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Hodges & Smith Collection (1844)

The Hodges & Smith collection of Irish manuscripts was purchased by the Royal Irish Academy in 1844. During the preceding 15 years or so, academic booksellers Hodges & Smith of 21 College Green, Dublin, had assembled a collection of over 200 manuscripts in the Irish language. In most instances, no information survives as to when, where, or from whom the individual items had been acquired by Hodges & Smith. The manuscripts had come to their attention in the course of their work as book-dealers.

Eugene O’Curry, MRIA, was engaged to compile a descriptive catalogue of the collection which he completed in 1843. His handwritten catalogue survives in three volumes (RIA, 67 E 6–8). There are separate indexes of persons, subjects and first lines (RIA, 67 E 2–2a), although these index volumes refer to shelf-marks that have changed since O’Curry’s time.

The manuscripts were offered for sale to the Royal Irish Academy in February 1843, as a collection, for the sum of 1,250 guineas. When marketing the collection, Hodges & Smith explained that the manuscripts had been acquired in a piecemeal manner since 1828, and had been retained out of interest and not with a view to profit. Over the course of a year, the money was raised by public subscription, government assistance and a contribution from Academy funds, and the entire collection was purchased. Its acquisition marked a significant step forward in establishing the Academy library as a repository of Irish language manuscripts. The purchase took place against a backdrop of other collections having been sold to private collectors or public institutions overseas, and there would have been a sense of the need to preserve this large collection in the national interest.

John Windele, MRIA, evaluated the collection on behalf of the Academy’s Committee of Antiquities. His summary report (12 C 1/178) in 1844 mentioned some highlights, including Leabhar na hUidhre (MS 23 E 25) dating from the late eleventh or early twelfth century, a copy of Sanas Cormaic (Cormac’s Glossary), medical tracts and genealogies, and transcripts of many other Irish texts.

Other medieval items in the Hodges & Smith collection included some folios that had once formed part of the Leabhar Breac (23 P 16). These stray leaves had been acquired by George Smith from the collection of Chevalier Thomas O’Gorman (d.1809). The Academy already owned the main portion of the Leabhar Breac, purchased by Colonel Charles Vallancey in 1789, and thus the two parts were reunited. 

Medical tracts in the Hodges & Smith collection included a late medieval Irish translation of John of Gaddesden’s Rosa Anglica (RIA, MS 23 P 10, iii); the fifteenth-century Book of the O’Lees (23 P 10, ii); a seventeenth-century copy of Lilium Medicinae (23 G 4); and the Book of O’Shiel (23 K 42) which also dates from the seventeenth century.

A sense of the kind of Irish manuscripts in circulation when this collection was being assembled prior to 1844 can be discerned from the presence of at least eight manuscripts containing poems from the early seventeenth-century ‘Contention of the Bards’, and eight copies of Geoffrey Keating’s Foras feasa ar Éirinn, three of them dating from the seventeenth century and a further five from the eighteenth century. There were also copies of Keating’s theological works, Trí Biorghaoithe an Bháis and Eochairsgiath an Aifrinn.  There were five eighteenth-century manuscript copies of Mícheál Ó Cléirigh’s glossary (Foclóir no sanasan nua), which was a short guide to obscure Irish words. The glossary had been printed in Louvain in 1643, but rather more manuscript than printed copies survive in modern collections. Manuscript copies of another seventeenth-century printed book – Aodh Mac Aingil’s Scathán Shacramuinte na hAithridhe (Louvain, 1618) – were also included in the Hodges & Smith collection, another reminder that book publishing in Irish in the eighteenth century generally took the form of scribal publication.

Modern manuscripts in the Hodges & Smith collection included three volumes of the diaries of Amhlaoibh Ó Suileabháin compiled in Kilkenny in the 1820s and 1830s – evidence that quite a few of the handwritten books assembled by Hodges & Smith were of very recent origin at the time of their acquisition by the Academy. Many of the more modern compilations purchased in 1844 could best be described as miscellanies, perhaps compiled by individuals for their own use; many were written for entertainment, consisting mainly of poetry or prose tales.

Some years after the purchase of this collection, a few further manuscripts were presented to the Academy by Hodges & Smith (Royal Irish Academy Minutes, II, p. 359). These included yet another copy of Foras feasa ar Éirinn and transcripts made by John O’Donovan of extracts from Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh’s Book of Genealogies.

Hodges & Smith as publishers

Hodges & Smith were academic and professional publishers based at College Green in Dublin. They enjoyed a near monopoly of legal and medical publishing in Ireland for a time in the 1830s and 1840s. They were successors to Hodges & M’Arthur who had operated from c. 1817 to 1828, continuing the business of Gilbert & Hodges before that. William Gilbert had operated a medical circulating library in Dublin from the late 1780s.

George Smith joined the business in 1828, and had antiquarian interests. Smith’s name continued to appear in imprints until the late 1860s. The name changed to Hodges, Smith & Foster in 1868 before becoming Hodges & Foster in the 1870s.

From the late 1820s, Hodges & Smith published pamphlets and books on behalf of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, the Royal College of Physicians, and the University of Dublin. They also published some significant volumes in association with institutions such as the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, the Geological Society of Ireland, and the Royal Irish Academy.

Among their more substantial publications of Irish historical or antiquarian interest were Thomas Colby’s Ordnance Survey of the County of Londonderry, vol. 1: Parish of Templemore (1837), Edward Bunting’s Ancient music of Ireland (1840), George Petrie’s Ecclesiastical architecture of Ireland (1845), John O’Donovan’s edition of the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters (1848–51, 2nd ed. 1856), and James Graves & John Prim, The history, architecture and antiquities of the Cathedral church of St Canice, Kilkenny (1857). 

Irish language publications included J. O’Brien’s Focaloir Gaoidhilge-Sags-Bhearla, or an Irish-Engish dictionary (1832) and a translation of the New Testament into Irish by Robert Kane (1858).

Pamphlets were their stock in trade, however, and the Academy Library’s collection of Haliday Pamphlets includes a very extensive collection of the shorter publications of Hodges & Smith. These include, for instance, 253 pamphlets published in the years 1845–9 alone, many of them on topics of public policy concerning agriculture, education, or health.

Further reading

  • Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy (28 fasc., Dublin, 1940–70)
  • Bernadette Cunningham and Siobhán Fitzpatrick (eds), Treasures of the Royal Irish Academy Library (Dublin, 2009)
  • Bernadette Cunningham, ‘“An honour to the nation”: publishing John O’Donovan’s edition of the Annals of the Four Masters, 1848–56’ in Martin Fanning & Raymond Gillespie (eds), Print culture and intellectual life in Ireland, 1660–1941: essays in honour of Michael Adams (Dublin: Woodfield Press, 2006), pp 116–42
  • Sophie Evans, From Cromwell to Cholera: a history of Ireland from the pamphlet collection of Charles Haliday (Dublin, 2011)
  • Elizabeth Lake, ‘Medicine’, in James H. Murphy (ed.), The Oxford history of the Irish Book, iv: the book in English, 1800–1891 (Oxford, 2011), pp 574–84
  • Donnchadh Ó Corráin, Clavis litterarum Hibernensium (3 vols, Turnhout: Brepols, 2017), vol. iii, item 1318 ‘Medicine in medieval Ireland’.
  • Royal Irish Academy online catalogue of manuscripts (catalogues.ria.ie)   

 

June 2020

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