[This blog previously featured an image of the nave of Exeter Cathedral by David Iliff, which has now been removed.]
Last year, I was delighted to be able to join the Grolier Club, America’s oldest bibliophilic society. Every year, the Club runs an exhibition for new members, an opportunity for other members, and the wider world, to a get a glimpse into a wide range of private collections. Due to the pandemic restrictions, it was decided that this year’s New Members Collect exhibition would be mounted online, rather than physically at the Club in New York City. It launched online yesterday, and you can visit the exhibition on the Club’s website.
I gave a brief presentation to fellow members yesterday about the book, or rather books, I chose for the exhibition, but I thought I would share details here, too. As I said yesterday, there are two particular pastimes which I have enjoyed all my life: reading and singing, both of which passions began when I was a child. I sang in various choirs throughout my childhood and teenage years and when I went to university I was lucky enough to get a choral scholarship in Exeter Cathedral Choir, where I sang for four years.
Exeter Cathedral is famed for having the longest uninterrupted medieval vaulted ceiling in the world and its Library houses the 10th-century Exeter Book, the largest extant collection of Old English literature. Among its other treasures is a set of medieval misericords, one of the largest such collections in England, which form the subject of the book I chose for the Grolier exhibition. As I hinted earlier, I in fact submitted two books:
These are copies of the first (and only) edition of a book published in 1849 about the Exeter misericords by a young priest called John William Hewett (1824–1886), who has been described as an ‘enthusiastic Anglo-Catholic of extreme views’. He certainly sounds single-minded, if you read his Wikipedia article.
Hewett grew up in Devon (although, by an extraordinary coincidence, was born in the same town I was: Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire), and he presumably visited the Cathedral regularly as he also published a Brief History of the building, which went through a number of editions. Early Wood Carving, however, only had the one, and it seems was something of a headache for the young Hewett. The prefatory Advertisement to the book records that:
It was the original intention of Mr. Hewett to present this Series of Early Wood Carvings, copied from the Misereres in the Choir of Exeter Cathedral, to his Subscribers, in Lithographic Plates from the experienced hand of Mr. Jobbins. But the limited, though distinguished, encouragement that he met with, forbade the great expenditure which must have been thus incurred. And he would have abandoned the Publication of his Drawings entirely, but for certain of the Subscribers most interested in Antiquarian Subjects, who wished him rather to avail himself of the Anastatic Transfer Process, than to withdraw altogether his undertaking. Mr. Hewett has therefore, at great personal inconvenience, caused the execution of the following outlines, the accuracy at least of which may be depended on, and has enjoined the utmost care in the general getting up of the book. The Publisher ventures to hope that all the Patrons of the work will be pleased to receive it, the more so as the impression has been strictly limited to Fifty Copies of the Small, and Ten of the Large Paper Editions.
As you can see from the photograph above, I have copies of both the Small and the Large Paper printings (280 × 218 mm and 425 × 268 mm respectively). My copy on large paper is a subscriber’s copy, too, coming from the collection Louisa, Lady Rolle (1794–1885), another single-minded Victorian:
As others will know, it’s only when you collect in any depth that things get interesting, and it’s only by having copies of both printings together that one sees that it is not only in size that they differ. The images in the large-paper printing have been tinted, something I have not seen noted anywhere else:
The Cathedral is currently planning a misericord conservation project. You can read more, and donate to support the work, here: