lewis walpole library
Thanks to a 2016-17 Travel Grant from the Lewis Walpole Library (taken in April 2017) I was able to conduct crucial primary research for two monograph projects: the first, which develops research from my PhD thesis to think about the social and emotional life of the home in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the second, my postdoctoral project, which is provisionally titled Collage before Modernism: Art, Intimacy and Identity in Britain and North America, 1700-1900. The book will be the first study to focus on the complex relationship between emotion, identity, and the production of collage during this period, and will explore how the asking how its creation reflected and constructed the interests, intimacies, and identities of its makers.
Specifically, a Lewis Walpole Library Travel Grant enabled me to conduct research for chapters for each project, which variously examine the reception and production of Strawberry Hill in scrapbooks and extra-illustrated texts made within the circle of Horace Walpole, Anne Seymour Damer, and Mary and Agnes Berry; and the familial production of commonplace books and albums in the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries. For the first of these chapters, I consulted the notebooks, scrapbooks, and correspondence of Anne Seymour Damer, Mary Berry, Agnes Berry, and Horace Walpole, as well as a number of extra-illustrated volumes of Walpole’s A Description of the Villa of Horace Walpole. Examining these manuscript volumes and published texts not only allowed me to unpack and trace the various relationships between this social group, but also to think about how these relationships were constructed and reflected in these collaged objects. I was also able to consult a range of supporting literature, such as the ‘Astley Collection of Strawberry Hill Pieces’, and the ‘Rarities from Strawberry Hill’, which allowed me to place these volumes within a broader context of literary and material production coming from, or centring on, Strawberry Hill. Visiting the library also gave me the chance to examine the famous Beauclerk Cabinet (1783-4), a fascinating piece of furniture, which, like the extra-illustrated copies of the Description, demonstrates how the very fabric of Strawberry Hill was shaped by collaborative and creative endeavour.
For the second of the chapters, I examined the library’s collections of albums and commonplace books, focusing on those that were familially produced, or which particularly pertained to the expression of emotion. The latter included LWL MSS Vol. 18, a manuscript collection of poems, elegies, verses on the subjects of solitude, death, and the nature of humanity, whose carefully selected inclusions will allow me to consider how commonplace books’ excerpted texts reflect and construct contemporaries’ emotional lives during this period. I also looked at the Library’s recent acquisition, LWL MSS Vol. 223, a boxed series of sixty-five manuscript notecards that functions like a commonplace book, bearing several hands and thereby attesting to the communal nature of its production.
I also spent time looking at the Library’s broader collection of commonplace books and albums. which allowed me to conduct important comparative research. Some of these were particularly revealing for thinking through some of the technologies of commonplacing during this period, especially in terms of how contemporaries themselves conceived of these practices. For example, Sir Henry Edward Bunbury’s commonplace book, ‘Omnium gatherum’, comprising original verse, extracts, costume, epigrams, bon mots, traits (LWL MSS File 81), features a highly reflexive, hand-drawn title page, depicting the collector of the volume’s inclusions standing over a pile of rocks labelled with words that evoke the manuscript’s contents.
Spending time looking at these manuscripts in person was invaluable to my research, as it allowed me to explore issues of materiality, and to think about how these objects were constructed, viewed, and handled at the time that they were made. Going forward, I’ll spend time reviewing and reflecting upon the photographs and notes taken at the Library, researching the manuscripts’ various inclusions further and thinking about the volumes in relation to research conducted at other institutions, such as Yale Center for British Art. I’m hugely excited to utilise my findings as I finish my first book and continue the research into my second, and would like to thank the Lewis Walpole Library for making this research possible.
It’s the first day of my two-week research visit to the Lewis Walpole Library, and I’ve just finished looking through the anonymous volume Rarities from Strawberry Hill, made sometime around the 1890s. The volume (essentially a scrapbook) once brought together letters from Walpole’s voluminous correspondence, printed portraits, clippings, playbills, bookplates (including the above example, Anne Damer’s, based on a design by her close friend Agnes Berry) a lock of hair, and even two miniature portraits, who are conspicuous in their absence from the volume, leaving two holes where they were once fitted (pictured below). Along with a number of other objects from the book – including various letters and the aforementioned lock of hair – the miniatures have been removed and preserved elsewhere: in the case of miniatures, these are now on display at Strawberry Hill itself, where they now tell a different narrative in a different setting.
This dialogue of absence and presence, and how these states intersect with how we construct the history of the eighteenth century, reminded me of an earlier post I made here, regarding Strawberry Hill itself. When visiting the house last Summer, I bemoaned the absence of any kind of narrative regarding Walpole’s queerness, despite the prevalence of this within scholarship on Walpole and his friendships. I hope that the chapter I’m researching here (on Anne Damer’s inheritance of Strawberry Hill and queer heirlooming) at the Lewis Walpole Library can meaningfully contribute to these conversations, revealing some of those things that are sorely absent from the scholarship on Walpole.