Friday, 27 February 2015

Today's the Day

Anniversaries & Events in Academia & Elsewhere

February 27

A positive myriad of happenings for this day down the years – so, if you are intent on making something of a Name for yourself, be it in Academia or elsewhere, then it would probably be best to choose some other date than this one – but we’re going to concentrate on just two in order to cram them in so, without any further ado, let’s get straight on to the first.

That’d be 837, of course, which occasioned “the fifteenth recorded perihelion passage of Halley’s Comet,” which may seem startlingly early for such an achievement until you realise that the first one took place as long ago as 240 BC, which was seen by the Chinese, but Pliny the Elder may even have been first in on the act when he spotted a comet around 467 BC, though it’s not absolutely certain that that one was Halley’s. Our 837 appearance was far and away (you might say) the closest passage to Earth, almost bordering on a near miss, seeing it brushed by within 3.2 million miles (0.03 AU) of us, with its tail sprawled bright across sixty degrees of firmament but, even so, we shouldn’t start imaging a bunch of ninth-century blokes standing around pointing skywards and saying something along the lines of, “Looks like that theer comet o’ Halley’s is showin’ its face again and getting that nigh to the Sun it’ll be perihelion afore we know wheer we are.” Nothing of the sort could possibly have taken place. For a start off, Northerners weren’t invented until much much later, and would not be officially recognised as Raight Good Lads ‘n’ Lasses until September 1399, under Henry Bolingbroke and, even then, they wouldn’t’ve had the faintest idea what perihelion might be – for the non-Astronomers amongst us, that’s the point in an orbit where a planet or, indeed, comet, comes closest to the Sun, the opposite being aphelion, or the furthest point – plus there was the small matter of Halley himself not being born for another eight centuries. Rather sadly, Halley was never to know that it would end up being named in his honour, mainly because that only happened after his death, by which time he had only ever seen it the once, in 1682, having pegged out before it returned, just as he predicted it would, in 1759.

What we can be pretty certain about is that the mere mention of this comet and the Halley name will have polarised almost everyone out there vehemently into one camp or the other: those that insist that it should be pronounced to rhyme with “daily” and those that maintain it rhymes with “valley”, though there will always be one or two of a more LibDem tendency prepared to shed all their principles in order to side with whichever lot looks most like winning, and there may even be a smattering of your Ukip sorts too, who will merely be thinking, “sounds like a bit of a Foreign Johnny to us” (he was born in London, actually). In fact, you’re all about as wrong as an electorate on this one, seeing that in his own lifetime it was spelled as Hailey, Haley, Hayley, Halley, Hawley, and Hawly, to name but a few. Whilst he wasn’t raightly fussed as to how his surname was spelled, when it came to his given name it always had to be, not the more common Edmund, but Edmond.

