I recently ran across the book Brian Wildsmith’s Fishes in the Library’s collection.  It’s a small book that pairs colorful illustrations with whimsical collective nouns for groups of various sorts of fish.

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A Hover of Trout.  Brian Wildsmith’s Fishes (1968).  NSLM Main Reading Room.  The gift of George Chapman.
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A Cluster of Porcupine Fish.  Brian Wildsmith’s Fishes (1968).  NSLM Main Reading Room.  The gift of George Chapman.

Many collective nouns, such as flock of birds, school of fish, class of students, or pack of hounds, are authorized or accepted terms in English.  However, there is a seemingly limitless variety of group nouns being created by everyday English language speakers.  The generation of these terms is a word game that allows speakers to customize their language on the fly, displaying their cleverness and imagination.  Collective terms tend to focus on a characteristic or behavior of the thing being named.

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A Paddling of Ducks.  Image by R. G. Daniel.

For example, a paddling of ducks, or a murmuration of starlings.  A quick google search for collective nouns provides many examples of this dynamic language generation.

The writer of this blog details how attendees at a mathematics conference came up with group nouns for mathematicians.  My favorite was “A distribution of probabilists.”

Here is a list of group nouns for Pokemon.

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A Mischief of Pikachus.  Image from Zam.com

The website All-sorts.org leverages the power of Twitter to collect group nouns.  They recently held a contest in which participants submitted images illustrating their favorite collective noun.  Here is “An Orchard of Macs” by Chris Dobson…

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An Orchard of Macs.  Illustration by Chris Dobson.

and “A Tangle of Octupuses” by Rachel Wilson.

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A Tangle of Octopuses.  Illustration by Rachel Wilson

Even Downton Abbey gets in on the fun in season four.  While watching several men who are contending for Lady Mary’s attention depart, Rose asks, “What’s a group noun for suitors?”  Cora replies, “What do you think? A desire?”  Rosamund responds, “A desire of suitors. Very good.”

While we are all familiar with these fun terms, I’ll bet you didn’t know that the tradition of generating clever or whimsical group nouns goes back at least to the late 1400’s.  The Boke of St. Albans (1486) is a manual on hunting, hawking, and heraldry for the education of gentlemen.  This education includes the correct terms for groups of animals.  Knowing the jargon is a critical indication of membership in any group and aristocrats are no exception.  The list, Companys of Beestys and Fowlys, provides the appropriate terminology for discussing groups of animals in a hunting setting.

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The Boke of St. Albans (1881) in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room at the NSLM.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Interestingly it also includes quite a few humorous terms for groups of people and professions.  Demonstrating that people at that time enjoyed clever or especially apt terms just as we do today.  And perhaps suggesting to gentleman that displaying their wit and humor by creating such a term is acceptable behavior.

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The Gentleman’s Recreation by Nicholas Cox (1674) in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room at the NSLM.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Later books of courtesy reprinted many of these terms and expanded on them.  The Gentleman’s Recreation (1674) and The Complete Sportsman (1775) are two other examples that the Library holds in addition to later editions of The Boke of St. Albans.

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The Complete Sportsman by Thomas Fairfax (1775) in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room at the NSLM.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

In his article, Proper Terms: An attempt at a rational explanation of the meanings of the Collection of Phrases in “The Book of St Albans,” 1486, entitled “The Compaynys of beestys and fowlys” and similar lists, for The Philological Society in 1914, John Hodgkin collects lists of these collective nouns found in early manuscripts and books and analyzes their generation and historical development.  The collection of lists is worth a look, not least for the ease of reading them compared to reading the historical fonts found in the original books.  Hodgkin argues that many of these words were never used in actual conversation and that some of them were not even meant as collective nouns at all.  He goes on to give the likely origins of each of these terms, many of which are confusing to modern readers, but reveal the same sense of humor and whimsy as our modern-made terms once they are explained.

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Tapster. Image from OpenClipArt.org

For example the collective term for tapsters or wine drawers is listed as, “A Promise of Tapsters.”  “Refers to the usual habit of tapsters or wine drawers, who say that they “are coming now, sir” when they have every intention of attending to about a dozen other thirsty souls first” (p. 163).

What are some of your favorite collective nouns?  Let me know in the comments section.


