Don’t judge a book by its cover

One of the best aspects of working with the Chatsworth library collection has been the prospect of learning something new each day. In every spreadsheet entry there lurks the knowledge that the book has a whole history to tell if only one could pause for a moment to discover it. In every pile of books to be catalogued, there is a world of information and entertainment ready to be opened up for the reader, if only they would stop to read beyond the title page and printer information.

This blog is dedicated to a few of the more unusual books that I have discovered when indulging in a slight diversion from the task at hand.

In a slim yet finely bound volume there is a work that was formerly held in the library of the scientist Henry Cavendish before being brought over to Chatsworth by the Sixth Duke of Devonshire in the early nineteenth century. The title page is rather uninspiring at first glance, especially if, like me, your main education in Latin was from Asterix novels. However, De Arte Natandi by Everardo Dygbeio (London, 1587), is in fact the work of a Cambridge theologian (Everard Digby) dedicated solely to swimming. The Art of Swimming is the first book in English history to broach the subject and is concerned not simply with encouraging the practice but also with providing a practical manual for an activity fraught with danger. This was, after all, in an era before warning signs and lifeguards!

What catches the eye in this magnificent book are the images illustrating different techniques for swimming and demonstrating safe and dangerous ways to enter the water. They offer an insight into the history of leisure and exercise in this country before any degree of formalisation. Although I would certainly not recommend any re-enactments, the range of over 40 different strokes offers plenty of options for the more imaginative amongst you down the local swimming baths.
Several of these images can be seen below, although the complete set have been digitised by the Wellcome Trust and can be viewed online here:

My second example comes in a rather unpromising vellum-bound binding, labelled a ‘Boulster Lecture’. Inside lies a fascinating series of ‘witty jests’, ‘merry Tales’ and ‘pleasant passages’ from the seventeenth century. Art asleepe Husband: A Boulster Lecture (London, 1640) by ‘Philogenes Panedonius’ is actually a work by the poet and satirist Richard Brathwaite.

The moralising stories still raise a smile and offer a window into early modern English customs and social norms. The title itself is taken from the image of a scolding wife issuing a lecture to her husband who pretends to be asleep. A reminder perhaps that some humour has not changed all that much since the English Civil War:

This wife a wondrous racket meanes to keepe,

While th’ Husband seems to sleepe but do’es not sleepe:

But she might full as well her Lecture smother,

For ent’ring one Eare, it goes out at t’other.

Brathwaite was well-travelled and wrote a great deal about the topography, people and regions of England before eventually moving to Catterick, Yorkshire. This knowledge shines through in A Boulster Lecture as several stories contain affectionate, colloquial uses of the word ‘Duck’ – a phrase still in use across the East Midlands and parts of Yorkshire today.


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