A thousand years of Star-Eyed Deirdre

In this post, Kate Mathis explores the significant achievement of Louey Chisholm’s *Celtic Tales Told To the Children(1910) —    a portrait of Deirdre which preserves some of the intricacy, danger, and violence of a thousand-year-old Gaelic tale…

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Sarah’s recent post on Ella Young (1867-1956) introduced us to her best-known, beautifully-illustrated work, Celtic Wonder Tales, published in 1910 in collaboration with Maud Gonne. The copy belonging to the Museum of Childhood, owned formerly by our elusive reader, Dora Rose, contains two of the loosely-linked group of tales known to scholars of medieval Gaelic literature as ‘The Three Sorrows of Storytelling’, whose origins extend at least as far back as the fifteenth century. Ella included ‘The Children of Lir’ as well as ‘The Eric-Fine of Lugh’ (a simplified version of Oidheadh Chloinne Tuireann, ‘The violent death of Tuireann’s children’, in which three brothers attempt, unsuccessfully, to placate the king of the Tuatha De Danann), but she omitted the other, which is of even greater antiquity and by far the most famous of the three.

Often referred to, erroneously, as ‘the story of Deirdre’, it is more than a thousand years old, composed in Ireland during the eighth or ninth centuries, written down in the twelfth (as Longes mac n-Uislenn, ‘The exile of Uisliu’s sons’), and a regular source of inspiration to historians of the Gaels like Seathrún Céitinn (ca. 1569-ca. 1644) as well as to their poets and seanchaidhean (tradition-bearers). The prominence of Deirdre, by no means the tale’s original focus, was developed most notably during the Celtic Revival (ca. 1880-ca. 1920), when the various tragedies of her short-lived life were explored, by both Scottish and Irish writers, in nearly thirty plays, novellas, and epic poems. One of these authors, ‘Fiona Macleod’ (alter-ego of Paisley-born critic and travel-writer William Sharp), exclaimed approvingly that “the name of Deirdre has been as a lamp to a thousand poets”. Continue reading

Mona Margaret Noel Paton (1860-1928), ‘a gifted teller of tales’

A visit to the Museum of Childhood’s archive one afternoon uncovered a forgotten Scottish Victorian children’s writer. Here, Sarah introduces the fairytale, folkloric worlds of Mona Paton…

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In 1871, Charles Dodgson, or Lewis Carroll, paid a visit to the island of Arran to see the Edinburgh painter, Joseph Noel Paton, bearing a letter of introduction from George MacDonald. Paton had a reputation as a distinguished artist of religious and mythic subjects but it was as a painter of beautiful and bizarre fairyscapes that he had piqued Carroll’s interest. Though John Tenniel’s images for the Alice books are now much loved, it was Paton whom Carroll had initially wanted as an illustrator for Wonderland’s first publication two years prior.

Mona’s father, the painter Joseph Noel Paton; the family lived at 33 George Square, Edinburgh

One of Paton’s most famous fairy paintings, The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania (1847)

Despite it being a ‘rainy and misty’ September day, Carroll records that he had a delightful time with Paton, his wife, Maggie, and their large family who were holidaying, as they frequently did, on Scotland’s west coast. This marked the beginning of a long-standing acquaintance with one of Paton’s daughters, Mona Margaret Noel (1860-1928), who was then eleven years old.[i] In a later memoir, Joseph Noel Paton’s granddaughter gives this lovely description of Mona as having:

 more than her share of artistic temperament (the ‘DAT’ as those of the family who suffered from it most, called it). High-spirited, determined (sometimes pigheaded), a gifted teller of tales, a not unaccomplished pianist, a sweet singer, a clever mimic, Mona also had ‘the sight’. She grabbed life with both hands and  thereby suffered much. Her appearance was striking. She adored her father and, with hair waving crisply back from her forehead, appears in a number of his paintings, sometimes as angel, sometimes as devil’.[ii]

Mona, for instance, is known as ‘the curly headed imp’ who appears as a group of wild yet cherubic fairy children (three of her siblings) in one of Paton’s most popular paintings, ‘The Fairy Raid’.[iii]

Eighteen years later Mona would have a volume of fairy tales published by a small Edinburgh printer  —  retellings of Beauty and the Beast and Jack the Giantkiller.  The former is essentially drawn from the literary fairy tale culture of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France, particularly associated with women writers, though stories of forbidden, ‘monstrous’, or cross-species desire go deep in terms of cultural and historical lineage (the tale of Cupid and Psyche, for example). The latter, on the other hand, springs out of indigenous folkloric and popular tale traditions of the British Isles.

