Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Letters on Natural Magic: Addressed to Sir Walter Scott by Daniel Brewster, Adopted by Rosie Garland

We are very pleased to present this post by one of our Honorary Members, Rosie Garland. Rosie has adopted this delightfully petite volume, which measures just 15 x 10 x 2cm. Thank you so much to Rosie for her contribution toward the preservation of our diverse collection!

The long tramp up the twisting staircase repays any effort. Like many visitors before me, the first time I climbed the steps to The Portico Library I marvelled at the beauty of the bookshelves stretching to the cornices, bulging with Polite Literature, History, Travel and other delights.

I also noticed how many – if not most – of the books had a white tape tied neatly around their middles. When I asked the significance of those ribbons, I was told they indicated volumes in need of rebinding. My heart went out to these weary tomes, waiting patiently for some TLC.

But how to choose which one to adopt? On a subsequent trip, I trespassed upon a tour for students (from Manchester Metropolitan University). The table groaned with books on magic and the occult, one of which was Walter Scott’s Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft. It sported a brand spanking new binding, and looked jolly pleased with itself. Another volume, Letters on Natural Magic by David Brewster, was in a far sorrier state. My heart went out to it. It was the obvious choice.

My life is blessed with natural magic. If I can work a little enchantment on a book, then I am a very happy bibliophile indeed.

Rosie Garland

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

An interview with Simon Manby by Mathilde Armantier

An interview with Simon Manby:

During this month of March 2015, Simon Manby does us the honour of displaying his work at the Portico Gallery. Drawings, prints and sculptures adorn our venue with a fine particular style that is very much his own.

When did you decide that you would be an artist?

My mother was a painter, and her mother before her was a painter. My grandmother in fact met Rodin and corresponded with him, because she studied with Alphonse Legros in London. So I was raised in an artistic atmosphere. All children draw and paint. I think at the age of 10 or 11, my parents gave me a little paint box. I sat in Cornwall, at the seaside, and tried to do a watercolour. I think that, really, I have always wanted to be an artist. It was partly the act of wanting to be an artist. In other words, I found it interesting and exciting. Mozart is a musician and composer, not because he wanted to be; I think I wanted to be an artist.

When did you first have the intention of creating?

I will you tell two things that happened. When I was an adolescent, I didnt really know what I wanted to do, I was looking for sensible way to have a career. I think my parents were quite fed up with hearing of my various projects, so my father said one day never mind what you want to do with your whole life, what would you do now? And immediately I replied, ‘I would like to go to an art school, to which he answered well, go to an art school then. My father grew up during the 1930s in a poor family. He had really wanted to be an artist, but that was a time when his parents would say no, do something sensible. So he studied architecture, but was not really happy with it and, in the end, he changed to painting.
The other interesting thing is how I chose to be a sculptor. I was maybe 3 or 4, it was before we left London. My mother went to see a friend who was an artist, a sculptor. They were talking. In the studio, there were some boards, some clay, and modelling stands, well things to make sculptures. When I was 18, I went to Art School in Edinburgh, and I thought I would become a painter. But when I got in there, and went into the sculpture room, I thought no, this is really where I want to be. I had been making sculptures since I was 16 or 17. I think the smell of clay, plaster and wood was actually like going back to infancy, like a Proust madeleine.

You seem to have moved a lot during your youth, do you identify yourself with a certain place? 

I was born in the South of England, but if it was not for the war I would have been born in London. Some people are blessed with being born or living in certain place, and really identifying with that place as an artist, and that is really a strength. But I dont really belong anywhere. I come from an immigrant family, with a Jewish, Polish, Scottish, English, Italian melange. During my childhood, my parents and I kept moving in England, going to the North, then to the East, and then we went to Scotland. So I dont identify with a place. I identify, to quite a strong extend, with Europe.

Your parents have been important to you. As they were both artists, did you learn a lot from them?

Well, you learn all the way along. But yes, I learnt a lot from my parents. Mainly, about the philosophy of things. For example my mother once said: well, you are probably not as good as you think you are, but you are, as well, probably not as bad as you think you are. So, you really learn from growing up. Otherwise, I think in Edinburgh, I had very good training. I learnt important craft skills there, for instance we would draw from the Antique, from life models quite intensely, we learnt to carve wood as well as stone, and to carve letters and inscriptions.

What do you want to convey through your work?

I have the impression that the world is full of pain and unhappiness, beating each other, producing a lot fear. My own art is not an attempt to escape, but to say: 'there is also beauty, grace, and delight in life, lets celebrate it'. So underlying my work, there is this kind of sadness, I want to show this ambivalence. For example, if you love somebody, there is pain in loving somebody because there is always the potential of losing that person. So I want my work to show this awareness of happiness and unhappiness.

You make sculptures, paintings and prints. Does the difference of medium impact what you express?

It is difficult to be objective about that. I have different interests. All the drawings are done from life models. The ones that are displayed here at the Portico are not from the longest studies, they are the briefest, from 2 to 3 minutes. It makes me think that if you take a photograph, you would get everything, but if you have only a moment to put down the lines, you are being extraordinarily selective, there is no time for details: what is the absolute essence of the moment? The drawings explore that instantaneousness. Sculptures, you cannot do it in a moment. So you are kind of in a different frame of mind. I took prints more seriously only 10 years ago. It is like carving, because you still cut away the material that you dont want, to leave and to reveal the part that you do want. So it is very like stone carving. Though it is two dimensional, it is a carving process. So I dont know if I convey different things depending on the medium, but the relationship to time and process obviously change.

Who/what do you consider to be the main references in your art?

I prefer often an art that is more primitive, more brutal, naive in a way. I dont have a strong aptitude for figurative art, even though I can do it if necessary. I prefer to work in a simplistic and symbolistic way, more than a naturalist one. I would rather convey a relationship or a mood though my work. Obviously, there is some selection, but I would say that a lot of the 20th century artists influenced my work. I am not really a 21st century artist. I have been inspired by the art of Mexico, the art of the Incas, of Africans, and other people who have been inspired by this kind of thing, so artist such as Gauguin, Brancusi, Modigliani, and Picasso. And I am particularly pulled by sculpture, not that I like all the sculpture.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Well I would say: never trust what an artist says, look at the art. I can have the aspiration to do something, but it only works through the person receiving it, if he/she receives something. As an artist, it is very touching when somebody picks up immediately what is going on. The artist may have a certain intention, but the viewer may see something different.

Monday, 9 March 2015


Titles: Essays and Reviews and On the Subjection of Women 

One of The Portico Library's members has sponsored the rebinding of two books, the first of which follows nicely from the previous post featuring Darwin's Journals from the H.M.S Beagle. Essays and Reviews was published not long after Darwin's seminal work, The Origin of Species and although it is less known in our time, it provoked a similar level of controversy in the 19th century. Another controversial and important text is featured here on the subject of the place of women in the social hierarchy during that same century. 

Many thanks to our contributor, who has given us a view of these two fascinating texts!

"I have chosen to adopt two books to remember two people of great importance to me.  They are, in order of publication, Essays and Reviews (1860) and J.S Mill On the Subjection of Women (1869).

Essays and Reviews is a collection of essays written by seven scholars, six of whom were Anglican clergymen, all of whom were connected with Oxford University. It caused a furore, was reprinted ten times in two years, attracted counterblasts in the shape of pamphlets was condemned by the two Archbishops and the two Convocations of the Church of England.  Two of the authors were convicted of heresy but were acquitted on appeal to the Privy Council.  

Why did it cause such uproar? It is the historic manifesto of liberal Anglicanism and challenged many orthodoxies. Its publication came six months after that of Darwin’s Origin of Species, which presented a major challenge to both conventional science as well as religious belief. One essay in Reviews by Baden Powell, the father of the founder of the Scouts, pays glowing tribute to Darwin’s The Origin of Species, because of its testimony to the ‘self-evolving powers of nature’. The final essay by Benjamin Jowett then Regius Professor of Greek, argues that the Bible should be read and interpreted ‘like any other book’, and more especially like any other ancient book – a view point which is still controversial in some circles. 

Within twenty years, liberalism had become acceptable. Jowett had become Master of Balliol College and a member of the establishment, famous for admonishing his students to ‘always verify your references’.  Frederick Temple (author of the first essay) became Archbishop of Canterbury and the father of William Temple who was also Archbishop of Canterbury and the author of Christianity and the Social Order which argued for a welfare state. But William Temple began his episcopal career as Bishop of Manchester

I have chosen this book to commemorate my father, Colin Lamont (1899-1984) who was a priest in the diocese of Manchester.  He was ordained by William Temple and hugely influenced by him.  My father was trained in the liberal Anglican tradition at theological college and flourished in that tradition (the board church tradition) in Manchester.  I was bought up in that tradition, both intellectually and theologically. Essays and Reviews is, therefore, the perfect book for me to have chosen to commemorate my father.

J.S. Mill’s The Subjection of Women (1869) is an astonishingly radical book for its time.  This is still the period when women were seen as subject to either their fathers or their husbands. The Married Woman’s Property Act, allowing women to own property had not yet been passed.  Women were seen as inferior and having limited capabilities. 

Mill's wrote [T]he legal subordination of one sex to another – is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a system of perfect equality, admitting no power and privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other. Mill argues cogently for the equality of treatment of women and men and that we have no idea what women are capable of because they have been never allowed to develop and exercise their capacities. Moreover, he argues that women should have the vote and as an MP he advocated this position in Parliament. Women should be educated equally as well as men and a proper intellectual equality would lead to better marital relationships. To advocate the case for the emancipation of women in 1869 was incredibly adventurous and many years would elapse before his programme was realised. Mill’s book is a seminal text.

I have chosen this book to commemorate my late wife, Shauna Murray Lamont, who died prematurely at the age of 52 in 1993.  Shauna was a nineteenth century scholar, a Robert Browning specialist.  She was also an early feminist.  In 1969 when she was a nineteen year old second year university student in Western Canada, she wished to read honours English.  Male students were automatically admitted to the honours programme.  Women, however, had to be interviewed by the head of department, a bachelor who lived with his mother, and convince him that they weren’t frivolous and would go off and get married and have babies! From that point, she began to develop her feminism and the way that she read literature. She taught courses on women and literature. She was a near contemporary in age to Margaret Atwood and her own thinking and experience would follow the trajectory Atwood has followed in her writing. Shauna introduced her husband to these ideas and Mill’s The Subjection of Women is a book that she used in her teaching and introduced me to. Thus, it is the obvious book to adopt in her memory. There is a link between Essay and Reviews and Shauna Lamont.  One of the editors of the modern scholarly edition was William Whitla. Whitla was the external examiner for her doctoral thesis on Browning."

Thursday, 19 February 2015


Dear Readers,

Many of you will be aware that we run an Adopt-a-Book scheme at the Library, which gives anyone the opportunity to make a donation covering the price of repair for a chosen book. In return for sponsorship, a permanent bookplate is placed in the volume, recording the name of the sponsor, the date and any specific dedication.

Of course, The Portico Library is a strong proponent of the printed word and of the salvation of our cultures' printed volumes. Books are of great importance, both as historic documents and as objects imbued with memory and meaning. People adopt books for different reasons, but most often it is because a particular book has some special significance in their own life-story and to play a part in the preservation of that text is a way of sustaining a history that is important to them. In keeping with this, we have asked some of the individuals who have adopted books from our collection to tell us something about the books they have selected and what it was that led them to make that choice.

So, our first testimonial is offered to you here. We hope it will be the first of many to bring you some enjoyment, as well as further insight into our collection.

Title: Journal of researches into the natural history of geology of the countries visited during the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle round the world, under the command of Capt. Fitz Roy, RN

“When my daughter told me that she would be dedicating the rebinding of a Portico book to me for my birthday, I was pleased to have the opportunity to choose the volume that I would like to see repaired. There were several factors that influenced my choice of book. The first thing to come to mind was Manchester’s position at the centre of the Industrial Revolution, making it an important place in world history as a location of working class struggle and in the development of socialism. So originally I thought I would like to see a book by Karl Marx restored. I then found that, as yet, the Portico’s collection of political books is not yet fully catalogued online, so I would need to choose a book from a different sphere.

Last year I was taken by a cousin to visit Down House - Charles Darwin’s family home and the place where he wrote many of his works. In a gallery in the house I saw a copy of this letter from Karl Marx to Darwin:

Dear Sir:
I thank you for the honour which you have done me by sending me your great work on Capital; & I heartily wish that I was more worthy to receive it, by understanding more of the deep and important subject of political Economy. Though our studies have been so different, I believe that we both earnestly desire the extension of Knowledge, & that this is in the long run sure to add to the happiness of Mankind.
I remain, Dear Sir
Yours faithfully,
Charles Darwin
Letter from Charles Darwin to Karl Marx
October, 1873

To my mind, Darwin and Marx are the two most important thinkers and writers of the last two centuries. I was delighted with Darwin’s friendly letter to Karl Marx, even though Darwin says he could not fully understand Capital [Das Kapital].  Marx, in his turn, found Darwin’s work “crude, in the English style” but still part of the foundation of “the natural history for our (communist) views.

