist sects were first founded and gathered followers. It was a period of when a simple defence of the principles of Roman Catholicism against the excesses of Protestant rhetoric—John Gowther’s pamphlet A Papist Misrepresented and Represented (1696)—could provoke four separate attacks and as many defences, as well as providing enough material for a pamphlet giving an overview of the whole controversy to be published the following year.

For the most part the men and women who left their marks in the books they owned have confined themselves to the timeless diversions of writing their names in the covers and correcting errata, but occasionally readers do engage positively or negatively with the controversy of the text. These marginalia writers are often unnamed and undated or both, but their voices betray a lively critical or satirical interest in the text.

One of the more famous figures of the day was the Puritan church leader and theologian Richard Baxter. His most famous work was the hefty classic of devotional literature The Saint’s Everlasting Rest (1662), in the pages of which we meet J. F. Wincks. Wincks is obviously a believer in something like the Doctrine of Universal Salvation, and is given to berating Baxter for his Calvinist adherence to the notion of Heaven only being open to a chosen few. Taking advantage of the marginal space to move into direct conversation with the author, Wincks writes, ‘alas! alas! what is to become of the rest then? made to be damned are they? Oh shocking! are these your views of a God of Love, Richard?’

In another edition of the same work, the reader has taken exception to the eight pages wherein Baxter discusses the apparitions of Satan and his devils and their dealings with witches; here, though, they have cut them entirely out of the book and scribbled over the remaining fragment, choosing to censor the author rather than engage him in debate. In another work of devotional literature, The Ladies Calling (1677), which is commonly attributed to the anonymous churchman Richard Allestree, we find prefixed with the following verses:

Had I seen you sooner prudent book
I should have kept my feeling back
’Tis now too late, oh what a pity
To have lost my virginity

The patent ludicrousness of the verse betrays the reader’s satirical perspective on Allestree’s work of female piety, and his notions of the frailty of female virtue. Whilst there is no indication of the owner of the text, the nature of the satire seems to suggest a male reader .

In the marginalia in Sir Roger L’Estrange’s translation of The Visions of Dom Francisco de Quevedo Villegas (1696) we see two different reader’s perspectives on this Rabelaisian work, which includes visions of Death, Hell and the Last Judgment. The first reader, John Perry, clearly takes to it with a libertine’s relish, complimenting Quevedo’s ‘Complaint of the Poets in Hell’ with a pair of couplets of his own composition, and evidently finding much in the work to enjoy and sympathise with. The other more uptight reader notes on the top of page 158 that this is ‘Such a Diabolical Book’. To judge from the holes cut in the later parts of the book, they appear to have found John Perry such an irritating companion that they have cut him out of it completely.

It is common to think of the book as expressing the author’s voice only, but in the marginalia to these works we can glimpse the distinctive reactions of each reader to the author’s text, ranging for satire, to scolding, to thin-lipped disapproval and excision. It is truly a fascinating insight into their opinions.


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