This is a beautiful book —  sharp, funny, tender, and bizarre —  but scarcely well-known,   forgotten amongst a plethora of Victorian fairytale literature. But amidst the depth of a dusty box in the Museum of Childhood’s archive it surfaced one day. With a pale ivory background, text and image in what might best be termed a ‘rusty’ or garnet-coloured ink, and marginal embellishments at the top and foot of each page in neo-Celtic design, Paton’s book was designed to have an ‘antique’ feel even then. Read in an afternoon, it convinced us that Mona Margaret Noel Paton deserves her own place in the history of Scottish children’s literature.

Here, then, is a little taste of how she reimagines such two ‘very old’ fairy tales…. Continue reading

The Love Song of Mr Barnacles

Many of the books in the Museum of Childhood’s stores contain more than we expect. In our last blog post, Morgan explored how books themselves can tell a narrative. Sometimes they are inscribed or annotated, and we often find things – such as flowers, bus tickets, and comic strips – contained within them. This week, however, we found a book that was itself contained, and which tells a beautiful love story.

enveople

An envelope addressed to Miss Heischmann

Sorting through a box of colourful picture books, this worn brown paper immediately stood out. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that the paper was an envelope, which contained a book entitled Mr Barnacles and His Boat. This lovely book, published in 1858, is full of beautiful illustrations. It tells the story of a man who visits Wales to go fishing, but ends up meeting – and marrying – an old acquaintance.

Mr Barnacles illustration

An illustration from ‘Mr Barnacles’: ‘He encounters the object of a former attachment, and discovers that his affections are involved’

We love finding charming stories like these, but this find was made even more exciting by an inscription before the title page, which says ‘Pauline Auguste Johanne Heischmann, with the author’s kind regards’. The author of this book was a William Ayrton, who also wrote a book called The Adventures of a Salmon in the River Dee in 1853 – you can find it online here. It is always great to find books signed by their authors, and in this case it seems that the author sent the book in the very same envelope in which it still rests – a remarkable thing.

The author's inscription

The author’s inscription

However, the most remarkable thing about this book involves another inscription, written in a different hand on the page before the author’s message. It says ‘The author is William Francis Ayrton who later married Pauline Heischmann’.

The second inscription

The second inscription

It seems so romantic that almost exactly 160 years ago William Ayrton wrote this book about a gentleman finding a wife, and then sent it to the woman he would later marry. Their relationship remains a mystery, but to hold this book – still in its envelope – is a humbling and emotional experience: a little of their love remains, even if they are long gone. We can only hope that Pauline was more understanding of William’s hobbies than her fictional counterpart!  

Mr Barnacles hangs up his paddle

The end of the story: ‘Overpowered by the entreaties of his wife, Mr Barnacles consents to hang up his paddle and abandon his dangerous pastime’

This post written by Danielle

Judging Books by Their Covers: A Reflection on Peritext in Children’s Books

An old adage learned at a young age: “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, and yet unavoidable cover-judging happens each time the SELCIE team attends to the archives.  Some covers hint at the year in which the book was published, some are hand drawn, and others are beautifully illustrated, and we categorize the book in our minds even before flipping to the title page.  As we have been often surprised by the secrets these books hold, we need to ask ourselves a series of questions each time we catalogue a new book.  Thus, a great deal of conversation on this project has been dedicated to how children would have interacted with a certain book found in our archives, just in the way that we too interact with the books.  Would some of the images of animals have frightened or amazed them? Would they have moved the parts of the few mechanical books as they read them?  Would the weight of the book itself have made them place it on the floor or in their laps as they read?  As we ask ourselves these types of questions, it all comes down to our interpretation of a child’s interpretation of peritext.

Hand-made book cover

An example of an interesting hand-made book cover the team found recently

Continue reading

News – Orkney’s Victorian children’s library

A new exhibition has opened at Orkney Museum in Kirkwall which makes for a rich new addition to the history of Scottish children’s literature  –   and to the role of children themselves as writers and readers.