In the absence of a work by Marx, I chose Darwin’s “Voyage of the Beagle” in which Darwin documents the observations he made on his amazing voyage around the southern hemisphere (1831-1836), including the visit to the Galapagos Islands.   This work underpinned Darwin’s theory of evolution.

I was very much delighted to have had something to do with the restoration of this wonderful book, held in the Portico library.  I hope that its poor condition, before restoration, was due to heavy-duty hands-on reading, and I hope that before too long it is again worn out with use and with leafing over, and in need of restoration, again.”

This volume was beautifully rebound in grey cloth and brown leather and is ready to be read to the brink of disintegration once again! The Portico Library is very grateful for the sponsorship of this book.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

An interview with the artist Stefanie Trow

Stefanie Trow - a South Yorkshire painter living in Manchester - plays with textures and colours. Her paintings convey the fascination she has for human form, and explores both her own and other peoples perception of beauty. It is with tremendous enthusiasm that the Portico Gallery welcome Stefanies impressive portraits for a month in February 2015, alongside the works of David Earle and Ian Mood.

When did you start being interested in painting? How did you know you wanted to be an artist?

From about 12. That is when I seriously thought about what I wanted to do. I remember discovering - thanks to my art teacher - Jenny Saville. And I remember thinking: that is what I want to do. I loved how she conveyed messages and ideas through the use of paint, and this always resonated with me.
I started painting more during my A-Levels. My art teacher made me paint! He would not allow me to use pencils anymore in an attempt to force me to paint. It was a strained relationship but it worked. I clicked with the medium and realised I was quite good at it. Before, I was too scared to paint. From that moment, I started to paint more than I drew. I realised you could do more with paint and colour. Through university I just carried on and never really looked back.

Can you tell us more about your style and what you want to convey through your work?

I have always tended to make portraits and figurative works, from a young age. I guess I have always been interested in people and peoples faces, mixing paints and emulating skin color. With the paintings displayed, I wanted to move away from conventional portraits. I took the images from fashion magazines. I used photographs as a reference, but I didnt want to rely on them. The purpose was that I wanted to take an image of a women that has been highly photoshopped, and I wanted to take that away from that context, to deconstructed it, and deface it. My aim was to show that you dont have to photoshop any images to still be beautiful. I think we are surrounded by images that are photoshopped, as if everything had to be perfect. Some of the paintings are a bit unnerving, and not exactly beautiful, I am pushing towards that. I was trying to show flaws within the images, that is why I used bold broken brushstrokes.

Talking about technique, how do you work?  

I use all different sized paint brushes. At the beginning, I sketch out the image, working from the one that I have found. I then build it with the acrylic paints. When these are dry, I use oil paints, because acrylics dry quicker than oils. I obtain this visual effect from several layers of paints. I have to keep waiting for them to dry and so I usually have a number of works on the go: whilst one is drying, it will take a couple of days, I work on another one during that time. As an example, this series took me about two to three months.

 How did you learn to paint?

My parents also painted, so I learnt the basics from my dad. We would talk about stuff at school, and then I would go home and talk to my dad about it, asking how do you do this, and that? So both from school and from my parents. But my technique is something I have developed. I have never had someone tell me: this what you need to do to have this effect.

Who are your main references?

I would say Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, and Jenny Saville to name a few.

 How does this work compare to your previous work? Is this series a rupture or a continuation?  
 The last ten years I have worked on a lot of commissioned portraits. I have never really been able to do my own work, my own style. This is a clear step in the direction I want to go and produce my own work.

 Any plans?

I am working on new works. I am pushing forward my style of painting. As an example, there are two pieces in the exhibition that are quite photo-realistic: Attraction and Deflection. They are quite realistic, whereas I think my next work will carry along with a more expressive approach. There will still be a realistic and figurative element, but I want to push the expressive style and concepts surrounding the female form.

Interviewed by Mathilde Armantier

Monday, 10 November 2014

North West Poets at the Portico - matching books to poems

Emma and I have recently had a meeting with Lindsey Holland of North West Poets to explore the possibilities for collaboration between NWP and the Portico. We looked at holding a regular series of poetry events in the Portico, to include workshops and readings, but also using the library as an inspirational venue where leading north west poets could meet and work on a theme, such as geology or botany. I’m excited at the prospect of being able to use the book collection to support events of this kind.