Another banker of a bet on this most thorny of subjects is that right now our Astronomer colleagues will be sitting there tutting and fretting and muttering darkly about, “when are you going to get onto the interesting bits about comets, then?” To which, our answer is right now: “1P/Halley is a short-period comet visible from Earth, which reappears about every 75-76 years” (depending on gravitational pulls and stuff) “and it is the only comet clearly visible to the naked eye from Earth.” That better? Though, seeing that what our astro-boffin chums mean by “short period” includes anything that comes round again in less than two hundred years, it’s perhaps as well for the rest of us that they don’t run the buses. Actually, come to think of it, do they though? Halley’s is also the only comet that might appear twice in a human lifetime but, given that the last one was in 1986 and the next not until 2061, that means that the older ones amongst us simply aren’t going to make it and the ones who are young enough to last that long probably didn’t pay enough attention first time round. It travels at a nippy 157,838 mph and gets as far out as Pluto at one end and as close as just 0.6 AU to the Sun (take it from us, you still wouldn’t want to bike it, seeing a whole AU is the distance from Earth to the Sun) at the other.
Right up until the Renaissance, scientists were wildly misled on the subject of comets by none other than Aristotle himself, who reckoned they were disturbances in the Earth's atmosphere, so best give a quick name-check here to Tyge Ottesen Brahe. Tycho, as he is more commonly known, was an astronomer and the Danish All-Comers Whisker-Growing Champion, from the look of him, not to mention an habitual sporter of a brass false nose. Sad to relate, he got into a bit of a heated argument at a wedding (so often the case) with a fellow nobleman called Manderup Parsberg, all over the legitimacy of a mathematical formula (we’ve all of us done that) and, seeing neither of them could prove the other wrong with good old science alone, they decided to settle it by having an old-fashioned duel with swords on 10 December 1566, during which Tycho lost part of his nose. All might have been well, given that they managed to patch things up, including the damaged nose, we presume, only one or other of the hapless pair made some regrettable remark about the other’s hypothesis and it all flared up again, resulting in another duel on 27 December, this time in the dark, would you believe, and, as if to prove the first time hadn’t just been a lucky stroke, Parsberg managed to deprive Tycho of the rest of his hooter. You’d’ve maybe thought that might be an end to the arguing but oh-no: it seems that scientists will quarrel about the least little thing, this time over whether the nose was gold or silver, or even copper or brass, some suggesting he may have had different ones depending on the occasion, and others that he was unlikely to wear as heavy a one as made of precious metal – he wouldn’t’ve done down our way, or not for very long anyhow – until it was definitively established in 2012 to have been brass. (They dug him up just to find out). Apparently, he also had a tame elk, though even here his luck was on the iffy side, seeing that during dinner one day it day it drank too much beer, fell downstairs and died. Quite what the elk was involving himself in upstairs was not recorded.

Brahe’s luck would remain on the dodgy side literally to his dying day, seeing he contracted a bladder or kidney ailment after attending a banquet in Prague, expiring some eleven days later, on 24 October 1601. According to Kepler's first-hand account, Tycho had refused to leave the banquet to relieve himself because it would have been “a breach of etiquette.” Mind you, none of this prevented him from rubbishing Aristotle’s bogus theory about comets and atmospheric disturbances when, in 1577, he proved that comets lack the parallax expected in sub-lunar phenomena and must, therefore, “be further away than the moon.” Which they do, and so they are. He was absolutely right about that. Though perhaps not quite so infallible when it came to the matter of letting the elk spend all evening propping up the bar.

Oddly enough, the comet could have ended up being called Newton’s Comet, which then would’ve meant that the comet we now know as Newton’s Comet would have to have been called Newton’s Other Comet, and then where would be? All of which shows that, boffins though they might be, these Astronomers don’t always think things through properly – just look at the shambles they’ve made of the buses for a start off. Luckily for us, however, Sir Isaac’s comet-studying activities were always somewhat desultory, to say the least, and his whole approach to science was pretty much on the slapdash side. After all, it was blokes like his mate, Halley, who had to persuade him to stop sitting around in orchards all day and finally get round to writing out this Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica thing of his that he was so often banging on about. The story goes that Newton spotted a comet in 1680 and then another in 1681 and rather suspected they might be one and the same thing passing round the back of the Sun but, seeing the whole theory of comets was a tad on the awkward side when it came to fitting them into his precious model of the Universe, he fobbed the entire thing off onto Halley. “My Dear Halley,” he may well have written to his esteemed colleague, “I really would be moft exceeding grateful if you would trouble yourfelf to take a little peek into the matter of my recent fighting of a comet, becaufe frankly, old boy, I really can’t be arfed. Beft, Newt.

