Seamus Heaney’s translation of Henryson’s “The Testament of Cresseid”

by Anne Elise Crafton, Ph.D. Candidate, Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute

In addition to his original works, the Irish poet Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) is also known for his adaptations of ancient and medieval literature. The most famous of these is his translation of the Old English epic Beowulf, but he also adapted a lesser-known medieval poem, The Testament of Cresseid.

The Testament of Cresseid was composed by the 15th-century Scottish poet, Sir Robert Henryson. He was a part of a group of writers dubbed “The Scottish Chaucerians,” for their love of Geoffrey Chaucer (d. 1400), the author of The Canterbury Tales, a poem in Middle English. The Testament of Cresseid was Henryson’s direct response to Chaucer; in fact, it was meant to be a sequel to Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, one of the first poems to use rhyme. This epic poem tells of the tragic love story of two Trojan youths during the Trojan War. Despite their love, Criseyde is given to the Greeks as a prisoner of war and takes another lover, the Greek warrior Diomedes. While Chaucer’s account ends here, Henryson adds a cruel fate for Criseyde: Diomedes abandons the beautiful Cresseid. The Trojan maiden cries out to the goddess of love, Venus, about her poor luck in love, but the goddess vengefully strikes her with leprosy and blindness. Cresseid goes to live among the beggars by the city gate, where the noble Troilus passes by; however, due to her blindness she cannot see him, and due to her deformity, he does not recognize her. Eventually when they do recognize each other, Cresseid regrets her treatment of Troilus and gives a mournful soliloquy then dies shortly afterwards.

Henryson’s poem was written in Middle Scots. This language, confusingly known as Inglis (English), is not the same as Middle English. Middle Scots was informed heavily by Irisch (i.e., Scots Gaelic not Irish) and maintains unique spellings such as substituting quh- for wh-, and ane for one, an, or a. For example:

Henryson’s Middle Scots (15th c.)

Ane doolie sessoun to ane cairfull dyte Suld correspond and be equivalent: Richt sa it was quhen I began to wryte This tragedie…

Heaney’s Modern English (21st c.)

A gloomy time, a poem full of hurt Should correspond and be equivalent. Just so it was when I began my work On this retelling…

Seamus Heaney cites three motives for his translation which distinguish it from others: the “advocacy for the work in question,” a “refreshment from a different speech and culture,” and “the pleasure of writing by proxy.” However, Heaney also admits in the preface that when he went to translate the poem, despite these grandiose motives, he found himself already stumped by the opening scenes. Both the complexity of Middle Scots and the phonetic power of Henryson’s verse were difficult to render into modern English, especially if Heaney wanted to retain the essence and feel of the original. However, the Middle Scots reminded Heaney of the Ulster-dialect of his family and as he continued his translation, he found himself “entirely at home” with Henryson’s poetry.

The Hesburgh Library owns the 2004 de luxe edition of The Testament of Cresseid signed by Heaney and illustrator Hugh O’Donoghue. Hugh O’Donoghue is an English artist known for exploring the universality of the human experience – a theme fitting for a poem so interested in love, loss, and fate. The deluxe edition does not include the Middle Scots text next to Heaney’s translation, unlike other editions. This situates Heaney as the sole access to the medieval past.

O’Donoghue’s paintings give the harsh poem an unexpectedly ethereal quality. The reader can revel in Cresseid’s legendary beauty, brought to life by O’Donoghue, and shudder at what she becomes in the end. By pairing O’Donoghue’s compelling art with Heaney’s translation, the edition fundamentally changes the experience of the poem. Altogether, the project expands beyond translation and continues a cycle of storytelling that transcends multiple languages, nationalities, and poetic traditions: Chaucer’s 14th-century English imagination of a mythic Mediterranean past, Henryson’s 15th-century Scottish response, and a 21st-century exploration of art, poetry, and memory by an Irish poet and English artist.

