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RESTORATION OF OUR PICTURES

(1) BRYAN ROBINSON

ONE OF OUR PICTURES
WITH SOME NOTES ON BOOKS RELATING TO IT

Bryan Robinson (1680-1754), the son of a Yorkshireman, was closely connected with the College of Physicians (Ireland) and Dr Steevens’ Hospital in Dublin. A follower of Isaac Newton’s ideas, he was also a prolific author who interested himself in the Edward Worth’s library. He was three times President of the College – in 1718, 1727, and finally in 1739. In 1729, when the Irish Parliament passed the Act which settled the establishment of Dr Steevens’s Hospital, Robinson was among the named governors (as distinct from ex officio ones.) He held the office of Physician at the Hospital between 1733 and 1741. He died on 26 January 1754.

portrait sample

Much of Robinson’s writings was published after 1733, the date of Worth’s death and the accepted terminus for accession to the Library. The hand-written Catalogue (dated 1730 – see Our Catalogue) contains entries for seven items by Robinson published between 1725 and 1743, three of these appearing after Worth’s books were moved from his Dublin home to Dr Steevens’s Hospital. The most interesting among the books are two editions of essentially the same work – A Treatise of the Animal Oeconomy (Dublin: published by and for George Grierson at the Two Bibles in Essex-street, 1732) and A Treatise of the Animal Oeconomy, the Second Edition, with Additions (Dublin: printed by S. Powell for George Ewing at the Angel and Bible, and William Smith at the Hercules, Booksellers in Dame’s-street, 1734.

The earlier book bears an inscription on the fly-leaf ‘For Dr Worth’. The late Vincent Kinane was of opinion that it was bound (in contemporary lightly-sprinkled calf) in Dublin probably at the Grierson Bindery. The boards are undecorated. The spine is ‘dark stained and the compartments are gold-tooled using flower, thistle and crown tools in a cruciform pattern, separated saltire-wise by diagonal fillets; red goat label.’

The later of the two is rather less elaborately bound by Joseph Leathley’s Binder in Dublin, the calf leather is more heavily sprinkled, and the spine ornamentation uses much gilt. A green silk page-marker is preserved. In addition to its Worth Library shelf-mark, the front paste-down bears an earlier (and cancelled) shelf-mark consistent with the Worth system but not necessarily relating to it.

If, as the inscription suggests, Robinson gave Edward Worth a copy of the Treatise in its first edition, there is a strong case to be for seeing the presence of the second edition as the author’s further endeavour to preserve the expanding account of his work and its reception within the emergent Worth Library. Though the title-page date (1734) might persuade us that this gift was made within less than two years of Worth’s death, in fact the second edition ‘with additions’ cannot have been issued before 1737. A second edition was advertised in Faulkner’s Dublin Journal for 12 October 1734, but it is striking that no copy of this made its made into the Worth Library.

Several years later, Robinson published A Dissertation on the Aether of Sir Issac Newton (Dublin: printed by S. Powell for Geo. Ewing and Wil. Smith, Booksellers in Dame-street, 1743), a copy of which sits on the Worth Library shelves alongside the Treatise.

Robinson’s most enduring work was his edition of Richard Helsham’s A Course of Lectures in Natural Philosophy (Dublin: printed by R. Reilly, at the University Press and sold by G. Risk, G. Ewing, and W. Smith, Booksellers in Dame-street, 1739). Helsham (c. 1683-1738) was for some years Jonathan Swift’s physician. A copy of this substantial work is also to be found in the Worth Library, with evidence of its having been carefully read.

From these presences on the shelves, it is clear that Robinson, while a Governor and Physician at Dr Steevens’s Hospital took an active, even interventionary, interest in the Worth Library. It is fitting that his portrait should be among the first to be restored in 2005.

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