Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Brian Aldiss, 1925-2017

August 31st, 2017

On August 19th, science fiction writer and critic Brian Aldiss died, a day after turning 92. In an obituary for The Guardian, fellow writer Christopher Priest characterized Aldiss as “by a long chalk the premier British science fiction writer.” As fans and scholars of speculative fiction around the world mourn this loss, some will be surprised to discover that part of the British writer’s literary legacy resides in Kansas: the Spencer Research Library a holds significant collection of papers for Aldiss, including materials for his Billion Year Spree and his Helliconia Trilogy. The trilogy, which consists of the novels Helliconia Spring (1982), Helliconia Summer (1983), and Helliconia Winter (1985), is among Aldiss’s most admired works. “This depiction of a world that circles a double star, where an orbital Great Year lasts long enough for cultures to emerge, prosper and fail,” Priest writes in his remembrance of Aldiss, “is a subtle, deeply researched and intellectually rigorous work.”

Brian Aldiss accepting the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Helliconia Spring, Lawrence, KS, 1983.

Brian Aldiss accepting the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel for Helliconia Spring (1982) in Lawrence, KS in 1983.  Call number: RG 0/19: Aldiss, Brian

The collection of Aldiss’s papers at KU provides a wealth of evidence for the research and rigor that went into his writings. The 25 boxes of materials for the Helliconia Trilogy include, for example, Aldiss’s extensive correspondence with scientists and scholars to determine the scientific basis for the world he was creating. Those consulted include Iain Nicholson of Hatfield Polytechnic Observatory on the subject of astronomy, Peter Cattermole of the University of Sheffield on geology and climate, and Tom Shippey, then at the University of Leeds, on the languages of the novel. The result is a world  striking in its attention to detail.

A selection of research Correspondence for the Helliconia Trilogy.

A selection of research correspondence with Iain Nicholson, Peter Cattermole, and Tom Shippey concerning the creation of Helliconia. Brian Wilson Aldiss Papers. Call #: MS 214: A.

Not only do these letters reveal the extent to which technical and scientific matters underpin the trilogy’s concept, plot, and themes, but they also offer lighter moments of humor between on-going collaborators. Aldiss, for example, begins a June 1981 letter to Cattermole by quipping, “Helliconian scholars have failed to study Helliconia’s sister planets in any depth; they have been too busy drinking the whisky out of their orrerys.” (MS 214:Aa:2:14a).  Writing again to Cattermole in September of 1982, following the publication of Helliconia Spring earlier that February, Aldiss reports,

Vol. 1 has been very well received, especially in the States; over here there were complaints, as you say, about names. Well, it’s no good building up an intense winter atmosphere in Embruddock and then call[ing] the sods Joe and Charlie. There will be more complaints of that nature with Vol II, where I have a vast character list, with over fifty speaking parts, but I see no way of evading the problem and so forge on hopefully.  Wait till you meet Queen MyrdalemInggala….. (MS 214Aa:2:16b)

Spencer Research Library’s collections also include manuscript materials for Aldiss’s groundbreaking Billion Year Spree (1973)subtitled “The True History of Science Fiction,” which he later expanded with David Wingrove into Trillion Year Spree (1986). The volume argues for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) as the birth of science fiction.

Aldiss’s ties to the University of Kansas grew out of his relationship with fellow science fiction writer and critic, James Gunn, Professor Emeritus of English and the founder of KU’s Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction. “We were long-time friends, although an ocean between us limited our encounters,” Gunn explains.

I was a guest in his Oxford home for a couple of days after the founding of World SF in Ireland [in 1976], and he was a guest in my home during his author’s visit here.  We were competitors only in the writing of science-fiction histories.  We both started in 1971, but circumstances (and maybe the complexities of illustrations) held up Alternate Worlds (1975) [Gunn’s illustrated history of SF] for a couple of years.  When I wrote him for a photograph, he suggested that we exchange blurbs–that I would say his history was the best and he would do the same for mine.

Though the delay in the publication of Gunn’s Alternate Worlds meant that the exchange of blurbs never came to pass, researchers can explore both Aldiss’s and Gunn’s processes in writing their respective histories of science fiction by examining the collections of their papers at Spencer Research Library.

Cover of Brian Aldiss's Billion Year Spree (1974 paperback edition)  Cover of James Gunn's Alternate Worlds (1975)

Left: Brian Aldiss’s Billion Year Spree (1973). Schocken paperback edition, second printing. New York: Schocken Books, 1975. Call #: ASF B1245. Right: James Gunn’s Alternate Worlds. First edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J : Prentice-Hall, 1975. Call #: E2598.

In his introduction to Billion Year Spree, Aldiss mused, “Possibly this book will help further the day when writers who invent whole worlds are as highly valued as those who re-create the rise and fall of a movie magnate or the breaking of two hearts in a bedsitter. The invented universe, the invented time, are often so much closer to us than Hollywood or Kensington.” Thank you for those invented universes, Brian Aldiss.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Gegrindswile: KU’s Old English Word

June 5th, 2017

Old English is the earliest form of English spoken by the Germanic tribes residing in England between 5th-century CE through the middle of the 1100s. It is the language of Beowulf, and most speakers of modern English would find it largely unreadable without some training. The first lines of Beowulf, for example, are “Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum / þeod-cyninga, þrym gefrunon, / hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!” (Try your hand at translating the lines, then highlight the remainder of this parenthesis to see an English translation:  “Yes, we have heard of the greatness of the Spear-Danes’ high kings in days long past, how those nobles practiced bravery.“)*

In 1066 at the Battle of Hastings, William of Normandy earned his epithet “the Conqueror” by defeating the the forces of England’s King Harold. The Norman Conquest brought with it an influx of the French language from the new rulers and this combined with other linguistic influences to transform the English language over many decades, ultimately yielding Middle English, the language we associate with Chaucer.

Spencer Research Library holds three Old English leaves, each with its own fascinating story. The leaf shown below (in its recto and verso sides) is an early 11th century glossary giving brief definitions of difficult Latin words. Most of the glosses are also in Latin, but some are in Old English. The two sides of the leaf cover the Latin words interkalares to istingum.

Latin glossary with Latin and Old English glosses, covering the words interkalares to istingum (recto). Worcester (?), West Midlands, England, circa 990 - 1010. Call #: MS Pryce C2:1 Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Latin glossary with Latin and Old English glosses, covering the words interkalares to istingum (verso). Worcester (?), West Midlands, England, circa 990 - 1010. Call #: MS Pryce C2:1

Latin glossary with Latin and Old English glosses, covering the words interkalares to istingum.
Worcester (?), West Midlands, England, circa 990 – 1010. Call #: MS Pryce P2A:1 Click images to enlarge.

Though rather weathered-looking, the leaf contains perhaps the sole surviving instance of an Old English word: gegrindswile. Like many words of Germanic origin, gegrindswile is a compound.  Its two parts —gegrind and swile– survive in other texts, but this leaf is the only instance recorded in the Dictionary of Old English Corpus of the two combined.  Together they form a single word meaning “a swelling caused by friction, a chafing or galling (of the skin),” which glosses the Latin word intertrigenes.

Old English word "gegrindswile" glossing the Latin word "intertrigenes"

Look closely and  you’ll notice that gegrindswile contains a letter that does not survive, as such, in modern English: “ƿ.” This is the runic letter “wynn,” which represents our modern “w” sound.  KU holds only a single leaf (two pages) from the glossary; however, the British Library holds a seemingly related manuscript. Its collections include a Latin glossary for the letters A-F, also with Old English glosses, written in the same scribal hand as KU’s leaf.

This leaf is currently on display as part of Spencer’s Research Library’s exhibition Histories of the English Language:

Histories of the English Language Exhibit Title

From the Old English of Beowulf to the Middle English of Chaucer to the many dialects that make up our modern tongue, the history of English is a history of change. Featuring materials from KU’s Kenneth Spencer Research Library, this exhibition explores English as embodied in the writings of its practitioners, whether celebrated authors, such as John Milton and Toni Morrison, or scholars, lexicographers, and  grammarians, such as Elizabeth Elstob, Samuel Johnson, Robert Lowth, and Noah Webster, or anonymous and little-known writers of “everyday” English. In manuscripts and books dating from 1000 CE to the present, visitors will encounter the varied forces at work growing, codifying, standardizing, governing, reforming, describing, and reinventing English.