In the 1860s, three young Orcadian girls  –   Maria and Clara, and their cousin, Isabella  –  created their own library. Held by Orkney Library and Archives, this extraordinary collection of short stories, poems, plays, and fairy tales  –  which the children astutely named  ‘The Minervian Library’!  –  can now be seen.

We are delighted that Lucy Gibbon, Orkney Library and Archive’s Assistant Archivist, will be sharing more of the history of this wonderful collection with us in a future blogpost.

Meanwhile, you can find out more at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-40247004, and follow the Library’s dedicated blog here.

The beauty of pawprint tracking: c19th nature books for children

One recent box-unpacking afternoon led Niamh to discover the Museum’s extensive collection of nineteenth-century naturalist writing for children. Here, she reflects on the beauty and vibrancy of these books which encouraged their child readers to be keenly alert to, and understanding of, nature’s wonder and diversity. Something more than ever worth being reminded of, given the fragility of our own world   –   and all our connections to, and within, it. 

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Just the other day, while rummaging around the boxes deep in the bowels of the City Chambers, I came across some books on wildlife. Their covers were far from all-singing, all- dancing but I am a real sucker when it comes to things that seem all too neglected.

 

c19th nature book by Eliza Brightwen

The Museum’s copy of a volume by Eliza Brightwen, published in 1897; the self-taught Aberdeenshire-born naturalist illustrated her own writing

   

 

J.A. Atkinson's *British Birds, Eggs, and Nests* (1861)

John Christopher Atkinson’s *British Birds, Eggs, and Nests* (1861); both naturalist and children’s writer, he was also fascinated by the local legends, lore, and dialects of his Yorkshire parish

 

On opening one of them, I was rewarded for my taking pity; this volume had been awarded as a prize for Physics. The choice of books awarded for scholastic achievement is often very indicative of the values that Victorian schools, and thus that society, held dear. Natural History occupied a very privileged place in the education of that group. It was a discipline that ‘fascinated the Victorians … [it] was a fashionable activity and significantly participated in the construction of a bourgeois ethic’ and for the Victorians was key to exploring ‘ways in which … literary tales are informed with natural historical knowledge’ (Laurence Talairach-Vielmas, Fairy Tales, Natural History, and Victorian Culture [2014], pp. 1, 3). This branch of learning, once rather mainstream, has dwindled; it is now a discipline largely reserved to those who have chosen this aspect of science.

 

1892-3 school prize book

William Wright of George Heriot’s school, Edinburgh, was awarded Brightwen’s book in 1893 for coming second in his Physics class

  

It seems, to me, more and more important that we look back, not in a nostalgic misty-eyed way, but in a spirit of reassessment of our current situation, in order to live better, that is to say truly to live. Slowly, slowly, as a species, we are letting technology exert more and more influence over our day to day existence. This is not wholly lamentable but it does strike me that there is need to take stock. A people glued to social media may be more informed about certain things but they will miss out on the beauty of life all around them. Surely, a world viewed in the raw and unprocessed is one that is much more beautiful than one subjected to the filters and tints of technology because it is all the more real.

 

Animal tracks from c19th nature book

Tracking paw-prints! c19th naturalist writing taught children to be keen readers of the visible life within their landscapes

 

                                                                                This post written by Niamh

‘Celtic Tales Told to the Children’

Eighteen months on from our first descent into the Museum of Childhood’s basement vault and every box still tells a story. In one we opened lay two beautifully illustrated volumes from the early twentieth century. Several threads bound them together —  pooled from the same body of legends and stories from the great literary cycles of Irish and Scottish tradition, they show how the development of children’s literature pierces at the heart of questions about culture and identity, tradition and ‘belonging’.   And how the seedstore of myth and legend is an ever-present inspiration for creators of children’s stories…

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‘It was Aibric who remembered the story of the children of Lir, because he loved them. He told the story to the people of Ireland, and they were so fond of the story and had such pity for Lir’s children that they made a law that no one was to hurt a wild swan, and when they saw a swan flying they would say: “My blessing with you, white swan, for the sake of Lir’s children!’ –  fromThe Children of Lir’
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celtic-wonder-tales

Celtic Wonder Tales (1910) was the work of Ella Young (1867-1956), an Irish nationalist, Republican sympathiser, and poet. Born into a Presbyterian, unionist family in the north of Ireland, she learnt Irish Gaelic and became a member of the Dublin Theosophical Society (and a correspondent of W.B. Yeats). Absorbed by traditions of Irish mythology and storytelling, in 1910 she produced this volume of stories — each of them quite short but diverse in their range and scope.