There’s more thinking to be done on both sides, but we have provisionally agreed to hold a launch event in January or February for Andrew Forster’s third collection, Homecoming [Smith Doorstop 2014]. Forster, who is Literature Officer at the Wordsworth Trust, recently read from Homecoming during the Manchester Literature Festival, now being hosted at venues around the city. 

Most of the poems in the book relate to the north west, and many are about Wordsworth, so this will give us an opportunity to showcase some of our rich collection of material related to Wordsworth – I’ll be rooting for The Letters of Charles Lamb, and Benjamin Robert Haydon: correspondence and table-talk, with a memoir by his son, Frederick Wordsworth Haydon. Haydon senior painted what is possibly the most well-known portrait of Wordsworth, now on loan to the Wordsworth Trust from the National Portrait Gallery.
There’s also Thomas de Quincey, who famously ran away from school in Manchester, eventually washing up as the tenant of Dove Cottage after Wordsworth had left it. The Portico has a copy of de Quincey’s Sketches Critical and Biographical. Forster’s Homecoming includes a poem entitled De Quincey’s letter to Johnny Wordsworth 1809. 

Here’s an extract from it:

    He’s taken such care to make it legible:
    the faded copper ink neatly blocked,
    a contrast to his Confessions, where words
    are splashed on paper and blurred by winestains.

It’ll be interesting to see what Forster makes of the Portico’s early editions.

Sheila Wild
Chair of Book Committee, The Portico Library

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Cook’s Second Voyage and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Portico has a copy of Captain James Cook’s Voyage towards the South Pole and round the world: 1772, 1773, 1774, 1775, illustrated by the expedition’s artist, William Hodges.  Cook’s two ships, The Resolution and The Adventure, sailed from Plymouth on the 13th July 1772, the same year that the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born. The expedition was charged with searching for the Southern Continent and testing a version of the John Harrison chronometer for longitude determinations. The expedition sailed further south than any mariner had ever done, and it must have been inspiration to many young men of Coleridge’s generation.

One of the book’s illustrations is entitled The Ice Islands, seen the 9th January 1773, and on seeing this, my first thought was that it must have been the inspiration for the crucial incident in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, where the Mariner shoots an albatross, albeit with a crossbow:
And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald

 . . . with my crossbow
I shot the ALBATROSS.

The Princeton Library also has a copy of the book, and you can see the engraving on the Princeton website:

Richard Holmes’s biography, Coleridge, Early Visions, confirms that Cook’s Voyage was one of the sources for the Mariner and also that throughout his life Coleridge ‘was obsessed with travel books’. However, I think Cook’s voyaging was more than just one source among many, for in his 1956 paper Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner and Cook’s Second Voyage [Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 19, No. ½ (Jan.-Jun., 19560], Bernard Smith notes that William Wales, the astronomer and meteorologist on the Resolution, taught mathematics at Christ’s Hospital when Coleridge was there.

In a long and fascinating paper, Smith deduces from a copy of the manuscript Journal Wales kept during his time on the Resolution that the course of the Ancient Mariner’s voyage was determined to a large extent by Coleridge’s recollections of accounts of Cook’s second voyage, either as they were told to him by Wales, or read in books at the school, and that the precision and clarity of Coleridge’s atmospheric imagery derives much from the precision and clarity of Wales’s astronomical and meteorological observations.  Smith concludes:

But perhaps the most remarkable feature of all is the preservation in the poem of the broad pattern of the Resolution’s voyage, so that, to some extent, the order of sequence of events in the poem follows the order of sequence of the relevant events of the voyage. The fair passage of the N.E. Trades, the squally passage of the S.E.Trdaes, the mast-high ice, the glint of the ice, the noise of the ice splitting, follow the same order in the poem as in Wales’s Journal; and later in both the poem and the journal accounts of the heat, the calm, and the sea-snakes agree in their sequence.”

Neither Smith nor Holmes mention an illustrated edition of the Voyage, but, knowing that a poem needs not only sources, but also a trigger, I wonder if sight of Hodge’s illustration, perhaps in Tom Poole’s library at Stowey, triggered the writing of The Rime?

Sheila Wild, Chair, Book Committee