The Grand Tour at Home: Cataloguing Brinsley Ford's Library

  • 29 May 2020

Sir Brinsley Ford (1908–1999) was an art historian and collector, and his personal library was donated to the Paul Mellon Centre by his family in 2017. The books are now in the process of being catalogued by library staff. The focus of the collection is the Grand Tour, and it includes contemporary accounts by early travellers of their journeys on the Continent.

The earliest work in the collection is a 1686 edition of The Voyage of Italy, or, A Compleat Journey Through Italy, written by Richard Lassels and first published in 1670. In addition to being a Catholic priest, Lassels was, as he notes on the title page, ‘Tutor to several of the English Nobility and Gentry’, and it is to the young gentleman that much of his advice is addressed. The book endorses travel as a means to broaden the mind: ‘It teacheth [the Nobleman] wholesome hardship; to lie in beds that are none of his acquaintance; to speak to men he never saw before; to travel in the morning before day; and in the evening after day; to endure any horse and weather, as well as any meat and drink’.

The opening page of The voyage of Italy, 1686 edition.

1686 edition of The voyage of Italy, or, A compleat journey through Italy, written by Richard Lassels,

Lassels goes on to describe many of the sights and scenes of his travels, including the Milan Duomo (‘not quite finished yet’), the city of Verona (‘no man ever saw it but liked it’), and the Vatican Library (‘full of curious books’). His narrative includes historical details, practical advice, and occasionally more whimsical recollections, such as his description of fireflies on the road between Faenza and Ferrara: ‘It was huge pretty me thought, to see Heaven upon Earth almost, and flying Stars conduct us to our Lodging’.

Ford’s copy of The Voyage of Italy was previously owned by several members of the Wodehouse family, including Sir Armine Wodehouse (1714–1777). The sprinkled calfskin binding is contemporary, but the spine has been repaired at a later date; the lines between old and new leather are visible close to the joints of the volume. This may indicate that the book has seen a significant amount of use over its lifetime.

Cataloguing of the Ford collection is ongoing. As the PMC staff are all currently working from home, it has been a delight to spend time with the Ford books and travel virtually through Europe. Lassels declares that ‘it’s certain, that if this world be a great Book, as S. Augustine calls it, none study this great Book so much as the Traveller’.

A shelf of seven aged book spines.

Shelf of books from the Brinsley Ford collection.,