Oliver Twist — An Affordable Edition

by Daniel Johnson, English; Digital Humanities; and Film, Television, and Theatre Librarian

The Household Edition of Charles Dickens was a new, quarto-sized version of the novelist’s works published by Chapman and Hall starting in 1871, after the author’s death, answering “calls for a truly popular and affordable edition of Dickens that were being voiced even before Dickens’s death” (Louttit 2014, 323). Like the novels in their original run, the Household Editions were printed both serially (either weekly or monthly) and as whole volumes. The whole-volume printings were themselves subject to “two methods of volume release: the distinctive green cloth and gilt boards (which adorn many of the volumes in circulation today) at 4s., and a cheaper ‘stiff paper wrapper’ priced at 3s” (2014, 326).

The history of the Hesburgh Library’s recently-acquired volume is not clear, but if it was originally purchased in whole volume form, it is a curious one — it does not bear “distinctive green cloth and gilt boards,” and for good reason. It is a Sammelband, seamlessly binding the Household Dickens Great Expectations together with Oliver Twist. The other method of whole volume distribution, via “stiff paper wrapper,” means the book would have come with no cover, making it cheaper to purchase but also enabling the book owner to order custom book binding. In either case, whether obtained serially in parts or as whole volumes, the book was bound by custom order, as can be further confirmed by the stamp on the back cover, “Bound by W. Drewett, Printer, Binder, Stationer.” Why a person might join together two Dickens novels with no apparent contiguity (Oliver Twist was the first book in the Household Editions, Great Expectations in the middle, and the novels were originally published decades apart) would be a worthy subject of exploration.

Title page, with frontispiece: “The evidence destroyed”.
The first page of Chapter 1, headed with an illustration of Oliver asking for more, while the boys around the table lick their fingers, their spoons, or their empty bowls.

In more general terms, collecting witnesses of the Household Edition can help scholars make comparative analysis against the volumes printed during the author’s lifetime (such as the handsome, two-volume first edition of Our Mutual Friend which the library purchased in 2016). Indeed, the Household Edition is receiving renewed attention, particularly for its visual content. By the late twentieth century, it had become commonplace to read Dickens as inextricable from his original illustrators – George Cruikshank, Hablot Knight Browne, and Phiz – which is logical enough. Many period readers would have closely tied the novels to the caricature-like images of these artists.

But approbation was not universal. As Chris Louttit shows, many who wrote on Dickens in the late nineteenth century “preferred instead the more realistic and less emblematic productions of the generation of artists including Fred Barnard, Charles Green and James Mahoney” who adorned the Household Edition (Mahoney was illustrator of the Household Oliver Twist) (2019, 150). Indeed, one Victorian critic, Edwin Pugh, claimed the original illustrations “are as unlike the creations of the Master’s brain as a painted, stuffed wax effigy is unlike the warm, breathing body of a beautiful woman or man” (ibid). Much could be made about the reading of the text based on the visual commentary available to readers at a given period.

The Household Edition of Oliver Twist (and Great Expectations) joins over a hundred other Dickensian special collections holdings of various kinds in the Hesburgh Library, including a Cruikshank-illustrated first edition of Oliver Twist, with a fireside plate “canceled in later issues.”

Title page and frontispiece of Great Expectations ‘with thirty illustrations by F. A. Fraser.
Sources consulted:

Louttit, Chris. 2014. “‘A Favour on the Million’: The Household Edition, the Cheap Reprint, and the Posthumous Illustration and Reception of Charles Dickens.” Book History 17 (1): 321-64. http://doi.org/10.1353/bh.2014.0013

—–. 2019. “Boz without Phiz.” In Reading Dickens Differently, 149-64. John Wiley. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119602262.ch8.

Welcome to Spring 2022 in Rare Books & Special Collections

The University of Notre Dame, Hesburgh Libraries, Special Collections, and the COVID situation

Due to the spread of highly contagious variants of the COVID-19 virus, masks are currently required throughout the Hesburgh Library for all students, faculty, staff, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. This applies to all Rare Books & Special Collections spaces.

All visitors to campus are required to wear masks inside campus buildings at all times until further notice. Up-to-date information regarding campus policies is provided at covid.nd.edu.

Upcoming Events: January and early February

Please join us for the following event being hosted in Rare Books and Special Collections:

Thursday, January 27 at 4:30pm | Italian Research Seminar: “Scales of Responsibility: The Dark Side of Italo Calvino” by Maria Anna Mariani (University of Chicago). Sponsored by the Center for Italian Studies.

