This candle burns not clear

Andrew Honey, one of the Bodleian’s conservators who worked on the First Folio, writes…

This candle burns not clear: ’tis I must snuff it

Henry VIII, III, ii

Andrew Honey and Sarah Wheale study First Folios

Andrew Honey and Sarah Wheale study First Folios

Recent attention has rightly focused on the ‘Bodleian’ copy of the First Folio (Arch. G c.7) but some final checks of the catalogue records, in advance of the images being published, gave me the chance to see the Bodleian’s other copy – the ‘Malone’ (Arch. G c.8). I spent two memorable mornings with Sarah Wheale and Pip Willcox collating the two copies. This involved a leaf-by-leaf comparison of them against each other and against the published descriptions, checking for anomalies and differences.

If the Bodleian copy stands as witness to the early reception of the plays, then the Malone copy marks the start of modern Shakespearean textual scholarship. It belonged to Edmond Malone (1741–1812), the editor of Shakespeare whose unprecedented documentary and textual research led him to consult the early quartos and folios of the plays more thoroughly than any scholar before him in order to establish an authoritative text.

At first sight Malone’s copy, clad in a late eighteenth-century binding that he commissioned, looks more pristine than the well-thumbed but carefully preserved Bodleian copy. Closer examination, however, reveals a greater degree of repair and ‘improvement’. The repairs seem to have been carried out as part of the binding process and some pages are now discoloured in places – probably the result of the partial rinsing (with new bleaching agents that were just starting to be used in this period) to remove blots and annotations from books.

The book has other more mysterious marks which seem to be later than the rebinding.  As we carefully worked though the volume burn holes were spotted in places and groups of round stains could be seen. Surely these cannot have happened after the book entered the Bodleian in 1815, where all readers and staff solemnly swear an oath that they will not “kindle therein any fire or flame” – could they have been caused by Edmond Malone’s nighttime reading?

Unfortunately Edmond Malone did not live to see the ‘snuffless’ candles that emerged in the 1820s with plaited wicks: his nighttime reading would have required constant tending of his candle. Maureen Dillon in her illuminating Artificial Sunshine: a social history of domestic lighting (London: National Trust, 2002) explains that “the best-quality tallow candles could last for at least twenty minutes before snuffing, while the cheapest tallow candles, if a decent flame was to be kept and guttering avoided, needed snuffing every few minutes”.

The burn marks in the Malone copy are small, and appear to be caused by small embers falling onto the opened book and lying there momentarily before being extinguished. Other burn holes, decreasing in size, are found in the leaves underneath the first hole but are not found on the leaves facing the largest hole.

The yellowish round stains have the appearance of wax or tallow and fall as circular spots which have made the paper translucent in places. Could this be evidence of Malone’s distracted management of tallow candles whilst he read? The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography records that he seriously damaged his eye-sight by combing through the corporation archives at Stratford by dim candle-light; his First Folio would seem to suggest that he read it on occasion under similarly difficult lighting conditions.

Andrew Honey (with thanks to Abigail Williams)

Conservation Diary — Day 7

Nicole Gilroy writes…

Today we had another great opportunity to share our work with visitors, including Dr Emma Smith whose research is the inspiration for the project.

We talked about the evidence of very minimal trimming on the edges of the book: ours is the second largest copy of the First Folio, with the largest being only ⅛ inch wider than ours, and the same height. This must have been at the request of the library — binders were keen to trim as much as possible from the edges of books to sell the waste for board-making and other purposes.

Nicole Gilroy, using splint repairs to support torn areas of the text

Nicole Gilroy, using splint repairs to support torn areas of the text

Here are some details of the splint repairs we are using to support the damages areas of the leaves. We use paste cooked from wheat-starch. This is a purified version of the flour paste Turbutt would have used for his repairs, but ours has the gluten removed.

Applying a splint repair to a torn area

Applying a splint repair to a torn area

Gluten is the component of flour-and-water paste that creates stiffness and possible discolouration in the resulting adhesive. We want our repairs to be as flexible and invisible as possible, which is why we remove the gluten from our paste. These gluten-free repairs are also easily reversible, should it become necessary to reverse them in the future.

Pasting out a repair splint

Pasting out a repair splint

Conservation Diary — Day 6

Nicole Gilroy writes…

Today we have continued our work repairing and supporting the most vulnerable areas of the book.

Corner of leaf requiring unfolding to reveal obscured text

Corner of leaf requiring unfolding to reveal obscured text

Historically, it was common to patch damage in books and to paper documents by pasting neat squares of good quality writing paper over the damage.  Unfortunately, if the repair is heavier and stronger than the paper it supports, then it often causes further tearing or even loss to the original.

Tear requiring support to avoid further damage when turned

Tear requiring support to avoid further damage when turned

When we repair paper we now use a very fine, long-fibred Japanese paper and avoid hard-cut edges, instead feathering or shaping the edge of the repair to avoid creating further stress lines in the delicate original material.

Heavy paper repair applied by Richard Turbutt, which has caused further tearing

Heavy paper repair applied by Richard Turbutt, which has caused further tearing

This third image demonstrates an important principle that we follow in paper conservation: that the repair should not be stronger than the material to which it is applied.

Images of our repairs to the leaves of the First Folio to come tomorrow!

Conservation Diary — Day 5

Nicole Gilroy writes…

Romeo and Juliet, page 69, in 1905

Page 69 of Romeo and Juliet as it was when the volume came back to the Bodleian in 1905.

The first week is over, and we have now worked through the entire volume  turning over obscured text, and noting all the splint repairs that we feel need to be done in order to turn the pages without causing further damage. We are confident that we have enough time next week to complete these repairs, so that we can move to the digitization phase of the project on schedule.

We have been amazed at the physical observations that we have made as we go through the volume. The paper is in places extremely thin and often of second grade quality, with creases, pleats and papermaker’s flaws visible throughout. This has made the leaves particularly vulnerable to heavy use, and in many places the whole lower corner of the leaf has torn or broken away, one can almost imagine, in someone’s fingers.

Romeo and Juliet, page 69, in 2012

The same page today. Despite the extreme fragility of this leaf, the condition has not deteriorated.

We have an excellent image of the condition of page 69 of Romeo and Juliet in The Original Bodleian Copy of the First Folio of Shakespeare (The Turbott Shakespeare). Incredibly, it appears that the leaf is now, after 107 years, in identical condition, including the crumpled edge and extent of the tears.

It is fascinating to us, as conservators tasked with protecting the Libraries’ collections that although extreme damage was caused to the paper of the textblock during the first 40 years of its existence, the most serious damage caused in the more recent years (since 1905) has been to the attachment of the upper board, while the state of the paper seems to have remained constant. A strong reminder to us all of the importance of careful book handling and the use of suitable book supports when working with our Special Collections!

Conservation Diary — Day 4

Nicole Gilroy writes…

Today we finished straightening turned-over areas of text in the Histories, and will start on the Tragedies tomorrow. As we work through the volume we have been noting the areas that need splint repairs, and once we have been through the entire volume tomorrow we will review the repairs needed and make sure there is time to complete them all. We have also noted several features of interest that will not be clearly recorded by the digitization, such as tears that appear to have occurred during the papermaking process and which we will photograph if time allows.

Nicole and Arthur examine a tear

Nicole Gilroy and Arthur Green examine a tear, which turns out to be a flaw that occurred during the making of the paper rather than damage that has happened during handling of the book. This kind of information will be hard to examine on the flat, digitized images, and so we are recording it as much as possible during our treatment.

We had more visitors today, and the fascinating conversations continue – we discussed the separation of the plays into Comedies, Tragedies and Histories and when this distinction would have come about, and also discussed the other copies of the First Folio, particularly those in Oxford (at Queen’s and Wadham Colleges) and what level of use, repair and rebinding they display.

The Team

In November 2011, Dr Emma Smith talked to the Friends of the Bodleian about her study of the history of the Bodleian’s First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays. With characteristic warmth and light touch, Emma translated rigorous research into an engaging tale of a book lost, found, and, through the generosity of 800 subscribers, returned to its first home.

Emma’s talk inspired the Sprint for Shakespeare campaign, aiming to raise funds to stabilize, digitize and publish the First Folio online to share with the world. You can see another lecture Emma gave on the Bodleian’s First Folio online.

The research is Emma’s, and she remains closely involved in the campaign, encouraging support and advising us, but the campaign could not have reached the public without the help and hard work of many colleagues, from Dr Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s Librarian, onwards.

The Bodleian’s Rare Book department has cared for the book since 1906. Dr Clive Hurst and Sarah Wheale have advised us on the First Folio since the first conversations about the campaign. Virginia Lladó-Buisàn and Nicole Gilroy, from Conservation and Collection Care, are charged with assessing the book’s state and carrying out the stabilization work needed. They are working with  Andrew Honey, Arthur Green and Julie Sommerfeldt. Once we reach our target, James AllanNick Cistone and John Barratt from Imaging Services will carry out the specialist photography.

Our Communications department has been central to work on the campaign. Oana Romocea is undertaking all our media communications. Sophie Durand designed the look of the campaign. Alison Prince and Dan Q set up and continue to provide support for this website.

Amy Trotter and Charlotte Paradise, from the University’s Development Office, guide and advise us on public fund-raising, and organized the giving website.

Dr Christine Madsen, working with Dr Matthew McGrattan and Matthew Wilcoxson, from Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services, will co-ordinate the publication of the digital book online.

The lottery prizes — exquisite, hand-printed reproductions of Leonard Digges’s poem in praise of Shakespeare — are being created by Dr Paul Nash at the  Bodleian Hand-Printing Workshop at the Story Museum.

Caroline Astley, an English graduate working in the Bodleian’s Staff Development department, is kindly volunteering to edit some of the guest blog posts.

The project is overseen by Dr Wolfram Horstmann, and Pip Willcox is managing the work and this website.

If you’d like to get in touch, please email us: shakespeare@bodleian.ox.ac.uk.