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Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

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While our manuscript by Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) comes out for every tour of the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room, there are some equally fascinating pieces about our nation’s 26th president at the National Sporting Library & Museum. An intimate glimpse into Roosevelt’s private life can be found in the book Letters to Kermit by Theodore Roosevelt, a 1946 publication of letters Roosevelt wrote to his son, Kermit Roosevelt (1889-1943), between 1902 and 1908.

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President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt seated on lawn, surrounded by their family, 1903. From left to right: Quentin, Theodore Sr., Theodore Jr., Archie, Alice, Kermit, Edith, and Ethel. From Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs division, accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Theodore Roosevelt is widely credited as a founder of the modern environmental conservation movement. He and Kermit had a close relationship, most notably in their 1913-14 adventure exploring the “River of Doubt,” today named Rio Roosevelt. Kermit, newly engaged, put off his marriage to accompany his father at the request of his mother. Both Kermit and Teddy nearly died on the expedition.

Kermit was away at boarding school during many of the years chronicled in the letters.

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“Father and Mr. Burroughs galloping up on some elk — bulls and cows. The elk are tired and have begun to open their mouths and pant. You can tell Mr. Burroughs by the beard. There are a great many rocks on the ground. The pine tree is small and Scraggly.” Letter of April 16, 1903, from Letters to Kermit by Theodore Roosevelt, 1946.

Letters chronicle family illnesses and general news, as well as Teddy’s adventures touring the United States as President. Teddy would note anything of interest in his letters, such as “To-day, by the way, as I rode along the beach I saw seals, cormorants, gulls and ducks, all astonishingly tame.” Roosevelt would almost always sign, “Your loving father, T. R.”

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Kermit Roosevelt and his dog, Jack, 1902. From Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs division, accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Quite a few of the letters belie Teddy’s sense of humor:

Oyster Bay, N. Y.
September 23, 1903

Blessed Kermit:
The house seems very empty without you and Ted; although I cannot conscientiously say that it is quiet — Archie and Quentin attend to that. Archie, bare-footed, bareheaded, and with his usual faded blue overalls much torn and patched, has just returned from a morning with his beloved Nick. Quentin has passed the morning in sports and pastimes with the long-suffering secret service men. Allan has been associating closely with Mother and me. Yesterday, Ethel went off riding with Loraine. She rode Wyoming, who is really turning out a very good family horse. This evening, I expect Grant La Farge and Owen Wister, who are coming to spend the night. Mother is as busy as possible putting up the house; Ethel and I insist that she now eyes us both with a purely professional gaze, and secretly wishes that she could wrap us up in a neatly pinned sheet with camphor balls inside. Good by, blessed fellow!

Your loving father,
T. R.

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“Today I took Rusty jumping.” Letter of June 12, 1904, from Letters to Kermit by Theodore Roosevelt, 1946.

Letters to Kermit by Theodore Roosevelt shows the sweet, funny, and affectionate relationship between the president and his second son. It can be accessed in the Main Reading Room during NSLM’s open hours.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

We just finished a shift of materials in the Library this week. Why is that such a big deal? Well, it means that the first leg of our collections maintenance project is drawing to a close.

From a practical point of view, the way our collections used to be organized created challenges to Library users and staff alike. Since Erica joined the NSLM staff last year, we have made tremendous headway to implementing full cataloging for our collections. That means you can find all of the 12,000 titles in the Main Reading Room on the Library’s catalog.

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A new call numbering system has been put in place at NSLM. As new signage is designed, the public is adopting individual stacks to commemorate friends or family. New signs will be ordered soon, and each will display the new system to help researchers find materials.

As we rearranged our books and made more efficient use of space, it became apparent that juggling gaps in the collection and keeping things tidy would be a challenge. The project produced more space, meaning sizable gaps.

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Olivia, our Library intern, was instrumental in helping us shift books. The massive gap was the product of three years of work on the project.
In addition to ease of access and improved findability, we saved enough space to bring the Library’s fiction collections back to the Main Reading Room. These collections had been stored on the Library’s Lower Level, which is restricted access.

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We finally have room for favorite fiction titles by Dick Francis, R. S. Surtees, Marguerite Henry, Paul Brown, and more in the Main Reading Room.
Lastly, the project creates a much more orderly space, with a cleaner feel. It will be easier to keep track of which books are being used or in need of repair. It will also be easier to read the shelves and keep them in order.

