A few weeks ago the Library bought a copy of the first edition of “Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-muluk” by Muhammad ibn-Jarir al-Tabari, one of the most historical and noteworthy books from the classical Arab world according to the Encyclopedia Iranica. The main reason for purchasing the book was the inclusion of a presentation sheet for Lady Charlotte Guest from the Oriental Translation Fund, which was attached to one of the first pages of the book. This illustrates the respect and admiration which scholars of the eastern languages had for Guest.
Lady Charlotte Guest married Josiah John Guest, the Merthyr Tydfil M.P. and the Master of Dowlais Ironworks. The iron works flourished and quickly increased in size to employ seven thousand people, the largest iron works in the world. Lady Charlotte took great interest in the day to day running of the business, including publishing a pamphlet explaining the technicalities of the use of a hot blast. She travelled widely with her husband within Britain and Europe and contributed to meetings with scientists such as Charles Babbage. She also had her own room in the company’s London office. After her husband’s death she became responsible for the business.
After learning middle Welsh and studying medieval Welsh history under the Reverends Evan Jenkin, Thomas Price (Carnhuanawc) and John Jones (“Tegid Jones”), Lady Charlotte became famous for copying and translating eleven books from the Red Book of Hergest. These were the four tales of the Mabinogi, three Arthurian Romances and four other tales. She also translated the “The book of Taliessin”, a middle Welsh manuscript. She was inspired by studying works of the Romantic revelation and the works of William Owen Pughe. By researching, she noticed the influences and the mythological ideas which were woven into the Mabinogi.
It is a sign of Charlotte Guest’s ability that she succeeded to teach herself Arabic, Hebrew and Persian without the help of a teacher to guide her. The period written about in “Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-muluk” spans from the creation of the world to the period of the Prophet Shu’ayb in the Quran. It is quite possible that she drew from these writings while translating the Mabinogi. This is one of the first works published by The Oriental Translation Fund, whose admiration for the work of Lady Charlotte is clearly shown in the presentation sheet.
1. John, A., Parry-Williams, T. Guest (Schreiber), Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Bertrie (1812-1895), translator, businesswoman and collector. Available at https://biography.wales/article/s-GUES-ELI-1812#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0&manifest=https%3A%2F%2Fdamsssl.llgc.org.uk%2Fiiif%2F2.0%2F4674585%2Fmanifest.json&xywh=2285%2C1762%2C2101%2C1695
2. Bromwich, R. The Mabinogion and Lady Charlotte Guest, The Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1986, 127-41
3. John, A. Schreiber [néeBertie; other married name Guest], Lady Charlotte Elizabeth. Available at https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-24832?rskey=aApn10&result=2 (Accessed 16 October 2021)
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