Sir Walter Raleigh (c.1552 – 1618) is well-known for his connections with the court of Queen Elizabeth I and for his voyages of exploration, and is popularly credited with introducing potatoes and tobacco to Britain. He was, less famously, a scholar and poet. In 1813 his poems were published with a critical introduction; Special Collections at Brunel holds a second edition of this work, which was transferred to Brunel from the Shakespeare Authorship Trust.
This copy of the book is of great interest not simply for the texts it contains, but also for the light it can shed on the past; on the way it was used, and on the ways in which former owners interacted with the text.
The work is bound in a nineteenth-century gold-tooled leather binding, with more modern repairs, together with an edition of the poems of Robert Southwell which was printed separately in 1817. The binding would have been done on the orders of an early owner of the works, and may reflect his or her taste and budget as well as current fashions.
Handwritten names and notes throughout the book show that there have been several former owners or users; two people with the same surname added their names, indicating that perhaps the book was given or bequeathed by one family member to another.
Some of the notes are simply correcting the text, commenting on it, or marking passages of particular interest to the reader. One of the most intriguing additions is a lengthy Raleigh quotation, copied out, and captioned “Quoted by the father of a missing pilot, 1941”.
The source for this is a letter written by the said anonymous father to The Times, hoping the quotation would bring comfort to others as it had to him. The book’s owner, under the quotation, has added “This is supported by the conclusions in psychotherapy as expanded by Marcus Gregory”, and has made notes elsewhere about psychotherapy, showing another of his or her interests as applied to Raleigh’s works. Marcus Gregory published several works on psychotherapy in the 1930s; it is not clear which one is referred to here.
One former owner studied a place where Raleigh lived, and added pencil sketches to this copy of the poems. The drawings are of Myrtle Grove, a house near Youghal in Ireland, and of yew trees in the garden there. Raleigh lived at Myrtle Grove in the 1580s and legend has it that the first potatoes in Ireland were planted there.
The drawing of the garden seems to be copied from a print in The Illustrated Guide to Sir Walter Raleigh`s House by Samuel Hayman (Youghal, 1861), shown here; further research on the annotations in the edited poems could reveal more about the interests of former owners, and about the information they had access to.
This post gives a taste of the kinds of information that can be gleaned from a study of the book as a physical object. Many books have more secrets waiting to be discovered.