Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc

Contributor: Simon Bainbridge

Location: The Alps

Description: The summit of Mont Blanc was first reached in 1786, when the Chamonix-based doctor Michael-Gabriel Paccard and the crystal hunter Jacques Balmat attained the highest point in Western Europe. The following year, the Genevan man of science, Horace Bénédict de Saussure, fulfilled his obsessional desire to reach the loftiest of vantage points, which for him became the most elevated of outdoor laboratories; he spent four hours on the summit conducting various experiments. De Saussure, best known for his four volume Voyages dans les Alpes (1779-1796), speedily published an abbreviated narrative of his ‘Journey to the Summit of Mont Blanc’. De Saussure’s evocation of his mountain ascent was a major contribution to the developing genre of Alpine travel writing, which became a key form in materialising and transmitting Romantic ideas and sentiments across Europe.

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Two French clocks depicting Paul et Virginie

Contributor: Hélène Cussac

Location: Collection Baronne et Baron François Duesberg, Musée François Duesberg, Mons, Belgium/Private Collection, France.

Description: Paul et Virginie, the novella by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, published in 1788 and a best-seller throughout the 19th Century, was particularly celebrated by the decorative arts. Saint-Pierre’s pastorale, which speaks of moral values such as innocence, virtue, charity, the family and work, corresponded perfectly to the bourgeois values developed at the end of the ‘Ancien Régime’. It catered also on the one hand to a pronounced taste for the exotic, which the story offered thanks to its setting in the natural countryside of the Île de France (Mauritius) and, on the other, to contemporary interest in the concept of the ‘noble savage’ as represented by the enslaved Africans, actors in the fiction. Hence fans, plates, screens, magic lanterns, armchairs and sofas covered in toile de Jouy, and wallpapers were decorated with episodes from the novel. From the period of the Directoire, through the Empire and the Restoration, one ornamental object was particularly fashionable : the clock, decorated with characters in the story. This remarkable clock was ordered by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 with a view to gifting it to Bernardin de Saint-Pierre himself.

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A Mauchline Binding

An edition of Scott’s Marmion in Mauchline binding, bearing the inscription of its owner.

Contributor: Bill Bell

Location: National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh

Description: This object is tied to Abbotsford, the home of Walter Scott, a globally famous literary tourist destination in Britain. It not only embodies the connection between literature and place, but negotiates, in quite explicit ways, some of the tensions between conceiving of literature  in an age of mass consumption and recognising the intimate experience of the pilgrim reader.

This is a fairly common edition of Sir Walter Scott’s Marmion, printed and published in Edinburgh by the firm of Adam and Charles Black in 1873, and now held in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. Marmion, originally published in 1808, remained at the end of the nineteenth century, along with The Lady of the Lake and The Lay of the Last Minstrel, one of the most popular works of Walter Scott and one of the most celebrated works of English Romantic poetry. Black’s was associated with the author through the multi-volume Waverley novels that they had produced in their thousands since the mid nineteenth century. In 1871, they had produced a lavish 25 volume centenary edition of Scott’s works.

What makes this item unusual in the first instance is its covers, and in the second an inscription by its first owner.

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Holograph Letter from Adam Smith to David Hume

Holograph Letter from Adam Smith to David Hume. Four pages with section cut out.

Contributor: Carmen Casaliggi

Location: Archives & Special Collections, University of Glasgow Library, Hillhead Street, Glasgow, United Kingdom. Part of the Bannerman Collection donated by J. P. Bannerman and G. W. MacFarlane in c. 1937.

Description: Writing to David Hume from Toulouse in September 1765, Adam Smith forcefully tried to dissuade him from settling in Paris. Written in Smith’s hand, this letter opens with the amicable salutation “My Dear friend”, unusually intimate at this date between a younger man and an older one, and ends on page four with no subscription (final greetings) and no superscription (address). The signature on the verso has been cut out, probably by an autograph-hunter with the result that several lines are missing. However, as the sender’s name “Adam Smith”, written in Smith’s own hand, remains intact on the same page (upside down), I would suggest that the decimated part could instead pertain to the “hold their tongues” section on page three, where there were possibly allusions to politically sensitive names and material. This letter expresses a proto-Romantic nationalism and regionalism asserted in the face of transnational cosmopolitanism generated by émigré experiences and European encounters. It also epitomises the medium of exchange that extended salon culture transnationally.

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Harlequin’s Invasion, 1803

Broadside of Harlequin’s Invasion,1803

Contributor: David Taylor

Location: The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

Description: At a glance, this looks like a standard early nineteenth-century playbill. But it’s not. In fact, it’s a nationalistic broadside published during the invasion scare of the summer of 1803 – when it was widely feared that Napoleon was readying a fleet to cross the English Channel – and it closely mimics the typographic format and language of the playbill to make its point. The work of arch-loyalist James Asperne – who ran a bookshop in Cornhill, London, with the strikingly unsubtle name of The Bible, Crown, and Constitution – this mock-playbill informs the public of a new pantomime “In rehearsal” at the “Theatre Royal of the United Kingdom” – that is, a drama to be staged in and by the nation itself. “Some dark foggy night about November next,” the playbill exclaims, “will be ATTEMPTED, by a Strolling Company of French Vagrants, an old Pantomimic Farce, called Harlequin’s Invasion or The Disappointed Banditti”.

