Unaccessioned material: Miss D’Arcy Thompson and works by Charles Bennett

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a Special Collections Division in possession of good books, must have a backlog of unaccessioned material”.

Okay, so this perhaps doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like the opening sentence of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (which, coincidentally, contains characters with the surnames Darcy and Bennet…), but I think it sums up the situation quite well. Special Collections are repositories for the unique and distinctive, for the rare and valuable, and as such can often be the focus of donations, or transfers of stock from the lending side of the library within which they operate. Very often there just aren’t the staff to deal with everything right at the moment of receipt. Here at the University of St Andrews Library we have a good mix of permanent, project, casual and voluntary staff in all areas of our work, but just over 20 years ago we had only 3 permanent staff. And we’ve been accepting donations for over 600 years…

Some of the books from the Scott Collection, ‌which was presented to St Leonard’s College in 1620 and 1646 by Sir John Scot of Scotstarvit (1585-1670) and his friends for the formation of a ‘class library’ in the humanities.

So it really is inevitable that over the years some sort of backlog is going to build up. Perhaps it’s a shelf (if you’re lucky), or perhaps a wall, or even a room…

Well, across Special Collections at present, and in the Rare Books team at St Andrews in particular, we’re fortunate enough to be tackling our backlog of unaccessioned gifts (and I’ll admit that it’s a little more than a shelf…). My delving into this backlog is throwing up some lovely items, and so it’s my intention, when the mood takes me, to share with you through occasional blog posts some of the more interesting or quirky books.

Some of the books from our historic backlog of unaccessioned gifts, catalogued and ready for shelving.

In March 1989, Miss Ruth D’Arcy Thompson, whose father was D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, Professor of Natural History at St Andrews from 1917 until 1948, donated a collection of books to the University. Amongst those which caught my eye were those by Charles H. Bennett, a prolific Victorian illustrator who pioneered techniques in comic illustration.

D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, depicted with a skeleton of a bird. St Andrews copy ms48534-ph-2-16.

Among Bennett’s best known and best loved books were his Shadows series, which began life as a series of caricatures for the Illustrated Times. These depicted shadows cast by an individual, which revealed something of their inner personality.

One of the 24 images in Shadows, depicting “A Greedy Pig”. In the St Andrews copy the lithographs are hand-coloured, but the work was also issued uncoloured. St Andrews copy r NC1479.B46S531E56Z.

The receipt for D’Arcy Thompson’s copy of Shadows, purchased from Frank Hollings in July 1905, and laid into the volume. It’s always exciting to come across provenance such as this. St Andrews copy r NC1479.B46S531E56Z Envelope.

Between 1858 and 1859 these images were issued in ten parts by William Kent, matched with poetry and prose by Robert Barnabas Brough. In 1860 they were published together under the title Shadow and Substance, some copies with the plates hand coloured. Whereas Shadows has no accompanying text, in Shadow and Substance the eidolograph (a magic lantern which casts a shadow depicting the subject’s true character) and the eidolographic process is described, whilst each portrait of “the most distinguished living celebrities” is accompanied by a “biographical, critical, or otherwise pertinent essay”.

The true nature of “The most noble the Marquis of Capricorne”, shown plain and hand-coloured. St Andrews copies r NC1479.B46S53E60 Copy 1 and r NC1479.B46S53E60 Copy 2.

In addition to adult humour, Bennett also illustrated over one dozen children’s stories. Amongst those donated by Miss D’Arcy Thompson we find The fables of Aesop and others, translated into human nature, and Old Nurse’s book of rhymes, jingles, and ditties. Both of these works illustrated Bennett’s love of adapting well-known tales and rhymes, adding his own style of humour.

The illustration for the fable of the “Fox and grapes.” If you look closely you can see the difference in the hand-colouring – especially the smudge on copy 2. St Andrews copies Chi PZ8.2B46E57 Copy 1 and Chi PZ8.2B46E57 Copy 2.

Bennett’s twist on the rhyme “Ride a cockhorse to Banbury Cross” – I just love this picture of the old woman on the rocking horse! St Andrews copy Chi PZ8.3O43E58 Copy 1.

Another children’s book which came as part of the donation is The surprising, unheard of and never-to-be-surpassed adventures of young Munchausen. Told over a series of twelve stories, we learn, amongst other things, how young Munchausen discovered the source of the Nile (by wearing stilts), and was catapulted into space by ‘essence of gravitation’ (where he found that the Dog Star “is not a dog at all, nor much of a star either”).

Young Munchausen in a balloon, a much safer form of travel than ‘essence of gravitation’. St Andrews copy Chi PN6103.M8B46E65 Copy 1.

These are just some of the more interesting works (to me) which were gifted to the University, and I’ll be sure to share some more works when I’ve added them to our catalogue.

Briony Harding
Assistant Rare Books Librarian

2 responses to “Unaccessioned material: Miss D’Arcy Thompson and works by Charles Bennett

  1. When I was a little girl in St Andrews, D’Arcy Thompson gave me a Victorian Children’s Book. It is called ‘Revolving Pictures: A Novel Picture Book of Dioramic Scenes’. I was told it had been his, and I always assumed that he had kept it since he was a little boy, but perhaps he bought these books for his children. It is quite fragile, and I can find no reference as to who produced the exquisite illustrations. I see the colour printing was done in Bavaria.
    I liked going to their beautiful old house, and although D’Arcy was somewhat intimidating, his wife was the sweetest little person you could imagine.

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