Week 93: an unusual wedding gift

This week’s item from the special collections is a wedding present made for John Arthur Ruskin Munro (1864-1944), who was an undergraduate at Exeter College (1882-1886).

J.A.R. Munro (image supplied by Lincoln College Oxford)

J.A.R. Munro (image supplied by Lincoln College Oxford)

A picture of the hall at Exeter College is on the front cover and the book contains an assortment of music and lyrics. It was created with ‘best wishes for a happy future’ on the occasion of Munro’s marriage to Margaret ‘Birdie’ Neaves.

Munro manuscript

The first leaf contains decorative monograms and watercolours of flowers,

Munro 2 ded

and the names of the happy couple and the bridegroom’s brother are in pictograms at the top of the page: ‘birdie’ Munro (the bride), ‘jar’ John Arthur Ruskin Munro and ‘ham’ Henry Acland Munro.

Munro 2 ded

We might guess that the book was made by a Violet W. as a sprig of violets and the initial ‘w’ can be seen at the bottom of the page.

The book contains 21 Scottish songs, and melodies for the piano and violin, and each page is decorated with charming, hand painted flowers and figures and laboriously copied lyrics.

Munro thistle contents Munro music Munro lyrics Munro intro

Finally, the manuscript concludes with a poem, and music for the wedding march

Munro goodbye Munro wedding march

John Ruskin Munro was the son of the pre-Raphaelite sculptor Alexander Munro, the artist who created the relief of King Arthur and his knights above the entrance to the Oxford Union. John was educated at Charterhouse and then studied Classics at Exeter College. He later became an archaeologist and historian. From 1919 to 1944 he was Rector of Lincoln College Oxford.

This little manuscript provides a tantalising glimpse of a time when people made their own entertainment (and wedding gifts), and weddings were occasions for some original poetry and a lot of jolly Scottish dancing.

Joanna Bowring

College Librarian

Week 94: ‘was there ever such a king of Brittayne as Arthur?’ and other 17c tutorial questions

What was teaching, and learning, like in a 17th century Oxford college? How did it differ from today?

Well, at Exeter College we now have a much better idea as we have acquired the manuscript teaching notes of Exeter’s Rector Prideaux (1578-1650).

Prideaux's teaching notes 1637-41

Prideaux’s teaching notes 1637-41

John Prideaux was the son of a poor Devon farmer. He walked from the West Country to Oxford and was engaged as a college servant at Exeter College, rising to become Rector of Exeter College, royal chaplain, Regius professor of Divinity, Vice-Chancellor of the University, and Bishop of Worcester.

John Prideaux 1578-1650

John Prideaux 1578-1650

Even before he became Rector, Prideaux was acclaimed as a tutor and theologian. His teaching methods were popular, resulting in a series of published textbooks on such subjects as history and moral philosophy.

Chapter on geography

Chapter on geography

The manuscript we now have comprises Prideaux’s notes on geography, history both ‘profane’ and ecclesiastical, law and philosophy. Topics covered include ancient and modern political history from Nimrod to Ferdinand II, English history from the time of myths to that of Charles I, and a ‘view of eccelisticall history to this present 1638’ (from ‘good bishops’ to ‘luxurious Sodomites’ to incureable Babylonians’.

Britain's mythical past discussed

Britain’s mythical past discussed

Chapter on prophane history

Chapter on prophane history

Marvellously, each chapter ends with a number of ‘Inquiries’  – points for discussion between tutor and pupils.