Which is precisely what our Edmond went on to do and, by 1705, he’d produced his Synopsis of the Astronomy of Comets, using Newton’s own laws to calculate the gravitational effects of Jupiter and Saturn and so predict that the comet would be back in 1759. Not only that but, using the same laws along with historical records, he was able to establish that Newton’s 1680–81 comet and the ones seen in 1531 (spotted by Petrus Apianus) and in 1607 (by Kepler, taking time out from showing Brahe were the Gents was) were all the same object returning every seventy five years or so, and that it would keep on coming back at that rate from hereon in. Scientific estimations suggest that Halley’s Comet has probably been in its current orbit for something in the region of 16,000–200,000 years, meaning that, if these figures are correct, the only thing in the Universe that has been going constantly round and round and round for longer is the ITV3 repeats of On The Buses.

Fast-forwarding past 27 February 1594 and the crowning of Henri IV of France, who’s forever cropping up in these columns for ascending to the throne or being crowned or fighting battles over some wool or whatever else he was always getting up to, we now come to 1812 and Lord Byron. Who was an actual Lord and thus entitled to sit in the Upper House, which is what he did, taking up his seat in March 1809, though he never got around to making his maiden speech until 27 February 1812. He was a Nottinghamshire lad, by the bye, having become 6th Baron Byron of Rochdale in 1798 when he was ten, inheriting at the same time the ancestral home of Newstead Abbey (near Mansfield), so perhaps, as we fondly like to imagine, he was not above letting slip the odd, “Hey up, lad,” as we Northerners are wont to do, but he was certainly and without doubt the most famous one of us ever to have perished of fever in Missolonghi. People up North claimed to have heard he had drowned in chip fat – no, he died in Greece.

At the time when he finally did get up onto his hind legs to orate to the House, he was not only not at all famous but hardly anybody had the faintest idea who he was, apart from some baron from way out in the sticks. The proofs for Childe Harold's Pilgrimage had actually gone to the printers’ shop by then but it seems that the luddite of a tradesman kept fobbing him off with excuses for not having them ready on time, which Byron had rather been banking on, to take the heat off the nerve-rackingness of his upcoming speecifying. Influenced by John Hobhouse, Byron had allied himself with the liberal faction of the Whigs led by Lord Holland, and it was at Holland House that he first met Lady Caroline Lamb and then promptly had a steamy affair with her, causing her to describe him as “mad, bad and dangerous to know” (about the highest accolade you can be given, up North), though the numerous other steamy and often dubious affairs he was carrying on may have had something to do with it. He would eventually marry for nothing more than filthy lucre to stave off debt but it was the persistent womanising that caused him to finally flee the country in 1816, never to return.

Seeing the speech was to be his first one, Byron wanted it to go off without any hitches, spending a good deal of time writing it, polishing it up, memorising it to word-perfect and then inflicting it endlessly on any of his friends who couldn’t think up an excuse to get away quick enough. He even did a Thatcher (well, strictly, Thatcher did a Byron) by altering his voice to sound more serious, though (in both examples) it came out sounding stilted. But it was all worth it in the end as it went down a storm, leaving him glowing with success, though a good many of his hearers were not absolutely convinced by his choice of subject matter: he spoke up for the Luddites, who had been busy breaking up the new mechanized weaving frames in his home county of Nottinghamshire simply to avoid having to go through the inconvenience of starving to death. Before the Lords was coming a bill to make the crime a capital (ie hanging) offence and, whilst Byron recognised that property damage was a violation of the law, he was no lover of industrialisation (he was what we’d call a luddite) and thought the measure was taking things a tad too far, remarking of his countymen offenders:

“still there are two things wanting to convict and condemn him, and these are, in my opinion, twelve butchers for a jury, and a Jeffreys for a judge!”

On Tuesday, 10 March 1812, his book finally came out, becoming an instant hit and making its author “the most brilliant star in the dazzling world of Regency London” and the first ever real celebrity. By which time his speech had been safely and successfully delivered and so, thanks to the inefficiency of the chosen printer, our man could be sure that it had gone down well on its own merit and not simply because of any sycophantic desire to toady up with the new toast of the town. The good die young, they say. Alas, so do the bad (Byron was what we’d call “a bit of a lad”) and by 1824 he would be dead. He was just past his thirty sixth birthday.