They were accompanied by illustrations made by her friend, Maud Gonne (1866-1953), the English-born Irish revolutionary, campaigner, and suffragette — and famously beloved by Yeats. The volume was a labour of love which stemmed from the shared artistic and political interests of these two women. These in turn had grown out of the movement usually known as the Celtic Revival which had gathered energy from the 1880s onwards, building on earlier folk-collecting impulses and political movements to forge a new distinct sense of Irish vernacular culture, language, and identity (the National Literary Society was founded in 1892, for example; the Gaelic League in 1893). Continue reading

Juliana Horatia Ewing – an inspiration in the reading lives of Victorian children

One of the authors whose well-thumbed books we frequently discover in the Museum’s long-untouched boxes is Juliana Horatia Ewing. Once a popular and celebrated writer of late Victorian children’s fiction, her achievements  –  as so often the case with women writers of  –  have been overlooked. Here, Lois marks Ewing’s importance in the history of children’s literature as well as her influence and inspiration.


Ewing-flat-iron

One of the Museum’s many books by Ewing – testament to her popularity with readers

 

In 1853, Reverend John Todd published a conduct book, The Daughter at School, in which he stipulates what good girls ought to read. He writes that:

       There are but two kinds of books in the world, – such as are designed to instruct,     and such as are intended to amuse; and when a book blends amusement with instruction, it is not for the sake of amusement, but for the sake of instruction, – just as you mix sugar with your medicine, not for the sake of the sugar, but to make the medicine go down.[1]

Ewing-Lob-by-the-Fire

Many of Ewing’s stories drew on folk and fairylore

One writer who arguably achieved both amusement and instruction in her writing was Juliana Horatia Ewing (née Gatty, 1841-1885), who burst into the lives of reading girls in the final three decades of the nineteenth century. Some of her children’s books sold more than one hundred thousand copies during this time period, yet she is still relatively obscure to Victorianists today.[2]

Born in Yorkshire, Ewing’s father was a clergyman and her mother encouraged Juliana and her sister Horatia to write creatively. Juliana was known by many of those closest to her as ‘Aunt Judy’, and she first published most of her fiction in Aunt Judy’s Tales (1859), Aunt Judy’s Letters (1862), and Aunt Judy’s Magazine (1866–82), which her mother edited. After her mother’s death, Juliana became joint editor of the magazine with her sister. In the early 1860s Ewing was also published in The Monthly Packet, the Anglican magazine edited by Charlotte Yonge. Continue reading

Chapbooks for Children: the missing link in the history of Scottish children’s literature?

 

little-jack

‘The Entertaining and Instructive History of Little Jack’. Courtesy of GUL Special Collections

Children’s literature has a long history of being ‘entertaining and instructing’. I’ve taken this week’s blog title from a specific chapbook: The Entertaining and Instructing History of Little Jack.  This copy belongs to Glasgow University Library’s Special Collections, and I am very grateful for their permission to include some images from their Scottish children’s chapbooks here.

 

The story of Aladdin was a favourite amongst Scottish chapbook makers! Courtesy of GUL Special Collections.

I first came across children’s chapbooks myself while working alongside David Hopkin, on chapbooks and broadsides for adults. As part of a teaching project, we digitised two hundred items from the David Murray collection: http://www.gla.ac.uk/0t4/~dumfries/files/layer2/glasgow_broadside_ballads/.  I noticed one or two titles which might appeal to children—a version of ‘Cinderella’, for instance, as ‘Catskin’, and mentions of pieces such as ‘Aladdin, or the Magical Lamp’.

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The secret lives of SELCIE’s books

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….

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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.

 

children's-hymnbook

The Museum’s seemingly inauspicious, but well-worn, early c19th children’s hymnbook

 

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?

 

jane-barrowman-signature

The volume’s owner had carefully inscribed her name within it

 

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’.

 

the-blue-bookmark

This little blue bookmark is touching testimony to a reader’s former presence – did it belong to Jane perhaps?

 

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