Geographical questions include: ‘whether America was first discovered by Christopher Columbus … whether the Pope had the right to give America to the King of Spayne … whether the Northwest passage to the East Indyes may be hoped for’ … ‘whether the moon be habbitable’

Questions on geography

Questions on geography

The historical ‘inquiryes’ include whether ‘The Conquerors [William I] title to the crowne were feasible … whether the tales of Robin Hood and Little John have any warrantable ground … whether [Henry VIII’s] proceedings  were just against his Queene Anne Bulloyne’ …whether the Powder plot were the most inhumane and devilish designe that was ever undertaken’

The manuscript is thought to have originated from the library of the Earls of Shaftesbury at Wimborne St Giles in Dorset. Anthony Ashley Cooper (1621-1683), the first Earl of Shaftesbury, was a pupil of Prideaux’s at Exeter College from 1637-38 and it is likely that the first part of the book, ‘An Insight into Geography’ was acquired by Ashley Cooper at that time and then the later parts of the manuscript were bound with it at his request.

Fortuitously, the manuscript came up for sale in the 700th anniversary year of the College, and College fellows purchased it for the library to mark both the anniversary and the rectorship of Frances Cairncross (Rector 2004-14).

It provides a remarkable insight into teaching methods and what was being studied at Exeter College in the mid 17th century.

Joanna Bowring

College Librarian

Week 95: Exeter’s ‘dry garden’ – stinking iris and the queen of poisons

One of the most interesting items found deep in our rare books stack is a remarkable one – a 17th century album of pressed plants.

I came across this book last year and it was curious to pick up a large leather-bound volume expecting it to be heavy and to find it instead very light. When opened the book revealed page after page of carefully arranged dried plant samples – a ‘hortus siccus’ (literally ‘dry garden’) as these albums were commonly called at the time ours was made.

album 9

The name of each plant is written in both Latin and English in a seventeenth century hand, but apart from this and the faint lettering ‘hortus siccus’ on its spine, there is no indication of who might have put this fascinating book together.

A trip to Oxford’s Herbarium, where similar plant albums are kept, revealed some clues: the handwriting in Exeter’s volume was not familiar to the experts at the Herbarium so our album had not been made by the famous Oxford botanists Jacob Bobart the Elder (c.1599-1680) or Jacob Bobart the Younger (1641-1719). However, the binding is the same as that of the Bobart the Younger’s  albums (perhaps a local Oxford binder) and the paper used is also the same. The glue used to attach the specimens is however of a different type, darker and more brittle.

The Herbarium were able to date Exeter’s album as having been made sometime between 1670 and 1700.

Great wolfs bane

Great wolfs bane

It was most probably the work of a medical man, but the plants chosen are not obviously medicinal plants and neither do they conform to the ‘doctrine of signatures’ (the medieval belief that ‘like cures like’, that the plant remedy resembles the part of the body it cures, so walnuts (resembling a brain) would cure mental illnesses for example).

There are no cultivated plants. The samples in Exeter’s album are all wild plant varieties which would have grown locally in Oxfordshire.

Roman nettle

Roman nettle

Stinking gladwin

Stinking gladwin

Great golden maidenhair

Great golden maidenhair

Their English names are charming: the stinking gladwyn or iris (said to smell of roast beef), white flowered maudlin (named for Mary Magdalen), small and great periwinckle, great golden maidenhair. There is also a sample of Wolf’s bane, a very poisonous plant sometimes called the Queen of all Poisons, or the devil’s helmet.

Despite having survived for over 340 years, most of the plant samples are in surprisingly good condition. There is evidence of some old insect damage, and the album was frozen at minus 30 degrees for a week by the Herbarium to make sure no insects survive between its pages.

It is tantalising to think of who might have compiled this plant album. Was it a member of  Exeter College? A friend of Bobart the Younger? Perhaps a visitor to the University of Oxford’s Physic Garden (then about 30 years old)?

The Register of the Rectors, Fellows, and other members on the foundation of Exeter College Oxford by the Rev Charles Boase (Oxford, 1894) mentions a possibly likely candidate, Lewis Stephens, Exeter’s Chaplain 1678-81. He was not a medical man but he was described as ‘famous as a botanist’. Could the Rev. Stephens be our anonymous plant collector?

 

Joanna Bowring

College Librarian