The exhibition is free and open to the public in Spencer Research Library’s gallery space any time that the library is open.  Histories of the English Language will be on display through August.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

*The English translation of Beowulf is from that by R.D. Fulk in The Beowulf Manuscript: Complete Texts and The Fight at Finnsburg. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 3. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press 2010. Call #: PR1583 .F85 2010 (Watson Library)

 

 

Yeats at KC Irish Fest

September 8th, 2015

The Irish collections from Special Collections at Spencer Library were represented at the Kansas City Irish Fest this past Labor Day weekend. We were asked by Irish Fest organizers to exhibit some items from our W. B. Yeats Collection to celebrate the sesquicentennial of his birth. Featured here are a few of the items selected by Special Collections Librarian Elspeth Healey.

KCIrishFest

Whitney Baker and Elspeth Healey at KC Irish Fest

 

Letter from W. B. Yeats to A. H. Bullen. March 28, [1909].

In this letter, we see Yeats’s generosity to other writers as he encourages his publisher, A. H. Bullen, to read the manuscript of a young poet that he had met in London. “There may be some fire in the flax,” he comments to Bullen. Though the letter’s dateline does not include a year, Yeats’s opening reference to the death of Irish writer J. M. Synge fixes the date as 1909. Just two years earlier, Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World had sparked audience protests when it was first performed at the Abbey Theatre. Some nationalist viewers objected the play’s language and what they saw as its unflattering portrayal of Irish peasant society.

MS_25_Wa_2_57

Letter from W. B. Yeats to A. H. Bullen. March 28, [1909]. Special Collections, call number MS 25 Wa 2.57. Click image to enlarge.

 

Yeats, W. B. “Tom O’ Roughley,” typescript with manuscript emendations. ca. 1918.

This typescript copy of “Tom O’Roughley” is signed and revised in manuscript by Yeats, with additional markings in pencil by the printer. It appeared in Nine Poems (1918), a collection printed privately by Yeats’s friend Clement Shorter. Shorter also printed for private circulation the first edition of Yeats’s poem “Easter 1916.” The “Tom O’Roughley” of this poem shares much with the figure of the “fool” outlined by Yeats in Phase 28 of A Vision (1925, 1937). There Yeats writes, “his thoughts are an aimless reverie; his acts are aimless like his thoughts, and it is in his aimlessness that he finds joy.”

MS_25_Wd.1.3_TomORoughley

Yeats, W. B. “Tom O’ Roughley,” typescript with manuscript emendations. ca. 1918. Special Collections, call number MS 25 Wd.1.3 Tom O’Roughley. Click image to enlarge.

 

A Broadside. Dundrum, Ireland: E.C. Yeats, The Cuala Press. No. 9, Second Year (February 1910)

W. B. Yeats’s sisters Susan (Lily) and Elizabeth (Lolly) founded Cuala Industries in 1908, following an earlier printing and craft venture, Dun Emer Industries. Lily produced embroidery, and Lolly oversaw the Cuala Press, which brought out titles by primarily Irish writers, including many by W. B. Yeats himself. Below is an issue of A Broadside, a series that featured both contemporary and traditional poems and ballads. Each issue was printed in folio format—a single sheet folded once—and was illustrated with hand-colored woodcuts by Yeats’s brother, the artist Jack B. Yeats, who also edited the first series (1908-1915).

YeatsY339_No9Year2 _Page_1

A Broadside. Dundrum, Ireland: E.C. Yeats, The Cuala Press. No. 9, Second Year (February 1910). Special Collections, call number Yeats Y339, No. 9, Year 2. Click image to enlarge.

 

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services

Tramping on Mount Oread: Poet Harry Kemp

April 21st, 2015

How many freshmen can boast that their arrival on campus was covered by the national press? Though neither a star athlete nor the child of a public figure, poet Harry Kemp (1883-1960) won this distinction through his knack for self-promotion. Kemp’s unconventional arrival at KU by boxcar in January of 1906 launched him from anonymity to the front page of the New York Tribune —  “TO COLLEGE UNDER FREIGHT CAR / Student Leaves New-York with 3 cents–Working Way at University of Kansas. Another headline in the Kansas City Star proclaimed Kemp a “Tramp Poet,” and the moniker stuck (though he was known as the vagabond poet and hobo poet as well). During his six years of studies at KU, Kemp immersed himself in books, built a reputation as a poet and writer, and befriended nearby William Allen White, the newsman and “Sage of Emporia.”

