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Britain by the Book: The Curious Story of the Third Printing Press in Britain

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, we offer a brief excerpt from Dr Oliver Tearle’s new book, Britain by the Book: A Curious Tour of Our Literary Landscape

I’ve often thought that someone should write a book about interesting thirds. Firsts are interesting, of course, and the silver-medallists of history have their place, but the third of something is often fascinating in ways that can baffle and surprise.

Take Shakespeare’s First Folio, for instance – or rather, don’t take that, take his Third Folio instead. Copies of the Third Folio are worth more than a First Folio (which itself sells for a small fortune at auctions), because most of the Third Folios perished in the Great Fire of London. In the confessedly unlikely event that you should find an old Third Folio gathering dust in your attic, don’t throw it out thinking collectors are interested only in first editions.

Or consider the third university set up in England, which was in, of all places, Read the rest of this entry

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The Book of Forgotten Authors: Forgotten Writers Who Are Worth Reading

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads Christopher Fowler’s enthralling account of the writers who time forgot

I’ve always been fond of the curious coincidence that in the 1960s there was a writer of novels about boxing who wrote under the name Frank Bruno. Or that Robert Shaw, who turned in a booming performance as Henry VIII in Fred Zinnemann’s superlative film of Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, was a successful novelist as well as a fine actor. The literary associations of such names have now largely been lost, but it’s great fun to recover them and re-examine the work of the authors in question.

So I was thrilled to receive a copy of Christopher Fowler’s new book, The Book of Forgotten Authors, which bears a glorious pink cover dotted with silhouettes of now-unfamiliar literary figures, and salvages 99 names from the mists of writerly obscurity and puts them back under the spotlight. And some of the revelations on offer here are truly fascinating. Read the rest of this entry

Britain by the Book: A Curious Tour of Our Literary Landscape

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle gives us a taste of the interesting trivia to be found in his new book…

I spent a lot of time looking into treacle earlier this year. Not literally. But, as it were, literarily. You see, there’s more to treacle than meets the eye. (If treacle ever does meet your eye, I recommend washing it out immediately.) Take Treacle Mines. They don’t exist. At least, not really. But in fiction, they do. It all began at St Frideswide’s Well in Binsey, Oxfordshire, a small village immortalised by Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem ‘Binsey Poplars’. One notable visitor to this well was Charles Dodgson, who worked nearby at Oxford University. One of his companions was probably a girl named Alice Liddell, of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. You see, Charles Dodgson was also Lewis Carroll. (Alice’s nurse, the wonderfully named Miss Prickett, came from Binsey.)

To locals, St Frideswide’s Well was known as Binsey treacle mine, from the original meaning of ‘treacle’ denoting any curative fluid or medicine. The word ‘mine’ was a sort of joke, conveying the idea that treacle could be ‘mined’ like gold or lead or coal. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), the Dormouse Read the rest of this entry