Halley’s Comet: By NASA/W. Liller [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Halley: By SITCK at lb.wikipedia (Transferred from lb.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Aristotle: By Copy of Lysippus (Jastrow (2006)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Newton: Sir Godfrey Kneller [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Tycho Brahe: By Eduard Ender († 1883) ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Kepler: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsByron: By Richard Westall (died 1836) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Caroline Lamb: Thomas Lawrence [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Hanging Judge Jeffreys: By Johann Closterman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

"You Said... We Did" Our responses to your feedback 3

Our annual joint Library/IT survey will be coming around again next month and, in preparation for that, we wanted to let you know what we have done in response to your comments from last year's survey. Here's the third instalment:

You said:
“It’s sometimes difficult to locate a place to sit”

“Sometimes it’s difficult to find a place to study”

“Have a way of recording how many computers are currently available and where”

31% of respondents cited this as a barrier to using the Library.

We did:
* We have been collecting data and monitoring the occupancy of the Library using our SpaceFinder system (installed Dec 2013), and have created a web page and installed screens at the Library entrance which show you where there are free study spaces and computers in the Library. Here is the web page:
* The data from the system shows that, while levels 1 and 2 of the Library can get very busy, there are always spaces available on levels 3 and 4 where you can study without a computer or use your laptop

* Need to work at a computer? Staff at the Library help desk can also check the availability of PCs in the ITS workstation rooms for you (and you can also check this yourself on the ITS web site at this page

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Using the PsycInfo, PsycArticles and PEPWeb database - new workshops

Workshops on using our main psychology and psychoanalytic journal article databases,  PsycInfo, PsycArticles and PEPWeb  - Friday 13th March 6pm -  7.30pm and Tuesday 17th March 6pm - 7.30pm. In the Library seminar room (Level 1, The Library)

An introduction to searching for articles on psychology topics using the PsycInfo, PsycArticles and PEPWeb databases. Learn to make the most of the specialist features of these databases, with time for some hands-on practice.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Missed the Post?

Our handy feature for locating articles you may have missed or to find them quickly when you want to revist them

Use the links to go directly to the articles that interest you most and we've got plenty to tell you about this time round.

It's coming up to the time when we conduct our annual Student Survey, which is your chance to tell us what we're getting right and how we can improve your experience of the Library, so do make sure you take part - if you tell us what you need, want or would like to see, we can do something about it. With this in mind, we've been going over what you asked us last year and showing how we responded in our new series of You Said ... We Did - just what it sounds like: what you told us in last year's survey and the action we took to make that happen. Check out what happens when you tell us what you want in:

You Said ... We Did 1
Quick Print PCs for short stays

You Said ... We Did 2
More Books Please

Don't miss out on our workshop demonstrating how to get the best out of Endnote
Endnote Workshop

Then there are articles on using the Emerald Database (for Marketing, Management & HR) and on our new top-up unit - well, units actually, as there are now two of them within easy reach, one inside the Library and one near Reception next to My Birkbeck
Emerald Database
Topping Up

And if you're a regular user of Missed the Post? here's our last one, taking you to other articles that you might find handy or interesting
Previous Missed the Post?

But, before you go, why not check out this week's Lighter Side, which is right below? Come back to Missed the Post? later or anytime you want to find a past item fast. Have a good weekend.

Giants of Academia & the Arts

… but, then again, nobody is perfect

John Bunnion (November 1628 – 31 August 1688)

Yes, it’s that most quintessentially English of all Englishmen and the one famed for penning the religious allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress: John Bunyan. Though, for someone much given to sermonising on the virtues of a life of simple abstemiousness, he does look like the sort of fellow who enjoyed a hearty breakfast, a sturdy luncheon and second helpings come dinner time, does he not? Fleshpots aside, he was, even by his own admission, something of a wrong ‘un, calling his autobiography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. An odd title, seeing he appears to be claiming simultaneously that, when it came to delinquent reprobates, he was the Daddy of ‘em all (thus we can add pride and boastfulness to his list of misdemeanours) but, at the same time, despite such a failing, as far as goodwill and favour were concerned, his cup runneth over. No doubt it did. Though perhaps, of course, by Grace, he was simply referring to all those times that he would have had to sit in front of a steaming plateful listening to the familiar words: “For what we are about to receive, let’s get stuck straight into before the gravy gets cold.”

Bunyan’s actual birthday remains unknown, though the parish register records the baptism of “John the sonne of Thomas Bunnion Junior, the 30 November 1628,” meaning he would have been born a few days earlier. The spelling of Bunyan was variable (thirty four different versions appear in the Bedfordshire Record Office alone), though its origins lie in the Norman-French name Buignon (bang goes his Englishness), the ancestors having come over from there around 1199. His parents resided in Bunyan’s End, Elstow, in a cottage where the family had lived for generations, the last house on a dead-end lane, thus giving the place its name. The dad, Thomas, who described himself as a brazier (he was actually a tinker who went all over mending pots and pans), had been named after his own father (hence the Junior mentioned earlier), who had himself been a chapman (a dealer, the “chap” meaning deal, from which we get “cheap”, originally a good (favourable) deal, and also chap – as in a fellow – meaning customer), so Tommy Junior spared his own son the usual infliction of the paternal name. The mother, Margaret Bentley, on the other hand, was from a family of some substance and status, so she evidently married somewhat “beneath herself.” In Abounding Grace, Bunyan describes his home as, “of that rank that is meanest and most despised in the country,” though this turns out to be a bit of a lie (meaning we can add fibbing and ingratitude to the growing inventory of iniquities) and little more than our man bigging up the story of his rags-to-riches rise. It was from his dad that he learned his deplorable habit of swearing and, as he delights in informing us, he had few equals for his years “for cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the holy name of God.”
We used to think peccadillo was an armour-plated anteater until we discovered John Bunyan …

The Bunyans weren’t nearly so badly off as our John liked to make out. They owned their home so paid no rent, and they also had a small farm and an orchard, which meant there was always a veritable plenitude of meat and dairy, fruit and veg on which a stout young fellow might develop his growing predisposition for gormandising. Naturally enough, his folks wanted him educated or, as Bunyan’s puts it, “It pleased God to put it into their hearts to put me to school, to learn me both to read and write.” Though where he was the day they covered grammar remains unclear. The only book he is known to have read at this time was the Life of Sir Bevis of Southampton, in the form of a cheap pamphlet known as a chapbook (from the same root as earlier, meaning they were dealt in by itinerant salesmen) printed on low quality paper, usually a single folded sheet, that would later be recycled as wrapping for food or (forgive the term, we beg) bum fodder, your seventeenth century Andrex, as it were. This was an ancient and grisly adventure story involving murder, betrayal, vengeance and imprisonment, and its very perusal would provide young Bunyan with grounds for much repentance later – he had nightmares.