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A place for everything and everything in its place!
So what’s next? We’re currently working on cataloging our ephemera, photograph, and vertical file collections. Our Library volunteers Diane and Gale have been tremendously helpful to make progress there. We’re also preparing to begin a similar reprocessing project for our Rare Book Room collections. And after that, we’ll tackle our periodical backfile, much of which is completely uncataloged.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

I recently spent some time in Berlin visiting several amazing museums. The collections in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (State Museums of Berlin) are incredible – from major examples of ancient art to fabulous modern and contemporary pieces. During my travels, I encountered quite a few works that reminded me of Middleburg and the NSLM. Here are just a few:

The Old National Gallery in Berlin primarily features German artists – some familiar and some lesser known.

Wilhelm Trubner (German, 1851-1917), Equestrian Portrait of Ida Gorz, 1900/1902, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Old National Gallery), Acquired 1921

My poor quality photo doesn’t do this painting justice – it is quite a striking portrait.

Adolph Menzel (German, 1815-1905), Horse study, 1848, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Old National Gallery), Acquired 1906

 

Carl Steffeck (German, 1818-1890), Fox in its Burrow, 1842, oil on canvas, mounted on cardboard, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Old National Gallery), Purchase of Ernst Zaeslein, Grunewald, 1911

With the upcoming show The Horse in Ancient Greek Art on my mind, mythological horses keep popping up everywhere.

Hippocamp (half-horse, half-sea serpent creatures) details on the Friedrichstrausse bridge, over the Spree River, Berlin.

 

Attic (Athens), Greece, Votive Relief for a Chariot Victory, 400–390 BCE, marble, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Altes Museum), Acquired 1884. Caption reads: “The nude warrior wearing a helmet next to the bearded charioteer is about to jump off the speeding chariot to continue the race on foot.”

 

The German History Museum has a massive collection of almost 1 million objects, spanning the history of Germany from the Middle Ages to the late-20th century.

Gothic Field Armour, c. 1470, iron, German History Museum

 

This 15th century set of battle armor is made of iron. The caption explained that it was so heavy – for both horse and rider – that the knights and their steeds could only fight for a very short amount of time before being overcome by exhaustion. (At least this rider has his heels down).

Sidesaddle, c. 1700, leather, silk, velvet, German History Museum

This early-18th century ladies sidesaddle with velvet cushioning looked like it would be very comfortable.

Hare Hunting und Bird Hunting, 2nd half of the 18th century, oil on canvas, German History Museum

This pair of 18th century sporting scenes show hare hunting and bird hunting with hounds. I thought it was interesting that the hunter in the second scene is mounted on a paint (it almost looks like an appaloosa) horse. Hunting was a large part of social life for royal and noble families of German speaking territories throughout the 16th to 19th centuries. Coursing was adopted by German princes (from the French) around the end of the 17th century.

On a day trip to Hamburg, I discovered the Museum of Arts and Crafts. This fabulous suit is an “Original/Interpretation” piece in the exhibition Sports/No Sports, which explores the correlation between fashion and sportswear.

Foxhunting Ensemble, Museum of Arts and Crafts, Hamburg

The Museum of Fine Arts in Hamburg also has an impressive collection, including this Renoir (with it’s very Renoir-esque figures).

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919), Riding in the Bois de Boulogne, 1873, oil on canvas, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Acquired 1913

 

This is just a tiny selection of all the wonderful art there is to see in Germany. It was fun to explore new museums and collections and discover pieces that remind me of the art here at home.

A few weeks ago, I discovered that the National Museum of American History has a horse halter in its collection. The halter belonged to a horse named First Flight, and after browsing the catalog entry, I was stunned to discover how horses have helped save thousands of lives.

First Flight’s story is remarkable: he was bred to be a racehorse, but doesn’t appear to have ever raced (I couldn’t find him listed in any race records in the NSLM collection) and then went into service as a caisson horse in military funerals at Arlington National Ceremony. It appears that large crowds didn’t agree with him, and we was soon reassigned for being too skittish. In 1978, First Flight went to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland where he became a “living factory” to produce botulism antitoxin.

