Diving into Adam White’s Album Amicorum

A guest blog post by Clara Newkirk, a University of Strathclyde MSc Information and Library Studies student on placement in Archives and Special Collections during semester 2, working on Sp Coll RB 5118, recently purchased from Christian White, Modernfirsteditions Ltd. Clara’s placement involved further researching and enhancing the provenance information already provided by Christian White.

An Album Amicorum, Latin for “a book of friends”, was once used in a common practice where one would have others sign a certain book of theirs, usually with extra blank pages inserted. The concept is said to have originated in Germany during the 16th century [1], acting as an autograph book. Anyone that the owner wanted to remember in some way, they could have sign in the book. In addition to signatures, there were also illustrations occasionally included, sometimes by professional artists that had been hired to do so.

This project involved looking through an Album Amicorum that belonged to Adam White, a 19th century zoologist [2]. I systematically flipped through the pages of this book in order to find written notes, as those are what will tell us the most about its owner, rather than the text itself. The choice of text does reflect on the owner though. White chose ‘The Course of Time’ by Robert Pollok, a book of poetry by a man he clearly admired. There is a portrait of the poet that was pasted into the Album, and White also wrote down excerpts of Pollok’s works in the book. Although a man of science, White seemed to have a great appreciation for poetry. After some further research on Pollok, it seems he was a very religious man, specifically a Calvinist. One critic referred to his most famous work as a Calvinistic Paradise Lost [3]. It is possible that White admired Pollok’s work because they shared the same religious views, as ‘The Course of Time’ is reflective of what Pollok believed. This gives further insight into the type of person that White was. Pollok also admired and supported those who felt the English language and customs were superior to other ones, and it is possible that White might have also held these beliefs. It is hard to know for certain, unless White has more journals that he wrote himself, but this one autograph book can tell us quite a lot about a person.

Sp Coll RB 5118: A portrait of Robert Pollok which has been pasted into the book.

Transcribing all of the handwritten notes proved to be an interesting challenge. After accessing some sources on paleography, the art of reading old handwriting, I started my attempt. As an Album Amicorum is signed by many people, there were various handwritings, some easier to read than others. I also heavily relied on context clues to make out names and places. The Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names [4] was helpful for figuring out which place was being referred to, although there were still a few that I could not decipher.

Sp Coll RB 5118: The centre text appears to read “Geo Pearson 8 Sutton Place Hackney,” but it is hard to confirm that I transcribed the correct name. It could read Gio instead of Geo, and the end of the surname is very unclear.

This particular Album Amicorum does contain two beautiful drawings, the first one signed AW. The second drawing has the caption of ‘Oatlands (W.C. Hewitson Esq.)’, which was the home of the English naturalist. It is believed that both drawings are by Adam White.

Sp Coll RB 5118: Drawing 1
Sp Coll RB 5118: Drawing 2

The next part of this project was researching all of the names in order to find out who they were, and possibly their relation to Adam White. This was quite difficult, especially when only initials were used for first and middle names. The free census provided some information, but it did not have records of all the people I was searching for. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography[5] provided information on some of White’s more famous friends, but several people who signed his Album were not well known. Family ancestry websites had a lot of information, citing birth, death, and census records that I did not have access to. These websites also helped me find out who was related to who, as sometimes it was unclear if someone was a wife, a sister, or a mother.

While I did transcribe all the handwritten notes in the Album Amicorum to the best of my ability, there were still several areas where I was unsure as to what was written, and it is possible that the transcriptions can be improved upon in the future. I created an excel sheet with a list of all the names found in the book, and when I was able to confirm their identity, provided the links for anyone to learn more about who these people were. This book was only one of many, although I hope my work on this book will add value to the general collection by being searchable and accessible online.


[1] British Library Collection Items: Friendship Album of Moyses Walens. Retrieved 8 Apr.2022, from https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/friendship-album-of-moyses-walens

[2] Datta, A.  White, Adam (1817–1878), naturalist. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 8 Apr. 2022, from https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-29234.

[3]Gribben, Crawford. Scottish Romanticism, Evangelicalism and Robert Pollok’s The Course of Time (1827). Romanticism, Volume 21, Issue 1. Edinburgh University Press Journals. Retrieved 8 Apr. 2022, from https://www.euppublishing.com/doi/full/10.3366/rom.2015.0208

[4] Mills, A.D. A Dictionary of British Place Names Retrieved 8 Apr. 2022, from https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199609086.001.0001/acref-9780199609086

[5] The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Retrieved 8 Apr.2022, from https://www.oxforddnb.com/

Categories: Archives and Special Collections, Library, Reflections


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