Manuscripts and Special Collections

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Country Pursuits

While the themes of agriculture and country pursuits runs through many of the collections, recalling a time when the majority of the population lived in the countryside, the illustrations in published works over the centuries show changes in the perception of the countryside.

The English version of Francis Willughby's 'Ornithology', edited by John Ray in 1678, added texts and illustrations on fowling and falconry to the original work. This met a popular taste, as both husbandry and hunting were occupations pursued by gentlemen. Many of the publications on these subjects were essentially manuals to train and guide the novice.

In complete contrast is Thomas Miller's 'Country Year Book' of 1847. This presents a romantic and idealized picture of country life, quite removed from the realities of a farm labourer's experience.

Such works had a strong appeal for urban middle-class Victorians, for whom nostalgic descriptions of the rural calendar of work and play were very popular.

A further contrast lies in the beautifully bound children's book 'Birds and their nests' by the Quaker writer Mary Howitt. It is typical of its time in its moral tone, in which kindness and respect for animals is the principal message. Howitt writes:

"Man, however, should always stand as a human Providence to the animal world. In him the creatures should ever find their friend and protector..."

Further sources relating to this subject area are held by Manuscripts and Special Collections at King's Meadow Campus. See our website for information about our collections and catalogues.

Two men catching birds Zoom in

Two men catching birds

Spring ploughing Zoom in

Spring ploughing

'Birds and their nests' Zoom in

'Birds and their nests'

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