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The St. Andrew’s Society Pipes & Drums precedes the Mounted Army Color Guard from the Caisson Platoon of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment at NSLM’s 6th Annual Polo Classic in 2016. First Flight was a caisson horse before being transferred to Fort Detrick to serve as a “living factory” of antitoxin. Photo courtesy of Chris Weber Studios.

Botulism is one of the most potent natural toxins, produced by a variety of strains of botulinum bacteria. First Flight was infected with each strain in succession, and as his immune system produced antibodies, his blood could be harvested to produce an effective remedy to botulism. First Flight’s serum was stockpiled during the Gulf War to protect against biological attacks using botulinum. Between Fort Detrick and a long stay at the University of Minnesota, First Flight gave over 16,000 liters of blood for botulism antitoxin.

 

 

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Horses Used in Serum Production, Wellcome Library, Archives and Manuscripts SA/LIS/R.188, Photo Number L0051725.

 

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One of the first bottles (1895) of diphtheria antitoxin produced at the Hygienic Laboratory, which became the NIH in 1930. Diphtheria antitoxin, was produced by inoculating horses or goats with increasingly concentrated doses of diphtheria bacteria. Image accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

The practice of using horses to derive antitoxin serum dates back to the 19th Century, and has been used to combat rabies, tetanus, and diphtheria. The innovation of serum treatment by Emil Adolf von Behring in 1890 was a huge step toward curing diphtheria and thousands of lives were saved. Horses, due to their hardiness and size, were ideal candidates for serum production. Unfortunately, the new treatment brought its own dangers.

One of the early equine stars of diphtheria serum production was Jim, a former milk wagon horse who produced 30 quarts of antitoxin over his career. In 1901, he showed signs of tetanus and was put down, but mislabeled antitoxin and poor record-keeping allowed tainted serum to be distributed to children, resulting in 13 deaths. The tragedy was a major catalyst behind passage of the Biologics Control Act in 1902, the first broad U. S. regulation of pharmaceuticals. The precedent led to the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration in 1906.

Production of antitoxin serum is more than a little unusual today. But it’s another fascinating way that horses have been instrumental to human progress over the years.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

Phar Lap is Dead!  The terrible headline traveled around the globe and plunged Australia into mourning.  Why was this headline news?  Who was Phar Lap and why were Australians heartbroken by his death?  Phar Lap was a thoroughbred race horse with an incredible story.  It is the story of an inauspicious beginning, a triumphant rise to fame, and a tragic and mysterious death.

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Phar Lap.  From The Age

The horse that would be named Phar Lap was born in New Zealand, by Night Raid, out of Entreaty.  At the yearling auction at Trentham the chestnut colt was lot 41, the last one of the day.  He was large and clumsy, but based on his pedigree alone, Australian trainer Harry Telford wanted him.  Telford had convinced American David J. Davis to buy the colt sight unseen.  Telford’s brother placed the winning bid, 160 guineas.  A better bargain has never been had on a race horse but that fact would not be revealed for some time yet.

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Harry Telford.  From Museum Victoria

Phar Lap was shipped to Australia to embark on his training and eventual racing career.  When he arrived he was skinny, had developed boils on his face, and was so gangly and clumsy that Davis flat out refused to pay to train him.  Telford couldn’t afford to buy the horse from Davis, however they came to a lease arrangement where Telford would feed and train the horse for three years in exchange for two thirds of its winnings.  Initial training efforts were not very successful and Telford decided to have Phar Lap gelded and turned out for a while to mature.

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David J. Davis.  From Museum Victoria

As a two year old, his training got underway in earnest.  The regimen included grueling workouts where Phar Lap carried heavy weights up and down the coastal dunes.  It was in Telford’s stables that Phar Lap would meet and bond with the young strapper Tom Woodcock.  Tom fed and cared for the horse, and spent more time with him than any other human being.  The two developed a deep friendship and Tom was rarely more than a dozen yards away from Phar Lap for the rest of the horse’s life.

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Tom Woodcock and Phar Lap.  From Phar Lap, the story of the Big Horse, by I. R. Carter (1965).  NSLM. The gift of Alexander Mackay-Smith.

