Reading English celebrates the 80th anniversary of Yale University’s James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection – a world-renowned collection of early modern British historical and literary manuscripts.
The Osborn Collection held at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library consists of English literary and historical manuscripts from the Anglo-Saxon period to the 20th century, with particular emphasis on the 17th and 18th centuries. Letters and papers of scholars and antiquaries, such as Edmond Malone, Charles Burney, and many lesser known individuals, are supplemented by historical manuscripts and state papers. A small gathering of scores includes early lute music and autograph manuscripts by Gustav Mahler, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten.
“Over 80 years, the Osborn Collection has had a formative influence on early modern British scholarship, just as its founder intended”, says Kathryn James, curator of the present exhibition. “The collection continues to produce the same passionate discussions and debates that James Marshall Osborn engaged in with his colleagues over decades.”
On show are works by historical figures such as Sir Thomas More or the Venerable Bede and poets like John Donne and Sir Philip Sidney along with remarkable examples of commonplace books, letterbooks, estate accounts, and grand tour diaries. They provide a colourful and detailed insight not only into the intellectual history, but also into the ordinary daily life in England centuries ago. Also displayed are selections from Osborn’s personal archives documenting his Oxford studies, his scholarly career at Yale, and rich relationships with colleagues and friends such as Robert Penn Warren. The items on view include:
- 65 Letters to Sir Philip Sidney, all but one written between 1574 and 1576, during the last two years of his travels on the Continent and first year back in England.
- Manuscripts and poems by John Donne and historical documents related to Donne and his poems
- Sir John Mandeville, Travels, believed to be a true account in the Middle Ages, the narrative follows a fictitious knight, Sir John Mandeville, who supposedly journeyed through Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Originally written in Anglo-Norman and circulated between 1357 and 1371, this rare copy was translated into Middle English.
- William Hill, Commonplace Book: the extraordinary 17th century volume shows how a reader might learn to read and write.
- Psalter, with calendar and office of the dead, 1250-1300: a beautifully illuminated liturgical book that gathered the Psalms together in a specific order to be recited during religious services.
- Morgan Colman, Genealogies of the Kings of England, 1592: charting the succession of the monarchs of England from William the Conquerer through Elizabeth.
>>> Learn more about the Osborn Collection.
(Picture: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University)