Even with the lying, cursing and blaspheming, he had not yet reached nadir and it was around this time, aged about ten, that Bunyan turned his attentions to yet another vice, that of bell-ringing. Put whatever gloss on it you like but the fact remains that there he was pulling on the ropes like a rabid dervish and revelling in every last sordid moment of it, the beast. Not only that, but he wasn’t at all shy when it came to indulging in a spot of dancing either, or enjoying games such as tip-cat on the Sabbath, in what Bunyan called his “delight to be taken captive by the devil at his will, being filled with all unrighteousness,” though his world was about to come crashing down around his ears. What happened, in all probability (and given a generous pinch of salt to help swallow it), was that the good reverend parson was sitting there in his study, trying vainly to come up with an idea for his next sermon, when he turned instead to divine inspiration, thinking to himself, “I’ll look out of the window and the first thing I see shall be the subject of my text. Unless it’s those two wretched dogs again, of course.” Which is precisely what he did, at which he exclaimed in astonishment and outrage, “By thunder, what is this I see before mine eye but some vile young urchins tipping a cat on the village green, and upon the Sabbath day at that.” Obviously, this wasn’t what happened at all, seeing that tip-cat merely involved hitting one small piece of wood with another larger one but, nonetheless, the very next Sunday Bunyan finds the irate clergyman thundering a broadside of fire and brimstone from the pulpit straight in his direction about the iniquities of pleasures enjoyed on the Sabbath. A message young Bunyan rather took to heart. Though not enough to prevent his taking part in another round of tip-cat that very afternoon. Which is when he heard the voices: “Wilt thou leave thy sins, and go to Heaven? Or have thy sins, and go to Hell?” Which was a shame, seeing he’d just made a particularly good shot. Too late for all that now, however, as the church had done its holy work and filled his soul full of guilt and remorse, not to mention livening up his nightmares with visions of the “fearful torments of hell-fire.”

For Bunyan it was the turning point. He gave up games altogether, packed in swearing and even tried to turn his back on bell-ringing but (and let this be a salient lesson to us all not to dabble, thinking we can control the habit), even though he forsook the actual rope-pulling, such were the intoxicating attractions of this forbidden pleasure that he could not resist going along to watch his erstwhile mates having a go at it and to hear the bells. “I would go to the steeple-house and look on, though I durst not ring,” but then came the inevitable prick of conscience at such sin: “How if one of the bells should fall?” So then he took to crouching beneath a beam for protection, just in case, but then, “What if a falling bell might break the beam and crush me?” So he decides to watch from the safety of the steeple door, only to find himself asking, “How if the steeple itself should fall?” Yes, and from there it’s only a short step to asking What if a herd of demented badgers, enraged by the constant clanging of bells, should stampede through Elstow and reduce it to naught save rubble? No, the message was clear: if you indulge in bell-ringing in any form whatsoever, divine retribution will get you in the end.

Then, in the summer of 1644, disaster struck: he lost both his sister, Margaret, and his mother in quick succession, a situation not helped by the fact that within two months the dad had married again, which was either a case of him being lively on his toes or else already having a replacement standing by, something young Bunyan took great exception to and they had a falling out over it. So when the Parliamentarian Army came to Bedford looking for recruits to help out with giving the King what for, he thought “that’ll do me,” and enlisted. He was not yet sixteen. Little is known about the three years he spent soldiering, although he did recount one story about how he had been selected to go besieging somewhere or other and, just as he was about to march off, “one of the company desired to go in my room, to which, when I had consented, he took my place; and coming to the siege, as he stood Sentinel, he was shot into the head with a Musket bullet and died.” Bunyan took this to be evidence of the grace of God towards him, though it’s hard to see why the Almighty would take such a benign view when Bunyan filled his Army days doing what all soldiers do and even putting his Bragging Hat on once again to claim that, “I was the very ringleader of all the Youth that kept me company, in all manner of vice and ungodliness.”

1647 and it was back to Elstow and the tinkering trade he’d learned from his father. (His actual anvil, stamped with his name and 1647, turned up in 1905 amongst a pile of rubbish in St Neots). Nothing like the sprint finish of his old man, of course, but pretty soon he was married, though what the lady concerned was called (apart from Mrs Bunyan, that is) our man entirely neglects to mention. She was said to be pious, however, and, whilst she brought “not a dish nor a spoon” into the union, she did come armed with a couple of weighty tomes, The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven and The Practice of Piety, which went a long way to bringing down the curtain on Bunyan’s career in turpitude, though not quite enough to prevent him from fathering four children: Mary (born 1650 and blind), Elizabeth, Thomas and John.

Whilst he was out and about at his tinkering, somewhere around 1653 time, Bunyan chanced to hear some women (founding members of the Bedford Free Meeting, as it goes) talking about spiritual matters and was so impressed he immediately thought, “That’ll do me,” and joined up. It seems that, when it came to preaching, our man was something of a natural so he was strongly encouraged to give it full welly, which he did, speaking extemporaneously and with so much passion and fervour that within two years he had been chosen to be deacon. Which is when he began to let the tinkering side of things slide rather, in order to give the sermonising his best attention. Not long later, in 1656, he published his first book, Gospel Truths Opened, which was basically Bunyan having a pop at the Quakers, who naturally enough hit right back, causing our man to come out with his follow-up, A Vindication of Some Gospel Truths Opened, his way of saying Actually, I Was Right All Along, though it did display something of a shortcoming of his when it came to the matter of thinking up snappy titles, especially seeing his next effort (following in hot pursuit in 1658) would be called A Few Sighs from Hell, or the Groans of a Damned Soul; by that poor and contemptible servant of Jesus Christ, John Bunyan.

Little did he suspect but that very year of 1658 he was headed inexorably in the direction of the Slough of Despond: his wife died. Though he then took a leaf out of his old man’s book and within a year was remarried, this time to a woman with an actual name, Elizabeth, who was eighteen to his thirty. Not that it did him much good, seeing that it wouldn’t be long before Charles II would be heading Englandward to stage his Return of the Stuarts show, during which he would take time enough off from his Merry Monarching to put a stop to religious tolerance once and for all. Bad news for Bunyan. Despite the fact that Charles’ chief pastimes included the fathering of illegitimate children (fourteen at least) and inflicting his mistresses upon his own wife as a ladies-in-waiting, he did draw the line at unlicensed preaching and so a warrant was issued for Bunyan’s arrest. Rather than picking up his anvil and legging it pronto, Bunyan went right on with his sermon and was still at it when they came for him.

They gave him three months in Bedford Gaol, which probably gave our man time enough to reflect upon the rich irony of the fact that, for all the heinous sinnery he’d got up to in his ill-spent youth, not a single steeple had collapsed on him and yet, the very second he turns to doing honest Christian service, they fling him in clink for it. The three months would eventually become twelve years, despite the best efforts of his wife to secure his release – she suffered terribly, having been pregnant at the time of Bunyan’s arrest, later giving birth to a still-born infant, and having his four children to care for, including blind Mary – because Bunyan flatly refused to jack in the preaching game, saying: “O I saw in this condition I was a man who was pulling down his house upon the head of his Wife and Children; yet thought I, I must do it.” He said he would rather remain in prison until moss grew on his eyelids than fail to do what God commanded.

Whilst he was getting his eyelids nicely mossy, a second daughter, Sarah, was born, which is a tad unusual, to say the least. How did he manage that, then? After all, it was him that was the one that was supposed to be banged up, wasn’t it? It turns out that, even though Bedford Gaol was every bit as bad a stinkhole as any other prison of that time, and despite the fact that on the outside you could get locked up for preaching, inside it was a different matter altogether and the jailers simply let him get on with what he was best at: rattling out rollicking good off-the-cuff sermons to audiences of forty and more (most of whom were also doing time for that very offence). Not only that, but they sometimes let him out to do more of the same and there was even a period of a few weeks’ freedom in 1666 (A-ha!). Having come up with some real beauts sermonwise, he would then write them down and work them up into tracts and even books, which brought in a little cash, though the main source of income was still the “many hundred gross of long tagg'd [shoe] laces” he turned out during his confinement. It was here that he penned Abounding Grace (published 1666) and he may even have started to conceive his most famous work around this time.