Phar Lap’s racing record is 51 starts for 37 wins, 3 seconds, and 2 thirds, including a streak of 14 consecutive wins between September 1930 and March 1931.  The highlight of this series was an impressive three length win at the Melbourne Cup while carrying the high weight of 138 pounds.  

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Phar Lap wins the 1930 Melbourne Cup by three full lengths, finishing with a time of 3 minutes and 27 seconds.  IMAGE CREDIT: National Library of Australia / Wikimedia Commons

He frequently won by several lengths and preferred to give ground early in a race and then run down the horses ahead of him.  He also frequently carried heavy weight handicaps, although that didn’t seem to bother him except for the 1931 Melbourne Cup race in which he failed to place while carrying 150 pounds, 52 more than the winner of the race.  He had incredible stamina and often raced a grueling schedule.  In one week in 1930 Phar Lap not only won four races in seven days, including the Melbourne Cup, but also survived an assassination attempt.  Someone shot at him from a car on Saturday morning, he raced and won the same day, won the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday, and two other races on Thursday and Saturday.

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Phar Lap with jockey Jim Pike riding at Flemington race track c 1930
Charles Daniel Pratt, 1893-1968 – Held in the collection of the State Library of Victoria

The public fell in love with Phar Lap.  The 1930s were difficult depression years in Australia and the people latched onto the horse’s rise from obscurity to complete domination of the racing world.  He was an underdog who succeeded through hard work and heart, overcoming obstacles such as heavy weight handicaps and even an assassination attempt, in his unstoppable rise to the pinnacle of Australian racing.  They saw in him traits that they valued as a nation, and they thrilled to see him win.

Having met every challenge available in Australia, Telford and Davis set their sights on conquering American racing.  It was decided that Phar Lap would make the long voyage across the Pacific and arrive in time to participate in the Agua Caliente Handicap on Sunday, March 20, 1932.

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Phar Lap being loaded onto the ship.  Taken from The Age

He arrived safely on January 15 to great fanfare and spent the next two months getting acclimated.  On the day of the race Phar Lap didn’t disappoint.  In front of a racecourse packed with 20,000 spectators, he let the pack lead him and then ran them all down effortlessly, winning by two lengths.  He broke the track record for the distance while he was at it.  Watch Phar Lap winning the Agua Caliente Handicap here.  Phar Lap was in peak condition and poised to take the American racing circuit by storm.  Sixteen days later he was dead.

After the Agua Caliente race, Phar Lap was taken to a breeding farm belonging to Edward D. Perry, near Menlo Park, California.  Here he was resting and training as plans were made for his tour of the United States.  On the morning of Tuesday, April 5th, Tom Woodcock found Phar Lap in obvious distress.  The vet that accompanied the party from Australia was summoned.  Initially they thought he was suffering from a colic attack but as his condition rapidly worsened, they began to suspect poisoning.  Despite their best efforts Phar Lap hemorrhaged and died shortly after noon.  By 3:30 the news was out.  Expressions of shock, disbelief, sadness, and condolence poured in from around the world.  How could this have happened?  As it turns out, this question still has not been definitively answered even 85 years later.

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Suspicions that Phar Lap had been poisoned surfaced quickly in the press.
Source: Museum Victoria

The initial autopsy noted that the stomach and intestines were severely inflamed and the lining of the stomach was badly perforated.  The speed of death was much faster than one would expect from colic and almost immediately rumors of intentional poisoning began to spread.  Multiple agencies and individuals investigated, often reporting contradictory information and results.  The possibilities are wide ranging.  He may have been poisoned, either intentionally or accidentally.  It’s possible that someone wanted to kill Phar Lap, after all he had already been the object of one assassination attempt.  Accidental poisoning may have resulted from eating forage that was tainted with insecticide, or through arsenic contained in a tonic.  He may have developed severe bloat, or intestinal tympany, from eating wet alfalfa.  Others have suggested colic or colitis x.  At a minimum one can say that the case continues to hold the public’s interest.  Every few years a new article is published claiming to have definitively solved the mystery.  The truth may never be known.

Amazingly, his death is not the end of Phar Lap’s story. Almost immediately his heart was preserved and given to The Institute of Anatomy in Canberra, where it was exhibited next to the heart of an army remount horse.  Phar Lap’s 14 pound heart dwarfed that of the remount which weighed only 6 pounds.  It can now be seen at the National Museum of Australia.

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Phar Lap’s heart.  From the National Museum of Australia

His skeleton went to The Dominion Museum in Wellington, New Zealand (now called The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa).  For five years it was stored in boxes in the basement due to lack of funds to articulate and display it.  When a subscription list was opened in the Referee, the money was easily raised in just two weeks.  Phar Lap’s bones were assembled and his skeleton was put on display in 1938.

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From The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

His mounted hide is in The National Museum of Victoria in Melbourne.  It is a masterpiece of taxidermy and was completed by Louis, Leslie and John Jonas of Yonkers, New York.  Although they had never before prepared a horse, their outstanding workmanship on wild animal exhibits was well known in museums.  The exhibit opened in 1933 and remains one of the museum’s most popular.  Through these exhibits Phar Lap’s amazing story survives and continues to inspire those that hear it.

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Equus caballus, taxidermied mount of the racehorse Phar Lap. Registration no. C 10726.  Photographer: Benjamin Healley  Source: Museums Victoria
Copyright Museums Victoria / CC BY (Licensed as Attribution 4.0 International)

The Library holds many biographies of famous horses. If you’d like to learn more about the lives, adventures and accomplishments of these fascinating animals, including Phar Lap, stop by the Main Reading room.


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Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

Gervase Markham by Burnet Reading, published by  Thomas Rodd the Elder, after  Thomas Cross
Gervase Markham, by Burnet Reading, published by Thomas Rodd the Elder, after Thomas Cross, line engraving, early 19th Century. Accessed via Wikipedia.

Whenever I browse the antiquarian titles in the NSLM’s F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room, the name “Markham” comes up again and again. It’s not a surprise. Gervase Markham (1568-1637) was, in many ways, the typification of the Renaissance man: soldier, poet, and author of a great number of titles.

Markham spent his early years as a soldier of fortune in the Low Countries and in Ireland. Upon his return to England, he took up writing and benefited from the patronage of the Earl of Essex. Markham’s early works were poetic, but his career focused in many ways on the pragmatic topics touching on country life in England. For Markham, country life was closely tied to national identity.

Markham was a contemporary of William Shakespeare, and it’s likely that Shakespeare was acquainted with Markham’s work. In his 1960 book, Sir Robert Gittings argued that Markham is the subject of satire in the form of the character Don Armando in later drafts of Love’s Labour’s Lost.

The Problem is to find an English Arcadian whom Shaekspeare could have parodied in the same terms as [Antonio] Perez. It can hardly be doubted that the most prolific and persistent author of Arcadian conceits during the years 1594-97, and one moreover particularly associated with the Essex group, was Gervase Markham.
— Robert Gittings, Shakespeare’s Rival, 1960

By the time Shakespeare brought Love’s Labour’s Lost to publication, Markham had established himself as an authority on horsemanship and country life through a discourse on the subject published in 1593. In 1595, he translated and edited The Book of Saint Albans, the landmark title on “Hawking, Hunting, and the Blasting of Arms.” His farriery book Markham’s Masterpiece would go through many editions and reprintings.

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Plan for the design of a fish pond, Gervase Markham, from Cheape and Good Husbandry, Eighth Edition, 1653. National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Jacqueline B. Mars.

In 1601, Markham’s career hit a significant setback with the downfall of his noble patron, the Earl of Essex. Markham was forced to reinvent himself as an author, focusing less on poetic works and instead expanding his reach into practical guidebooks. He wrote on riding, farriery, animal husbandry, and even a complete manual for housewives. Of note was Markham’s willingness to gear his works toward an audience outside the wealthy classes, often advertising this fact with titles such as Cheap and Goode Husbandry.

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Gervase Markham, Cheape and Good Husbandry, Eighth Edition, 1653. National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Jacqueline B. Mars.

Markham was masterful at realizing as much revenue as possible from his publications. He often recycled material or issued a book under a new title. Printing in multiple editions allowed for multiple dedications to noble lords, who might be disposed to become patrons for future works.

In fact, Markham was so successful that by 1617 English book printers were imploring him not to write again on animal medicine, as his influence was preventing others from being able to publish on the topic. Although he isn’t widely known today, Markham’s books continue to be a valuable source of information on the daily lives of the people and animals of early 17th Century England.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail