Wednesday, 12 September 2012

James Bolton of Halifax (1735-1799)

The Leeds Library recently purchased the 1820 (third) edition of Richard Relham’s Flora Cantabrigiensis which was first published in 1785 . This is a list of plants and references to them in other published works. It includes seven plates prepared by the naturalist and illustrator, James Sowerby (1757-1822). These plates are in fact based upon original drawings by James Bolton and, with this book’s acquisition, the library completes its collection of Bolton’s known published output.

Lichen subimbricatus
James Bolton (1735-1799), the self-educated son of a Halifax weaver, was like Sowerby a highly regarded naturalist and artist. His reputation was established by three other books of which he was author, illustrator and publisher. All three were printed in West Yorkshire - Bolton lived near Halifax all his life - and all three have long been found in the library’s collection.

The first of the three was Bolton’s book on ferns published in two volumes:

· Filices britannicae: an history of the British proper ferns, with plain and accurate descriptions, and new figures of all the species and varieties, taken from an immediate and careful inspection of the plants in their natural state, and engraved on thirty-one copper-plates; with the particular places noted where each species was lately gathered, and are at this time growing in the North of England, or the mountains of Wales, Leeds: Thomas Wright for John Binns, 1785
· Filices Britannicae; an history of British ferns, part the second, with plain and accurate descriptions, and new figures of all the species, taken from an immediate and careful inspection of the plants in their natural state drawn of their natural size and accurately engraved, including an appendix to the former part of this work, by which the whole is completed, Huddersfield: printed by J Brook for the author, 1790

Rhetian polypody
(Filices britannicae, v. 2, plate XLV)
This is just one of the 46 plates contained in the two volumes. Bolton not only drew the ferns but also etched the plates. He taught himself the art of etching in order to avoid the cost of employing an engraver. [v. 1, p. xv-xvi] The two indiscreetly placed Leeds Library stamps were intended as a deterrent to any contemporary library members considering the plate’s removal.

The second work was on fungi:
· An history of funguses, growing about Halifax: with forty-four copper-plates; on which are engraved fifty-one species of agarics, v. 1, Halifax: James Bolton, 1788;
· [ditto] with forty-eight copper plates; on which are engraved fifty-four species of funguses, v. 2, Huddersfield: J. Brook for the author, 1788
· [ditto]  with forty-six copper-plates; on which are engraved sixty-four species of funguses, v. 3, Huddersfield: J. Brook for the author, 1789

It was the first British work of its kind dedicated to the subject: the previous deficiency of information on fungi is stated by Bolton in his dedication in volume one to the Earl of Gainsborough: “… a greater number of its species have been actually gathered, in a compass of ground not exceeding eight or ten miles around Halifax, than have yet been ascertained in our best and most correct Catalogues of the British plants.” [v. 1, p. iv] Bolton lists and welcomes foreign publication on fungi and their mention by authors in this country such as William Curtis. [v. 3, p. xxx-xxxii] “… this extensive branch of natural history, is no longer a chaos, or a shame to the science of botany.” [v.3, p. xxxii]
The three volumes contain 138 beautiful hand-coloured copper plate illustrations of specimens described and drawn by James Bolton as the result of more than twenty years of observation. The extremely perishable nature of fungi meant that the description and illustration had often to be of different specimens. Here is one example from the first volume: it is again stamped.

Mourning agaric
(An history of fungesses, v. 1, plate XX)
The third work was on songbirds:
· Harmonia ruralis; or, an essay towards a natural history of British songbirds, volume the first, illustrated with figures the size of life, of the birds, male and female, in their most natural attitudes; their nests and eggs, food, favourite plants, shrubs, trees, &c., 2 v., Stannary, near Halifax: the author, 1794 and 1796
Eighty copper-plates “faithfully drawn, engraved and coloured after nature, by the author” [v. 1, t.-p.] illustrate the work. It is likely that Bolton himself hand-coloured all the plates in the three works detailed above. This is an example:
Motacilla boarula; The gray wagtail
(Harmonia ruralis, v. 2, plate 49

The two volumes of Harmonia ruralis are still found in their original bindings consisting of green quarter-calfskin, veined marble side papers and blue handmade endpapers. The newly added Flora Cantabrigiensis is in a conemporary red half-calfskin with antique spot sides and endpapers.

The library also possesses one other work with a James Bolton connection. John Watson’s History and antiquities of the parish of Halifax (1775) includes “A catalogue of plants growing in the parish of Halifax” which is thought to have been compiled by either James Bolton or his brother Thomas.
 Geoffrey Forster
Librarian, The Leeds Library
November 2012
Further reading:
Edmondson, John, James Bolton of Halifax, Liverpool: National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, 1995
Seaward, Mark, ‘James Bolton 1735-1799’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, v. 6, p. 486, ed. By H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004

Wikipedia - James Bolton

German language collection

In 1778, a new subscription library was founded in Leeds. Unlike the Leeds Library, founded 10 years before, this one would be devoted to books in four modern European languages - French, German, Italian and Spanish. Members of the 'Leeds Foreign Library' paid a capital sum to join and an annual subscription - as did those joining the 'English library. Other similarities were the overlap in membership (though members of the 'Foreign Library' were never as numerous), shared premises and a shared librarian. Eventually, in 1811, three years after the library's removal to its present premises in Commercial Street, the two libraries were merged with the proviso that purchasing of foreign language material would continue - as it did in reasonable numbers until the 1930s though with some acquisition of antiquarian as well as new publication.
In 1998, the following article was written by Geoffrey Forster for the Handbuch der historischen Buchbest√§nde in Deutschland, Osterreich und Europa (Fabian-Handbuch) describing the German part of the collection: Fabian handbuch: the Leeds Library.