By 1672, Charles II had mellowed – Nell Gwynn, the self-styled “Protestant Whore” was keeping him entertained – and decided that he’d let the Non-conformists off, so Bunyan at last went free and even received a royal authority to preach. He went back to Bedford (but not to tinkering) and was soon enjoying prosperity and reputation, with great crowds turning out to witness him in action. Thanks to his habit of going visiting every place he could get to in Bedfordshire and the adjoining counties, folk took to referring to him, in kindly jest, as Bishop Bunyan, a (rather worldly) title he seems to have enjoyed every bit as much as a nice drop of steak and kidney. Possibly, however, the monarch was starting to have his nose ever so slightly put out of joint (and there was certainly plenty of that to do a decent job on) by the fact that Bunyan was now more popular than him – Nell Gwynn was more popular than him – so, in 1676, our man found himself back in prison again, either for not attending church, or for preaching stuff that wasn’t strictly C of E enough, or any old trumped-up charge that would get him out the way for a bit. They stuck him in a tiny one-room cell on a bridge over the Ouse (it’s the one you see in all the etchings) for six months to teach him a little humility. Only he got his own back big-time. This is what he came up with:

“As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a Den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep: and, as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back.”

Thus begins The Pilgrim’s Progress – well, Bunyan’s title was actually The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream – which stars a tinker, of course, and it was an instant smash hit when it was published in February 1678, one that has never been out of print since, has been translated into over two hundred languages and is the best-selling book (bar the Bible) in publishing history. The book also contains a line spoken by Mr Cruelty:

“Hanging is too good for him.”

So now you know where that phrase came from.

In 1680, Bunyan brought out The Life and Death of Mr Badman, intended as the counterpart of The Pilgrim's Progress but, with a name like that, you kind of get the feeling things aren’t going to turn out all that well for the eponymous hero, and thus it went the way of most other sequels. In all, Bunyan completed fifty eight published titles, but The Pilgrim’s Progress was (and remains) the masterpiece of the lot. He did have one other string to his bow: he wrote a hymn. And it’s a surefire certainty that every single one of you out there now has not only heard of it but has actually sung it at one time or another, seeing it’s called He Who Would Valiant Be, though it’s probably better known as To Be A Pilgrim. (Bunyan obviously thought it well worth sticking to the Pilgrim motif and it certainly paid off). Mind you, the high-up Anglicans tended to blench rather at the mention of “hobgoblins” and “foul fiends” so, in 1906, a certain Percy Dearmer took it upon himself to change the words. Rather extensively. And, about the same time, Ralph Vaughan Williams thought it could do with a new tune to go with it too. Apart from that, it’s all Bunyan’s own work.

In 1688, heading for London, Bunyan was called out on detour to resolve a quarrel between father and son, just the kind of caper he loved to sort out, only he was caught in a storm and fell ill with a fever and, on the morning of 31 August, he died. A great loss to the world of literature. And a crying shame for the man himself – it was always a good lunch on a Tuesday …

Bunyan Portrait: [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Bunyan’s Cottage: By ReeseM at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Sir Bevis of Southampton: By F. Tayler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Tip Cat: By Isaiah Thomas (A Little Pretty Pocket-book) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Bell Ringing:
Naseby: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Merry Monarch: By John Michael Wright or studio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons In Bedford Gaol: By Brian0324 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons 

Nell Gwynn: Simon Pietersz. Verelst (1644–1710/1717) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 19 February 2015

"You Said... We Did" Our responses to your feedback 2

Our annual joint Library/IT survey will be coming around again next month and, in preparation for that, we wanted to let you know what we have done in response to your comments from last year's survey. Here's the second instalment:

You said:
“The library doesn’t have the material I need.”

“More copies of essential books please”

“A wider range and more copies of key texts”

22% of respondents cited this as a barrier to using the Library, and 29% featured this in their answer to the question “what one thing does the Library do now that we could do better?”

We did:

We obtained an extra £75,000 for the Library Collection Development budget this year, which is being spent on new books, ebooks, journals, and other types of materials.