More time with H.G. today, and with Mr. William Briggs, which is fitting since he did a lot in Cambridge. This is, I think, my last library stop in England.

The Cambridge University Library is nothing like the Bodleian in Oxford – it is modern and doesn’t smell like old books. To me it looks a little like a power station.


The items I wanted were in two different rooms: Rare Books and the West Room. But first I had to lay out everything for Reader Registration, of course: passport, letter from the college, driving license. Unlike the Bodleian, I can apparently access nothing but the catalog online anyway, so I just took a one-week card, which is free.

Each reading room only takes half an hour to grab your books, so the fact that I didn’t get there till after 3 pm didn’t matter. I first went to the Rare Books room to order two books I really wanted (the University Correspondence Calendar for 1892, and something called Student Biology Papers, also published by the UCC) and one just for fun (William Brigg’s book on International Copyright Law). I had to fill out a separate form for each one, and they said half an hour, so I went to the West Room.

The first floor of the Cambridge University Library has a North area, a South area, and you get to the West Room by going through another room that has people ordering books. (Tucking rooms behind rooms while labeling them in order seems to be a Cambridge thing – I’m in the “L” block at the college where I’m staying. Around the courtyard are letters: I, J, K. No L. You have to go through the M doorway to get to L.)

The rules for the West Room were looser. For Rare Books, you have to leave your water bottle outside, but in the West Room you could bring it in. In Rare Books, you must use the wedge supports, but in the West Room you don’t have to, nor sign anything promising you know how to handle an old book or that you will only take pictures for your own use. This is funny because all the books I wanted were from the same era.

What I needed in the West Room were the Calendars of the College of Preceptors. I’m still not quite sure I understand what the College of Preceptors is, but I know that Wells took examinations and ultimately earned a diploma of licentiate (1889) and became a member (1890) then a Fellow (1891). All of this had something to do with preparing to be a teacher, which is what the College of Preceptors does. But it was more. According to Wells in his autobiography:

That “College of Preceptors” was not only a confederation of private schools to keep up appearances; it was a mutual improvement society, it was a voluntary modernizing movement. It ran lectures on educational method and devised examinations for teaching diplomas.

The catalog entry was a bit unclear as to what years the library had, since it says, “1847, 1880-1939, Imperfect set”. So I asked for 1880-1884, since I could not have everything till 1895 — that’s too many volumes at once. They came up with a gap for 1881 and 1883 (imperfect set!), which was unfortunate, because I thought that the College of Preceptors must have had something to do with the exams Wells had taken at Thomas Morley’s Academy and Horace Byatt’s school in Midhurst. But what I got was really interesting nevertheless.

What I found were explanations of what constituted a First class and Second class pass for all the fields of study, which I need in order to understand what Wells was doing. More, there were lists of the schools from which candidates had been sent to do the pupil’s examinations, and lists of the pupils getting prizes each year. In 1880, of the three schoolmasters I know of (Thomas Morley, Horace Byatt, and J.V. Milne), only Morley’s students took exams (and Morley himself was a Licentiate and a Life Member of the College since 1848, with an asterisk for running a school “in union with the college”). My notes say that in 1879, Wells earned a second class certificate, but I could not find him in any of the listings, which is odd. Now that I’ve had a chance to check the autobiography, it’s possible the certificate was in bookkeeping – perhaps certificates are not in the Calendar?

Wells returned to pupil-teach for Horace Byatt in 1881. In the 1882 Calendar, though, he still doesn’t appear in the student lists. In the master lists, Byatt isn’t listed as sending students. Morley didn’t either. Milne did, and was a member but had no asterisk.

In 1884, still no Wells in pupil lists, no Morley (retired?), but both Byatt (no asterisk) and Milne (with an asterisk now, so Henley House School was now tied to the College) appear to have tested students. It was in May of 1884 that Wells said he passed a bunch of exams with A’s and applied to the Education Department to be a “teacher in training” at South Kensington. So these must not have been College of Preceptors exams? He would have been taking them for Byatt, so I can’t figure out why he isn’t in the Calendar.

I also begin to wonder whether Wells was the reason Byatt got into the whole testing thing in the first place.

Since two volumes were missing, I requested two more: 1890 and 1891. These volumes were much larger. In the one for 1890, Wells appears under “Licentiates who are not members of the College” for an exam at “Xmas 1889” (interesting how long we’ve been using the abbreviation). And Byatt is still testing students.

Then in 1891, Wells is there for real: on the Licentiates list as a life-time member (apparently Milne nominated him) as of “L. Day” (Labor Day?)* 1890, with his Bachelor of Science and his Fellow of the Zoological Society, and his address on Fitzroy Road in London. He’s listed in the Prizes at Diploma Exams (Xmas 1889):


I need to find his thesis in the Theory and Practice of Education, which was apparently on Froebel.

So back to the Rare Books room, for more discoveries. The catalog really hadn’t given me a clue as to what I’d get to look at. In addition to Briggs’ tome on copyright (I seem to recall him having been sued for reprinting examinations for his study books), were two slim green volumes. One was “Science Biology Papers” (1889) by the University Correspondence College. It had a 32 page prospectus and ads at the beginning. Then came questions from the University of London exams from years before. Given the date, it’s possible that Wells wrote the solutions to the General Biology section, but it didn’t say so (likely because he didn’t have his degree yet). I loved the practical questions on the exam, which had to be taken in a laboratory: “Open the Earthworm provided…”

But the other green book was even more remarkable, because it wasn’t just The Calendar 1892-3 of the University Correspondence College, like it said in the catalog. It was actually the London Intermediate Science and Preliminary Science Directory, and Wells is featured on the cover as writing some solutions:


It also had cool Calendar stuff, including a Principal’s (Briggs’) Report I need to go through. It also praised (with review) and recommended Wells’ textbook:


And there are pages of solutions where Wells is credited directly, and Volume II of his Text-book is mentioned as being in press.

So there are some nagging questions. What exams was Wells taking for Byatt? Preceptors exams? if so, why is he not on the pupil lists?  I found great stuff, but I’m also confused.

*Note added 17 July – it’s not Labor Day, it’s Lady Day, the feast of the Annunciation, around spring equinox.