Month 23 (May 2013)

This month I have been mostly... Sharing enthusiasm

Visitors in the Old Library
Visitors in the Old Library

Samuel Butler would have been rather surprised (and pleased, I hope!) to see the Old Library on Saturday 11th May crammed full of people joining in our celebration of the Butler Project. Over the course of the day almost 650 people visited the special exhibition, ‘Highlights of the Samuel Butler Collection’. Audiences of more than 70 people also came along to the Divinity School in the afternoon, to hear Simon Heffer give a fascinating account of Butler’s troubled relationships with family, church and Charles Darwin, and to follow Roger Robinson on an exciting paper trail that revealed Butler’s hitherto overlooked prowess as a cross-country runner and sporting leader.

Samuel Butler as an undergraduate
Young Sam Butler - secret sportsman
Roger Robinson running among mountains
Literary scholar, author and international runner, Roger Robinson

The talks highlighted many conflicting and intriguing aspects of Butler’s character, demonstrating clearly why he and his works are still of interest today. You can listen to recordings of both talks (or download the transcripts) online here. You can also view digital images of all the exhibits and find out more about the collection’s highlights in an online version of the exhibition here. Thank you very much to volunteer Maria Hamaker for putting this online exhibition together.

One of Butler's photographs
Old Priest in the Church of the Addolorata. Mount Erice. 24 August 1894 (D61.12) - one of Butler's evocative photographs

As well as sparking interests among people who wouldn’t otherwise have encountered Butler’s works or had a reason to visit the Library, the events we’ve hosted over the past two years have helped raise awareness within the academic community of the presence and scope of the Butler Collection at St John’s. Consequently the number of enquiries I receive tends to increase in the weeks following an event, and this month I’ve been pleased to assist a number of researchers in identifying images in the collection for use in forthcoming publications and for display at upcoming exhibitions and conferences. Interestingly, two are taking place in Italy this summer (in Varese on 2nd July and Erice, Sicily, on 23rd August) – could it be that our January Butler Day started a trend?! Although there’s only one more month of the Butler Project to go, it looks as though Butler’s 21st-century revival is to be continued…

Next month

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