Every Thursday afternoon the SELCIE team descend the long winding stairs which lead down into the Museum of Childhood’s book vault, as if entering a series of secret chambers! Every box of unpacked books holds secrets – you never know what lies inside. So too does every book. Except sometimes when opening them up we find little traces of their once-upon-a-time reader(s), and a hidden life can be glimpsed. Here, Niamh introduces one of her favourite ‘secret’ books, proving that appearances can be deceptive….
Not every book for children can be a story of great ‘derring-do’ or of an escapade; sometimes, they have a serious edge. It was one of this latter group that I found in our terrific trove: the book Hymns for Children of 1814. It may not look like much from the cover but it became rather dear to me for underscoring one of SELCIE’s great facets.
Not every treasure found with SELCIE yields up information about itself but this one bestowed two such gifts. Upon opening it, the name ‘Jane Barrowman’ could be seen. Whose heart doesn’t leap upon finding a name and have a thousand images come together to create a possible life?
Further, there was a charming blue bookmark. I do love finding personal objects in texts, as they tend to shed a light on an owner. I have found many markers, tokens and dried flowers over my time working with books on the SELCIE project. I instantly wanted to know which pages were being saved by the reader of this particular book. The two pages it was marking contained the hymn ‘Against cruelty to the Creatures’ and ‘Against Idleness and Mischief’.
While not exactly a joyous read, either of them, the two pieces and Hymns for Children as a whole show that the owner, or someone connected to the owner, deemed it fitting to read these works. Naturally, I have no way of knowing whether it was an enjoyable read to its owner but I can presume that it was scanned at the very least. This book, seemingly so insignificant initially, reminded me of one of the most wonderful things about SELCIE, namely that one gets to discover what another held in his or her hands and perused like us only many years ago.
This post written by Niamh