[The event scheduled for February 2 has been postponed, due to weather concerns.]

Wednesday, February 2, from 3:30 pm to 5:00 pm | Celebration: 100 Years of James Joyce’s Ulysses: An event celebrating the centenary of James Joyce’s Ulysses will be hosted in Special Collections, with a display of Ulysses-themed treasures from the vault of the Hesburgh Library and the reading of short excerpts from Ulysses in several languages.

Spring Semester Exhibits

The spring exhibit will feature Medieval Bibles and biblical texts and is in celebration of the 75th anniversary of Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute. The exhibit, curated by David T. Gura, Ph.D., will open in January and run through the semester.

The spotlight exhibits for January and February will feature first editions of Joyce’s Ulysses and related items, in honor of the centenary of Ulysses publication.

Classes in Special Collections

Throughout the semester, curators teach sessions related to our holdings. If you’re interested in bringing your class or group to work with our curators and materials, please contact Special Collections.

Recent Acquisitions

Special Collections acquires new material throughout the year. Watch our blog for announcements about recent acquisitions.

Happy Holidays from Special Collections!

Rare Books and Special Collections is open through this Wednesday (December 22, 2021). After that, we will be closed for the Christmas and New Year’s Break (December 23, 2021 through January 4, 2022). Special Collections will reopen on Tuesday, January 5, 2022.

This is the last blog post for 2021.
Happy holidays to you and yours from
Notre Dame’s Rare Books and Special Collections!


The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, with illustrations by Philip Hagreen
(London: Selwyn & Blount, 1923).
Special Collections, Rare Books Small PS 2429 .M5 N5 1923

A Welsh Witch in the Woods

by Sara Weber, Special Collections Digital Project Specialist

“There is hardly any Traveller in Wales, who has not heard, at least, of the titles of some of those ancient traditionary tales, which every grandmother, on a cold winter evening, repeats to her grandchildren, sitting round the blazing hearth.”

Thus does the anonymous author or editor of Welsh Legends: a Collection of Popular Oral Tales (London: printed by J.D. Dewick … for J. Badcock, 1802) preface the five pieces found in this book. For this year’s Halloween post, we share with you the full text of the second piece, a poem titled “The Weird Witch of the Wood”.


Happy Halloween to you and yours
from all of us in Notre Dame’s Special Collections!

Halloween 2016: Ghosts in the Stacks
Halloween 2017: A spooky story for Halloween: The Goblin Spider
Halloween 2018: A story for Halloween: “Johnson and Emily; or, The Faithful Ghost”
Halloween 2019: A Halloween trip to Mexico
Halloween 2020: Headless Horsemen in American and Irish Legend

Color Our Collections: End of the School Year Stress-Relief

Today’s coloring sheet features an illustration by Florence Harrison from Poems by Christina Rossetti (London, Glasgow & Bombay: Blackie and Son, Ltd., 1910). The image comes at the end of the poem ‘Summer’ — something most of us are looking forward to at this point!

If you’d like to see more of this item, make an appointment to visit us and ask to see the book in person — the call number is on the coloring page.

Good luck with the end of the semester, everyone!

Writing to Rehabilitate in the House of Detention for Women in New York City

by Rachel Bohlmann, American History Librarian and Curator

In celebration of Women’s History Month, RBSC is highlighting a portion of women in America who receive very little attention and who continue to be among the most marginalized: women in prison. 

This magazine, Greenwich Gazette, was edited and published in 1939 by inmates of the House of Detention for Women in New York City. This is the only available copy and no other issues have been identified. The publication was a “vehicle for self expression” and for creative work. The prison’s address was 10 Greenwich Avenue, which gave the serial its name.

The pages of the Gazette include poetry, commentary on current events and politics (the need for an anti-child labor amendment, opposition to a law that would make it illegal for a husband and wife to both hold teaching positions), personal reminiscences, short fiction, book reviews, as well as the outcome of a debate on whether movies contributed to juvenile delinquency (the “affirmatives” won by audience vote). One lighthearted entry, “A Musical Correspondence,” was composed by using contemporary song titles as phrases. 

