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DOMINUS ILLUMINATIO MEA

University of Oxford
Director of University Library Services and Bodley's Librarian

'Shelley remains':

after-dinner speech at the celebration of the acquisition of the Abinger Shelley Papers, University College, Oxford, 10 September 2004
BODLEIAN LIBRARY

Ladies and Gentlemen:



It's my great pleasure, as Bodley's Librarian, to be able to welcome you all here this evening, in Shelley's own Oxford college, to this celebration of the acquisition by the Bodleian Library of that part of the Shelley family papers known as the Abinger Shelley Papers. We are here thanks to the great generosity of the Master and Fellows of University College; and I'm sure that you'll agree that we have been welcomed, entertained, wined and dined in truly wonderful style. And we're extremely grateful for all that.


It is, of course, immensely fitting that Shelley's old college should unite with the Bodleian Library to hold this dinner, as both the College and the Library were the recipients of Lady Shelley's generosity in the 1890s, when the College received the Shelley Memorial, and the Library became the permanent home for the first tranche of Percy Shelley's archive.


And tonight we are met to celebrate the Library's acquisition of the final tranche of those papers. Well, at least we're almost there, as our appeal has nearly reached its target! A year ago, we faced the daunting task of trying to raise £5.5 million to keep the Abinger Shelley Papers in the Bodleian. But today, happily, the remaining sum we need to find is 'only' of the order of £150,000.


This fundraising success is a reflection not only of the importance of the Abinger Papers as physical artefacts, but also of the quality of the intellectual legacy of the Shelley and Godwin families which the papers contain. And that dual importance has been recognised by the many contributions our appeal fund has received - from the whopping £3 million granted by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, to a cheque for £5 from an elderly Friend of the Bodleian, whose gift was quite literally the widow's mite…


So our gathering this evening is partly to thank those who have already contributed so generously to the cause, and partly to encourage others to support us on the last lap of the appeal. We may have 'only' £150,000 still to raise; but, if previous experience in such matters is anything to go by, this may well prove to be the most difficult part of our task. So if you yourselves can help, or if you know of others who may be in a position to do so, we hope that you will be sure to let us know…


We are particularly fortunate tonight to have with us three speakers who will, between them, tell us more about the papers themselves, about the legacy of the writers who are documented in the papers, and about the value of literary archives more generally. And they are an especially distinguished trio: Pamela Clemit, Brian Aldiss, and Andrew Motion. And I take this opportunity now to thank all three of them for agreeing so readily to be with us this evening, and to help us in this way.


First of all, then, it's a genuine pleasure to be able to introduce Dr Pamela Clemit, and to invite her to speak to us. Pam is one of the leading scholars of the Godwins and the Shelleys. An Oxford graduate herself, she is now Reader in English at the University of Durham. She is also the editor of the letters of William Godwin, which, I'm delighted to say, the Library itself will be publishing in due course. Dr. Clemit has also been a very active supporter of our appeal for the Abinger Papers, and we're enormously grateful to her for agreeing to speak to us tonight.

[Dr. Clemit's speech]


It's a particular pleasure for me to introduce a great friend of the Bodleian, and a household name in the world of fiction. Brian Aldiss is not only one of the world's leading science fiction writers, but he's also a distinguished writer of contemporary fiction, a poet, a dramatist, a screen writer, an essayist, and a critic. He has been connected with the Bodleian for many years, and is himself the donor of his own literary archive. Since the 1950s he has had a worldwide audience for his immensely popular and award-winning science-fiction - a genre which, to some extent at least, owes its origins to Mary Shelley. It's therefore especially fitting that Brian should share with us now some of his own insights into Mary Shelley.

[Brian Aldiss's speech]


And finally this evening, we are deeply honoured to have Andrew Motion, our very own Poet Laureate, here to speak to us, as our pièce de résistance. Andrew Motion, like Percy Shelley himself, is a member of University College, and a poet of world renown. He's also an academic, a biographer, and a critic of great distinction. Quite recently, too, in the pages of the Royal Society of Literature's Magazine, and in The Guardian, he has begun a debate about the value of literary archives. And that's a debate which resonates very strongly with our own efforts to secure the Abinger Papers. It's therefore with really great pleasure and anticipation that I invite the Poet Laureate to speak…

[Andrew Motion's speech]


Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes the speeches for this evening, and it only remains for me to repeat my warm thanks to our speakers, and to thank you all for coming tonight, and for all your crucial and welcome support for our successful efforts to ensure that 'Shelley remains' in Oxford, where he belongs!


Reg Carr
10 September 2004