Join Our Mailing List

+44 (0) 1590 624 455

Kelsall, Charles

Phantasm of an university: with prolegomena.

London, White, Cochrane & Co. 1814.

Reference: 13585
Price: £4,500.00 [convert currency]

Full Description

4to. (8) + 174 + (2)pp, engraved frontispiece (statue of a seated male figure), 4 engraved portraits on 2ff, engraved aquatint view of site of villa of Cicero at Arpinum, 2 engraved maps, large folding engraved ground plan of design for an University, and 14 large folding engraved plates (numbered I-XIV) showing the University buildings in elevation and section, also a few engraved text ills. Contemporary full panelled calf, gilt and blind stamped, with two minor losses of surface from lower cover, very neatly rebacked with matching spine. Some light spotting and offsetting on the folding ground plan and plates, as always, but otherwise a very good, clean copy.

A remarkable discussion about, and design for, an ideal university by the Eton and Cambridge educated intellectual and amateur architect Charles Kelsall (1782-1857). The book is a work in two halves, the first comprising a critical essay on the contemporary higher education system, the second consisting of plans and views of Kelsall’s dream college layout. A classical scholar, Kelsall bases most of his arguments concerning education on Greek and Roman examples, and intends the buildings of his ideal university to be predominantly in the then fashionable Doric style, although some faculty buildings are Roman-inspired, and some Saxon and Norman (“a corruption of the Roman”). To give an appropriately different architectural character to each part of the university complex, Kelsall copies an Ionic column from one ancient building, a Corinthian from another, or a bit of Venetian and a bit of Norman and so on, with some of the results unsurprisingly eccentric (Kelsall was of the opinion that “too servile an imitation of Grecian architecture” would prevent architectural progress). The university complex was to comprise a core of faculty buildings (six colleges: civil polity and languages, fine arts, agriculture and manufactures, natural philosophy, moral philosophy and mathematics), bounded on either side by a large grove, with meandering streams and a colonnade surrounding the University Press and a number of fountains “as in the square of St. Peter’s at Rome”, and a large botanic garden with an observatory and a menagerie. In addition Kelsall provides plans for a university church (the design derived from Rheims cathedral), a Norman chapel attached to the College of Mathematics, plus a number of statues of philosophers and educative friezes. For each part of the complex he goes into details on the origins of the style he has chosen, and every column seems to be derived from some great building of antiquity, while he also shows knowledge of recent classical buildings in St. Petersburg by the architect Thomas de Thomon, which Kelsall had seen on a visit to Russia in 1807. This stylistic ambition, along with the size of the project, made construction of it prohibitively expensive and Kelsall estimates that the building costs would run to £5,000,000. Although the design was never built, Kelsall’s scheme may have had some influence on William Wilkins’ Greek Revival design of 1827-9 for University College, London, which although not on the same scale nor as ideally planned as Kelsall’s design (or Wilkins’s own previous ground-breaking campus design for Downing College, Cambridge) incorporated such features as classical statues and an observatory, and was also founded on liberal and enlightened principles.A letter also survives in which James Madison, fourth President of the United States, thanks Kelsall for sending him a copy of the present title, and remarks that some of the features of the intended buildings for the University of Virginia “bear a miniature likeness to the magnificent model which you have designed and delineated”. For the book’s context in contemporary architectural history and theory see the admiring discussion of Kelsall (“this strangely forgotten neo-classical genius”) and his literary output by David Watkin in his book, Thomas Hope 1769-1831 and the Neo-Classical Idea, 1968, pp 70-82.When in 2001 we first had a copy of this title through our hands, no copy of it had ever featured in Book Auction Records, and it is clear that only a very limited number of copies of it were printed and distributed. The present copy is much the best of the three copies that we have now handled (which we believe to be the only copies that have materialised in the book trade over this period). BAL Cat 1649 (the BAL copy lacks one plate).