In “Echoes from the Roof,” Ann Greulich reported the results of a poll taken of the “girls who attend school on the roof.” The prison offered classes every weekday afternoon in English, health and hygiene, current events, and other subjects. Mary Fiorelli wrote of her experience with the school, “The way I feel about it here is that the teacher is like a nurse or doctor who is feeding a weak person with a good tonic.” Jennie Bennett noted, “One is likely to get in a rut and stay there, if confined any length of time, and I can say that our classes here have done much for me in preventing that from happening.” Another woman, Edna Neal, wrote that “Not only did [school] teach me a lot, but it helped me ‘keep my balance all the time.’” Anna Carola observed, “With more education, I think I could accomplish better things in life have more understanding of my fellow man, and be a better citizen.”

This copy was owned by Ruth Lentz, who was the magazine’s Staff Adviser. At the prison, she was responsible for the school, arts and crafts, and the prison library. The prison was designed, according to its Superintendent, Ruth E. Collins, as a kind of school for citizenship, which would prepare its inmates for jobs and better opportunities post-incarceration. Collins was the prison’s first superintendent and was chosen for the position after a career in children’s aid, juvenile protection, and other Progressive Era initiatives, including a period of time living and working with Jane Addams at Hull-House in Chicago, a center of Progressive ideas and programs.

When the prison opened in 1931 it was heralded as the most modern, humane, and even comfortable facility. The building was an art deco high rise, situated in Greenwich Village. Prisoners were sorted and first-time inmates were kept apart from repeat offenders. The women had their own rooms (they were not called cells) and there were no bars on the windows. The prison was designed to hold 450. By the mid-1960s, however, the prison had become a watchword of corruption, violence, and inhumane conditions. The prison held as many as 750 women, food was nearly inedible, and the building was infested with rats. A 1967 exposé of the prison’s conditions set the stage for its closure. Testimony by Andrea Dworkin about the brutal treatment she received there as a young student arrested for protesting the Vietnam War also pushed the city to close the facility, which it did in 1971.

Over decades, the House of Detention for Women developed into one of the worst prisons in the United States. Nevertheless, at the institution’s inception, the Greenwich Gazette represented some of the best ideals of a progressive penal system based not on a punitive model, but one of reform, rehabilitation, and community support.

RBSC holds a few additional materials by and about women in prison and Hesburgh Libraries has a new database, American Prison Newspapers, 1800-2020: Voices from the Inside, for further exploration of this genre.

Related Previous Blog Posts

African American History Month

We join The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to celebrate African American History Month.

Paul Laurence Dunbar’s New Literary Tradition Packaged to Sell

by Rachel Bohlmann, American History Librarian and Curator

Poet and writer Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) was interested in creating an African American literary tradition based on oral sources. In both works of poetry shown here, Candle Lightin’ Time and Li’l’ Gal, Dunbar used dialect, a choice he made for some of his work. Unlike most contemporary white writers, who used dialect in openly racist ways, Dunbar appropriated dialect as a way to represent fully African American expression.

Beginning of “The Plantation Child’s Lullaby” from Li’l’ Gal (1904).

The books’ appearance—the detailed and beautiful bindings, illustrations, and page designs—point to Dunbar’s publisher’s confidence in their profitability. Dodd & Mead of New York produced a string of the writer’s works, a partnership that helped propel Dunbar’s popularity. Margaret Armstrong (1867-1944), one of the most successful book designers working in this period, created the bindings. Her art nouveau style featured plant motifs and gold-stamping.

The photographs for Candle Lightin’ Time were taken by the mostly white members of the Hampton Institute Camera Club, an amateur group of photographers affiliated with the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) in Virginia. The illustrations in Li’l’ Gal were taken by Leigh Richmond Minor (1864-1935), an art teacher at the institute and a trained photographer. Although the pictures were staged, their subjects are presented fully as individuals, another way in which Dunbar’s books overturned contemporary, racist depictions of African Americans.

Born in Dayton, Ohio in 1872 to parents who were formerly enslaved, Dunbar showed early literary talent. He edited his high school newspaper, served as president of the school’s Philomathean Literary Society, and edited a newspaper for Dayton’s African American community for a short time. Financial hardship kept him from pursuing a college education and he found work as an elevator operator, although he continued to write.