Wilson Manuscripts

In December 1774, Joseph Wilson gave four quarto volumes to the Leeds Library. They were described in the library minutes as 'curious ms. volumes of nobility and gentry'. In fact these volumes had been compiled by Joseph Wilson's father, Thomas, and consisted of pedigrees relating to the West, North and East Ridings of Yorkshire (the West Riding has two volumes).

The following year, Joseph Wilson gave another volume, that of Lancashire pedigrees. These were consulted by Edward Baines, the printer of the Leeds Mercury, when he was compiling his History, directory and gazetteer of the County Palatine of Lancaster, 2v., 1824 and the author included a list of the county pedigrees to be found in the Wilson volume.

Title-page of the volume on
the North Riding
The library members were so pleased with these gifts that they excused the donor from any payment of subscription for the rest of his life.
Thomas Wilson (d. 1760) had been master of the St John's charity school in Leeds having succeeded John Lucas after his death in 1750. When Wilson was not teaching, he spent a considerable amount of his time copying from the manuscript collections of others. It is known that he drew substantially on the collections of John Hopkinson of Lofthouse but it is less likely that he used those of Ralph Thoresby (d. 1725), the author of Ducatus Leodiensis (London 1715), as was suggested by Thomas Dunham Whitaker in his own history of Leeds, Loidis and Elmete (Leeds 1816).
Whitaker had drawn upon the Wilson pedigree volumes when he was compiling Loidis and Elmete and was subsequently unkind to both the library and the compiler of pedigrees. The library he dismissed for dulling the senses and giving opportunities to dangerous individuals like Joseph Priestley to shape the reading of others. He saw scholars as the proper users of books and something of this attitude is to be found in his description of Thomas Wilson:

"Wilson, a native of Wragby, was a man not easy to be described: though dull, he was indefatigably and usefully laborious in gleaning after his master, [Ralph] Thoresby; but, like other men of inferior education, who by pertinacious industry have attained to considerable knowledge, he was sullen, disappointed, and envious ...."
The collection today known as the Wilson Manuscripts in fact consists of more than the volumes of Yorkshire and Lancashire pedigrees. There are also the following:
  • Chartularium Melense or a collection of papal bulls, archiepiscopal, royal and private benefactions to the Cistercian-abbey of Melsa or Meaux in Holderness, in the East-Riding of the county of York, ex bibliotheca Thorntonianae, anno domini 1746, per Thomas Wilson
A note at the front explains that the chartulary is from a manuscript probably compiled by Stephen Grene, a monk of Meaux Abbey, in about 1500: the manuscript was copied by Francis Smales, Rector of Preston in Holderness, whose paper were purchased by Richard Thornton and Ralph Thoresby, both of Leeds, in 1648. Wilson acquired it along with some other papers and all the remaining copies of Ducatus Leodiensis. A library label at the front of the book dates its receipt as 5 October 1778.
  • Liber judiciarius, or Dooms-day-book for the county of York
There is nothing to associate this volume with Thomas Wilson other than the style of the title page: the handwriting has similarities but the attempt to imitate an eleventh-century hand means that is not easily comparable with the other manuscript volumes.
  • The English, Scotch and Irish historical register, containing the lives and writings of antient British and Irish, and the Islandic bards, and modern historians, natural, ecclesiastical, civil and military, collected by Thomas Wilson, SSA, London, in two volumes
A manuscript note at the front of volume one  states: "There are many mistakes in these two volumes which the author intended to correct but death prevented - JW." "JW" is presumably Joseph Wilson and it would appear these volumes were compiled towards the end of Thomas Wilson's life.

It is known where these additional volumes came from though it is very likely that they too were given by Wilson's son. Other Wilson MSS may be found in Leeds Public Library and at Leeds Grammar School.

A printed volume in the Leeds Library collection is the large paper copy of Ralph Thoresby's Ducatus Leodiensis, London: 1715 with manuscript annotation by John Lucas (Wilson's predecessor at the charity school), Thomas Wilson himself and the 'memorable' George Bayley who sadly does not seem to have been remembered. This item will receive its own posting.

One significant user of the Wilson Manuscripts must be mentioned. In 1779, the biographer of Dr Johnson, James Boswell, had occasion to visit Leeds and the library where he examined the Wilson Manuscripts. He recorded: "In Leeds, where one would not expect it, there is a very good public library, where strangers are treated with great civility, of which I for one retain a grateful sense."

Further reading:

Beckwith, Frank, The Leeds Library 1768-1968, with a new preface by Dennis Cox, Leeds 1994

Taylor, R.V., Supplement to the Biographia Leodiensis; or, biographical sketches of the worthies of Leeds and neighbourhood, from the Norman Conquest to the present time, London 1867, pp 584-585 [John Lucas] and pp 587-589 [Thomas Wilson]

Whitaker, Thomas Dunham, Loidis and Elmete, Leeds 1816

Geoffrey Forster
12 September 2012