The Art of Scribbling

August 19, 2011 · 2 comments

in Collections,Conservation,Printed books,Projects,Rare books

by Giada Gelli, Preservation Assistant

An Incubus drawn in Historia Naturali, NLI call no. J.5908.PLI

An Incubus drawn in Historia Naturali, NLI call no. J.5908.PLI

We have all done some scribbling on copies, books, magazines and whatnot at some stage in our lives. There is nothing more pleasant than evading the realms of reality, shutting your ears to the world, and letting your pen (or pencil!) chase the boredom away.

But still, I wasn’t expecting to find entire pages of scribbles and drawings in one of the rare books being cleaned at our Clean Sweep project! This was until I considered that these books, donated to the Library, used to belong to someone after all… and boredom and reverie have always been an essential part of life, particularly for the higher ranks of society.

See for yourself these ink drawings we found in a 1776 school copy of Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturali (NLI call no. J.5908.PLI) in Latin. The book seems to have belonged at some stage to Lord William Robert Fitzgerald (1749–1804), son of the 1st Duke of Leinster and brother of the famous United Irishman Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1763–98). We cannot say if he is the author of the drawings, but whoever it was they were fond of Latin, since the scribble’s title is An Incubus i.e. a nightmare … and a real nightmare it seems!

Animal Farm meets Father Ted in Historia Naturali, NLI call no. J.5908.PLI

Animal Farm meets Father Ted in Historia Naturali, NLI call no. J.5908.PLI

Again from the same book, more drawings above of something that could resemble a modern crossover between Animal Farm and Father Ted.

More exciting activities than reading Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturali, NLI call no. J.5908.PLI

More exciting activities than reading Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturali, NLI call no. J.5908.PLI

A very genteel lodger in our copy of Newton's Traité d'optique, 1720, NLI call no. J.535

A very genteel lodger in our copy of Newton's Traité d'optique, 1720, NLI call no. J.535

And why not add some figures of human bodies busy in various activities and sports such as archery, and maybe fencing? You might guess more accurately about what these doodled men are up to.

Far more genteel than the wildly imaginative style above, another scribble, this time in pencil, was also found recently at our rare books project – this one in Pierre Coste’s translation of Sir Isaac Newton’s Traité d’optique, Vol. II (1720) (NLI call no. J.535) – not yet in our catalogue.

So, for all of you out there, let your imagination flow freely and start scribbling at the back of your books – but not library books, alright! You will make a librarian happy one day.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura August 19, 2011 at 3:00 pm

The first drawing reminds me very much of Henry Fuseli’s ‘Nightmare’ paintings from the 1780s; very nice article.

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Bean an Phoist August 19, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Laura, went hunting for this Fuseli painting. Here it is at the Detroit Institute of Arts – very creepy! Did not loiter long over the Incubus’s face. Also checked under the bed with the magnifier doohickey, but nothing as scary as our artist’s giant mouse?/rat?

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