Museum Society Library Collection

Our museum dates back to 1836 when a group of local gentlemen established the Warwickshire Natural History and Archaeological Society.

Mainly doctors, lawyers and clergymen interested in the natural history, geology and archaeology of their county; they bought and were given books as well as objects.

Over the next century, the Society formed an extensive library.

‘Poems’ by Michael Drayton

Michael Drayton

Michael Drayton – image courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Michael Drayton (1563-1631) was a prolific poet and author of lengthy historical and topographical epics. He was even called “Our English Ovid”.

This book is an anthology of some of his better known works. It was printed in London in 1619 and dedicated to Sir Walter Aston.

Aston was a Gloucestershire landowner and Gentleman of the Privy Chamber at the Court of James I. Having Sir Walter as a patron or sponsor brought Drayton prestige as well as financial support.

In the title page of ‘Poems’, Drayton proudly names himself as ‘Esquyer’ – a significant social step up for a man with relatively humble beginnings in Hartshill Green, Warwickshire.

When he died in 1631, Drayton was buried in Westminster Abbey with a monument dedicated to him in Poet’s Corner. His epitaph is believed to have been written by another famous poet and playwright, Ben Jonson.

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‘Illustrations on Phrenology’ by G.S. Mackenzie, 1820

John Conolly

Dr John Connolly

In its simplest form, Phrenology is the study of skull shapes. It was believed that the shape and size of the organs of the brain determined whether someone had ‘criminal traits’ or even whether they were good at music or art.

Phrenology quickly became popular and local societies were established across the country.

‘Illustrations of Phrenology’ is part of a collection of similar volumes in our library. They were first owned by the Warwick and Leamington Phrenological Society. The Society was founded in 1834 by a group of local gentlemen amongst them doctors, solicitors and clerics from around the region.

In 1836, the Society expanded their interests to include: “Zoology, Botany, Geology, Mineralogy, Meteorology, Anatomy, Chemistry, Topography, Statistics and Archaeology”. In the process, they renamed themselves as the Warwickshire Natural History and Archaeology Society – the precursor to today’s museum service.

This book contains a series of illustrations of historical figures, taken from busts and engravings. They are used as examples to show the reader how the individuals’ personalities varied with their head shapes.

Dr John Connolly was the first chair of the Society. An influential figure in the care and treatment of people with mental illness, he wrote a series of books and later went on to become Resident Physician to the country’s largest mental institution, the Hanwell Asylum, in Middlesex.

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‘Nature Displayed to Excite the Curiosity of Youth’, 1744

Duke Of Cumberland

The dedication to the Duke Of Cumberland.

‘Nature Displayed’ is a three volume work translated from the French by Samuel Humphreys. The original book ran to eight volumes and was written by a French cleric and priest Noël-Antoine Pluche, known as abbé Pluche.

The text is written as a discourse or discussion about natural history between a series of characters, the Chevalier du Breuil and the Count de Jonval and Prior de Jonval, as they walk around a garden.

The study of natural history was thought to be improving for children in the eighteenth century. Written in the time of the Enlightenment, this book is as much about a newly emerging science as it is about religion and the glories of God’s creation.

Humphreys dedicated his translation to the Duke of Cumberland (1721 -1765), second son of George II and Queen Caroline. The Duke of Cumberland acquired his infamous reputation in the aftermath of the battle of Culloden in 1746.


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‘Poly-Olbion’, by Michael Drayton

Poly-Olbion Cover

Poly-Olbion Cover

Although Drayton may have started writing his most famous work in 1598 or even before, ‘Poly-Olbion’ wasn’t completed until 24 years later in 1622. Its full title is “A Chronological Description of all the tracts, rivers, mountains, forests, and other parts of this renowned Great Britain”.

Intended as a patriotic history, Drayton also includes legends and anecdotes about each county. The first edition was also illustrated with elaborately engraved maps.

Partly due to its length, Poly-Olbion doesn’t appeal to a modern audience – although it was well received by Drayton’s contemporaries in the seventeenth century.

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