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The town of Joigny, Burgundy

An image of buildings and trees in Joigny, Burgundy

Contributor: Gillian Dow

Location: Private collection

Description: The town of Joigny sits on the banks of the river Yonne, in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. An hour and a half south of Paris, Joigny is a pretty town, which markets itself modestly as one of a hundred ‘plus beaux detours de France.’ The town’s interest, for a scholar of Romanticism, lies in its connections to Frances Burney (1752-1840), author of Evelina (1778), Cecilia (1782) and Camilla (1796). Her husband General d’Arblay was born in Joigny (i). In late 1800, seven years after he married Burney, d’Arblay learned that he had been removed from the proscribed list of French emigrés. He was hopeful that he would be able to recover £1,000 from his French property near Joigny, as well as secure a military pension. He left England – where he had been living in exile since 1792 – for Paris. Somewhat against her better judgement, on the 14 April 1802, Burney followed. She was accompanied by their son Alex, then seven, and by six-year-old Adrienne de Chavagnac, a ward of the Lockes of Norbury Park, who was returning to France to be reunited with her émigré parents. Burney did not return to England for over a decade, but when she did, in August 1812, she had the manuscript of what was to become her last, markedly European, novel The Wanderer (1814) in her possession.

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Laennec’s Stethoscope

Black and white illustration of Laennec's stethoscope.

Contributor: Bénédicte Prot

Translation: Susan Seth

Location: Paris

Description: In 1819, in Paris, the Breton doctor René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec (1781-1826) published De l’auscultation mediate, the first edition of the treatise in which he presented the results of several years of clinical research as well as the uses of a medical instrument which he had invented: the stethoscope. Placed at the centre of clinical practice, the new tool was to contribute to the development of pathological anatomy and refine the diagnosis of cardiac and pulmonary illnesses. Henceforward the doctor disposed of a means of exploration and a form of mediation which come from a different relation to the patient and render the sick body not only readable but also audible.

There is nothing less romantic, it might seem, than this wood cylinder which, admittedly under a different form, has become the attribute by which we recognise the doctor from the first glance… Yet on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Laennec’s treatise, let us see how the stethoscope was able to become a link between medicine and literature during the Romantic period.

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Edgeworthstown House

Black and white ink illustration of Edgeworthstown House

Contributor: Yuri Yoshino

Location: The Taylor Institution Library, the University of Oxford

Description: This house, Edgeworthstown House in Co. Longford, Ireland, was an important intellectual powerhouse in Europe during the Romantic period. This engraving, published on the front cover of the 42nd issue of Le Magasin Pittoresque (1833-1938) in October 1850, testifies to the continuing influence of works by Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) and her family in France and beyond, years after the publication of her final major novel, Helen (1834) and its translation into French by Louise Swanton-Belloc in the same year. The object of Le Magasin was popular education; it had been launched as the earliest imitation of Charles Knight’s Penny Magazine (1832-46), which aimed to enlighten popular readers with the aid of wood-engraved images without provoking radical ideas. Le Magasin was, however, more progressive than its British counterpart, promoting the institutionalization of general education in France during the period (Mainardi 86), and this may account for its interest in the Edgeworths.

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The petition for Richard Lovell Edgeworth to be permitted to stay in Paris, 1803

Image of the petition and signatories. Ink on paper.

Contributor: Anne-Claire Michoux

Location: National Library of Ireland (Dublin)

Description: On the 21st of January 1803, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, who had been residing in Paris for a few months with his daughter Maria and other family members, was ordered by the police to leave the capital within twenty-four hours. This document is a copy of the petition addressed to the ‘Citoyen Grand Juge’, Claude Ambroise Régnier (nominated in 1802), signed by eighteen leading French and Genevese literary, scientific, and political authorities appealing against the order on the family’s behalf. Many of the signatories were members of the Institut national des sciences et des arts, founded in 1795, of which Napoleon was also a member, and were in high office as members of the Tribunat, one of the main legal institutions under Napoleon. The petition captures the still-operative Enlightenment belief in a republic of letters which privileges intercultural intellectual exchanges. It reflects the dream of a European intellectual community that endures beyond or despite political and military conflict.

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A Ha’pennyworth of Sedition, 1796

Image of a metal coin with the bust of John Thelwall in profile on one side and a figure in chains and a padlock on the other

Contributor: Alice Rhodes

Location: The British Museum, London, UK

Description: In the 1790s, Britain was quite literally short on change. Insufficient supply of official coinage from the Royal Mint, combined with high levels of counterfeit money, led many business owners to issue their own coins, in order to pay increasingly large workforces. These private tokens, also known as commercial coins or Conder tokens, quickly became far more than currency. Free from official regulation, capable of being stamped with almost any design, and specifically intended to be circulated locally, they were soon used to advertise almost everything, from menageries to lawyers. And it was these same qualities which made them apt to carry political messages. This 1796 token, minted by Thomas Spence in the wake of the 1795 “Gagging Acts” features an image of radical orator John Thelwall on one side and an image of a “Free-born Englishman”, with shackled limbs and padlocked mouth on the other. But what can this coin say in 1796 that a “free-born Englishman” can’t?

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