And as the years passed, Kemp continued to make headlines, including as the “other man” in Upton Sinclair’s divorce and for attempting  in 1913 to “tramp” to England as a stowaway aboard a steamer, something that earned him a brief stay in a British jail and further celebrity on both sides of the pond. Of course, Kemp garnered attention for his literary output as well. He published books of verse–including The Cry of Youth (1914), Chanteys and Ballads (1920), and Don Juan’s Note-book (1929)–and a bestselling semi-fictionalized memoir, Tramping on Life: An Autobiographical Narrative (1922), in which KU appears as “Laurel University” in “Laurel, Kansas.” Kemp livened up already the already lively literary circles of Greenwich Village and was associated with the Provincetown Players, electing ultimately to settle in Cape Cod.

Potrait of the KU Scoop Club, 1909, featuring Harry Kemp. Photograph of Harry Kemp circa the 1950s

Youth and Old Age: Harry Kemp (middle row, second from left) with fellow members of the Scoop Club
(for news reporters) in the 1909 Jayhawker yearbook, Call #: LD 2697.J3 1909,
and in a photograph from the the 1950s, Personal Papers of Harry Kemp. Call #: PP 75, Box 3.
Click images to enlarge.

Though Louis Untermeyer had once spoken of Kemp alongside Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, and Edgar Lee Masters, by the end of his life, the Tramp Poet’s reputation had already begun to fade. Nevertheless, Kemp continued to write and elevate his eccentricities to an art.  From his shack in Provincetown, Massachusetts, he would sign his poems (and sometimes even compose them) with a seagull feather.  In honor National Poetry Month, we remember today one of the most eccentric and free-spirited poets to emerge from KU, Harry Kemp, and share three of his poems below.

Harry Kemp's "Kansas" from Sunflowers: A Book of Kansas Poems (1914)

Kemp, Harry. “Kansas” in Sunflowers: A Book of Kansas Poems. Willard Wattles, Editor.
Lawrence, KS:  World Company, 1914. Call #: KAC C71. Click image to enlarge.

Cover of Kemp's Chantey's and Ballads (1920) "The Humming Bird" by Harry Kemp from Chanteys and Ballads (1920)

Kemp, Harry. “The Humming Bird,” from Chanteys and Ballads, Sea-chanteys, Tramp-ballads and Other
Ballads and Poems
. New York, Brentano’s [c1920]. Call #: PP 75, Box 1. Click images to enlarge.

Typescript poem ("Eight Lines, for the New Year") by Harry Kemp, with manuscript inscription.

Kemp, Harry.  “Eight Lines, For the New Year (Human Trust),” undated.
Personal Papers of Harry Kemp. Call # PP 75, Box 3. Click Image to enlarge.

For more on Harry Kemp, his poetry, and his wild life, see William Brevda’s Harry Kemp, the Last Bohemian or drop by Spencer and begin exploring his personal papers.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

 

Collection Snapshot: Diet and Digestion Advice from the Late 1600s

January 5th, 2015

It’s that time of year when you may hear your friends and family vowing to eat better for 2015.  But who needs trendy “paleo” diets or post-indulgence rounds of pepto-bismol when you can consult a seventeenth-century manuscript instead?  Among the Spencer Research Library’s collections is a volume labelled “Elizabeth Dyke her Booke of Recaits 1668,” which contains approximately 725 medicinal and culinary recipes (or “receipts”).  There you’ll find these two succinct lists of things “good” and “ille” for the stomach:

 

List of "Things good" and "ille" for "the stomack" from a seventeenth century book of receipts.

Parsley and sage advice?: Dyke, Elizabeth. “Things good for the Stomack” and “Things Ille for the Stomack.”
Booke of Recaits [Receipts]. Great Britain, circa 1668. Call Number: MS D157. Click image to enlarge.

According to the manuscript, calamint, sage, and standing after eating meat are all beneficial, while “all sweet things,” “fryed meats,” eating “meat upon meat” (pace Dr. Atkins), and eating “to[o] many dishes at one time” can lead to digestive disorder.

Of course, some of the volume’s recipes are acquired tastes (see the instructions for black sheep’s pudding below), so you may want to take its advice with a grain of salt!

Opening in the Booke of Recaits featuring a recipe for Black Sheep's Pudding

“To make black sheeps pudings.” Book of Recaits [Receipts]. Great Britain, circa 1668. MS D157. Click image to enlarge.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian