Original Collection: A Prize Replacement

Sat, 01/27/2018 - 2:35pm -- mfarias

The replacements for the missing volumes from the Original Collection of the Redwood Library, which were lost as a result of the American Revolution, are worth our efforts in studying them for reasons beyond their ability to help us tell the story of the Redwood’s holdings. Each replacement volume is unique and comes to the Redwood Library with its own past that enriches our understanding of history.


A particularly beautiful example of this truth is Phædri Fabulæ Selectæ, Latinè, Anglicè, Gallicè: Fifty Instructive and Entertaining Fables of Phædrus, in Latin, French, and English. Attempted After a New Method, for the More Speedy Improvement of Youth in Schools. Printed in London in 1734, this volume of Phaedrus’ fables was translated into English by Daniel Bellamy (b. 1687) for use in school instruction. In the introduction to the work, while explaining his enterprise, Bellamy quotes Mr. Addison’s reflections on the beauty of fables: “There is nothing, says he, we receive with so much Reluctance as Advice: We look upon the Man who gives it us, as offering an Affront to our Understanding...For these reasons, there is nothing so difficult, as the Art of making Advice agreeable...Upon reading of a Fiction, we are made to believe we advise ourselves...The Moral, in short, of an allegorical Performance, insinuates itself imperceptibly: We are taught by Surprize; and become wiser and better unawares.”



For each of the tales included in this collection, a moral lesson is written above the title, serving as an introduction to the story. The second, for instance, is titled “The Frogs desiring a King” and above that is written, “Of two evils chuse the least.” Whether each of these introductions is truly the lesson one would take from the fable is up to interpretation, but it serves as a quick way to survey the scope of the book. The work is illustrated with fifty “Curious Cuts, Copied from the Designs of the Best Masters,” filling the pages of the small volume with interesting vignettes of moral stories. Each fable is written in Latin, French, and English, so that the task of reading aloud in each language may be perfected and used in many kinds of school instruction.

This is how the copy originally held by the Redwood Library would have been presented, back when the Original Collection was cataloged in 1750. The major difference between the volumes lies in the binding. The volume currently in our collection, which was acquired in 1961, is more richly bound than one would expect of a grammar school book of fables. This prompted us to investigate the golden crest on the front and back covers of the book, which indicated that it was a prize binding. In 1732, Trinity College in Ireland began following Samuel Madden’s scheme of presenting the best-performing scholars in each class with a book in a prize binding. Other schools in the area began to follow the tradition, including Hibernian Academy in Oxmantown, Dublin.



Hibernian Academy is not easy to find if you are not familiar with it as there is another institution in Dublin today with a similar name. The Royal Hibernian Academy was founded in 1823 and still exists with no connection to the school that came before it. It is difficult to place a fixed end date for the original Hibernian Academy, but it began around 1757 with the plans of Irish actor Thomas Sheridan (1719-1788) who “sketched out a curriculum for the academy in his treatise British Education, proposing a patriot educational system based around the ‘art of elocution’.... Sheridan imagined a new generation of legislators and high-church preachers receiving instruction, side by side, in the arts of public speech.” Interest in rhetoric grew to receive similar attention at Trinity College in the same period with John Leland, after serving a term as principal of the Hibernian Academy, moving to chair history and rhetoric at Trinity in 1762.



Sheridan’s school is referred to as “having failed” in some online sources, but the prize binding given to one of the students at the school that he was so inspired to create has found its way to the Redwood to keep the story of his efforts alive.


The Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy - http://bit.ly/2FmSFDE

Redwood Catalog - https://redwood.kohalibrary.com/app/work/43672