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Rare books and special collections: Cornell Collection

Special Collections : Cornell

The Cornell Collection

This collection of French books was previously held by the University of Adelaide, was donated to the Central Coast campus and is currently held in the Archives, Rare Books and Special Collections (now Special Collections) of the Auchmuty Library. These books, or the majority of them, are signed 'J.G.Cornell' on the flyleaf. It is noted that some books held in the collection, as it stands at the present, do not have the name Cornell written in them: it may be that they are simply other French texts mixed with the Cornell books: he does appear to have written his name in the books he owned.

The books are either the personal library - or, much more probably, a part of the personal library - of the late Emeritus Professor James Gladstone Cornell, M.A., Dip.Ed. (Melbourne), L.(Paris), F.A.C.E., Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Palmes Academiques, who was Professor of French at the University of Adelaide for some twenty-five years (1944-1969).

Cornell was born on the 23 October 1904, educated at Scotch College (Melbourne), the University of Melbourne and the Sorbonne in Paris. Having won the Aitcheson Travelling Scholarship from Melbourne, he undertook his Licence es Lettres at the University of Paris from 1927-1929, and returned to Australia to become Lecturer in French at the University of Melbourne from 1930 to 1937. He then went to the University of Adelaide as Lecturer-in-charge of French from1938-1943, and was appointed to the Chair in 1944. He retired in 1969 and was awarded the title of Emeritus Professor. His last Who's Who entry is dated 1991. In a recent communication, his daughter adds thathe died on the 13 January 1991, and that he was also a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur.

Cornell was a product of the 'Melbourne School' of French scholars, a generation or so of significant (Australian) figures in French Studies, usually literature specialists, who had undergone the influence and teaching of A.R.Chisholm. Alan Rowland Chisholm (known as 'Alec' Chisholm, but not to be confused with Alexander Hugh Chisholm, editor-in-chief of the Australian Encyclopaedia) was a remarkable academic and writer, best known to the general public for his book Men Were My Milestones. He was a man who in his lifetime (1888 to ca.1978) received many honours - O.B.E., Hon.D.Litt., Officier de la Legion d'Honneur, Knight of the Italian Republic, F.A.H.A. - though he did not possess a higher degree. His two degrees were B.A.(Sydney) and B.A.(Melbourne). At Sydney, he had been taught by or perhaps had been a colleague of, Christopher Brennan (who of course had corresponded with Mallarme), and along with John Quinn, Chisholm was to edit the Collected Work of C.J.Brennan. He also wrote a major book The Art of Arthur Rimbaud and smaller but highly influential monographs on Mallarme's L'Apres-midi d'un Faune and Valery's La Jeune Parque. [A signed copy of the latter is in the Cornell collection.]

Chisholm, who had served in the A.I.F. during World War I, began his academic career as Lecturer in Modern Languages at Sydney Teachers' College, but ended up as Professor of French at the University of Melbourne where he held the Chair for thirty-six years (1921-1957). During that time, he 'formed' many distinguished French scholars who went on to Chairs in the U.S.A. (e.g. James Lawler - whose book Lecture de Valery : Une Etude de 'Charmes' is in the Cornell collection, personally inscribed to James Cornell) or to Chairs in the U.K. (e.g. Lloyd J.Austin, who became Professor of French at Cambridge). Cornell was probably the teacher of both of these scholars, who would have been at Melbourne before he (Cornell) left for Adelaide.

There are several points of interest in the Cornell collection. For one thing, it contains a number of books which are valuable in their own right: an example is a first edition (1931) of Paul Valery's Regards sur le monde actuel, which I suspect would fetch a high price in France. In the second place, it is very much a scholar's library, being in some cases carefully annotated by Cornell himself : he points out where he disagrees, where the author has failed to take into account an article or book on the subject being discussed, or where there is a comparison to be made with some other author's views, etc. I should dearly love to have the time to write an article on the collection in terms of what it shows about Cornell and his scholarship : there would certainly, in my opinion, be sufficient material for an article or even potentially an M.A. thesis in a study of the annotations and other material (e.g. newspaper articles strategically placed, etc.) in the books.

A further point of interest, as mentioned above, lies in the books which have been presented to Cornell by their authors (Chisholm and Lawler already mentioned, but also Gardner Davies who was a further product of the Melbourne school and a significant Mallarme scholar) : interestingly, Cornell noted in one of Davies' books that he [Davies] had gone on to write another book (Mallarme et la 'couche suffisante d'intelligibilite') in 1988; this suggests that Cornell (a) was still very intellectually active even at the age of 84, and (b) had kept his personal library in his possession - presumably at home - until his death in the early 1990s.

Finally, of course, the Cornell collection - despite its apparent lack of relevance to the University of Newcastle - makes a most interesting addendum, as it were, to the Hartley collection and to the collection of the French magazine L'Illustration dating from the 1930s which was acquired by us thanks to the Friends of the University. Cornell was some five years older than Hartley, and was in Paris in the late 20s whereas Hartley was there in the early 30s; but they were still, broadly, of the same generation. It is curious that Cornell, with only a French Licence (i.e. a Bachelor's degree) could be appointed to a Lectureship in Melbourne in 1930, whereas Hartley with a full Doctorat could not obtain an academic post and had to wait until 1957 for an appointment at Newcastle University College. Both, however, became Professores Emeriti in the same year (1969).

Future scholars undertaking research in fields such as History of Education who looked through the Hartley Collection would find it fascinating to compare (and perhaps contrast) the Cornell Collection. The difference between Hartley and Cornell, both as persons and as scholars, is very considerable indeed : yet both, in one sense, embodied a conception of scholarship and scholarly activity (often, not at all oriented towards publication) which I believe the University as an institution is fast losing, and has possibly lost - perhaps forever. Let us hope, at least, that we can keep its memory alive by cherishing our Special Collections.

Professor of French
May 1997
With additions from Christine Cooper, nee Christine Cornell, daughter of Professor Jim Cornell, October 2006.