With the support of local backers, he published Oak and Ivy in 1893, a collection of poems in both standard English and dialect. By 1895 his work was praised and championed by Frederick Douglass and by literary critic William Dean Howells. Although Howells and other white critics focused heavily on Dunbar’s use of dialect (much to the writer’s dismay) and placed his work in a tradition of white writing about plantation slavery, the breadth and variety of Dunbar’s literary work transcended the racist limitations of most dialect writing of the time.

In addition to poetry, Dunbar wrote novels, short stories, and at least one play. He gained national and international recognition at the turn of the twentieth century, one of the first African American writers to do so. He was an important literary precursor for writers of the Harlem Renaissance, two decades later.

In Rare Books and Special Collections, Dunbar’s works are part of growing collection of African American literature and historical works published before 1920 and the start of the Harlem Renaissance. Other writers include Benjamin Brawley, Maud Cuney Hare, Helen S. Woodruff, Walter E. Todd, Leila Amos Pendleton, and Oscar Micheaux.

Happy Holidays from Special Collections!

Rare Books and Special Collections is open by appointment only through this Friday (December 18, 2020). After that, we will be closed for the Christmas and New Year’s Break (December 19, 2020 through January 5, 2021).

Special Collections will reopen on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, again by appointment only. Visit the Hesburgh Libraries Service Continuity webpage for the most up-to-date information about both the Libraries in general and Special Collections in particular.

This is the last blog post for 2020. Happy holidays to you and yours from Notre Dame’s Rare Books and Special Collections!

Headless Horsemen in American and Irish Legend

by Sara Weber, Special Collections Digital Project Specialist, and Aedín Ní Bhróithe Clements, Irish Studies Librarian

2019-2020 marks the two hundred years anniversary of Washington Irving’s first publication of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., which includes the perennial Halloween favorite “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow”. In the time since its publication, the story has found its way into films, TV shows, other books, and various other popular culture references. In honor of the anniversary, we’ve selected it for our 2020 Halloween tale.

The particular volume shown in this post came to us across the ocean from Ireland. It was part of the library of Walter Sweetman, a nineteenth-century Catholic landowner in County Wexford. When the Sweetman family of South Dakota inherited the Irish property, all the books from the library were included with furniture, but many perished from exposure to the salt water. It’s a pity our conservators were not involved in organizing that shipment. We like to imagine a reader in a large Irish country house reading of Sleepy Hollow with the backdrop of an Irish stormy evening.

The Sweetman Collection, given to us in 1997, is a large collection of over 470 volumes.

Download a PDF of Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” to read the whole story.

Irving’s headless horseman was not the first of his kind, however. Riders who have lost or carry their head appeared in various stories and folklore before featuring as Ichabod Crane’s nemesis, beginning as early as the 14th century poem Gawain and the Green Knight. In Irish legend, the Dullahan or dúlachán is a Grim Reaper-like rider who carries his head under his arm (sometimes also known as the Gan Ceann, meaning literally “without a head” in Irish). (See Jessica Traynor’s ‘How tales of the headless horseman came from Celtic mythology’ in the Irish Times, October 23, 2019.)

In Thomas Crofton Croker’s Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (1834), we find several stories grouped together under the heading of “The Dullahan”, including one titled simply “The Headless Horseman”. Croker was one of the earliest writers to compile collections of Irish folklore. Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland was first published in 1825. Having received much attention, including translation by the Grimm brothers, Croker went on to produce two more volumes. This edition, published in 1834, is a one-volume selection that he edited. A summary of the controversy surrounding the various friends who contributed stories may be found in the biography by Maureen Murphy in the Dictionary of Irish Biography.

The humorous story that we have selected begins in a sheebeen in Ballyhooley, West Cork, and follows the incredible encounter of Charley Culnane with a headless man on a headless horse.


Happy Halloween to you and yours
from all of us in Notre Dame’s Special Collections!

Halloween 2016 RBSC post: Ghosts in the Stacks
Halloween 2017 RBSC post: A spooky story for Halloween: The Goblin Spider
Halloween 2018 RBSC post: A story for Halloween: “Johnson and Emily; or, The Faithful Ghost”
Halloween 2019 RBSC post: A Halloween trip to Mexico