Tag Archives: Isaac Newton

In dog-eared pursuit of Isaac Newton’s library

I am very pleased to announce the discovery of another book which we believe to have come from the library of Isaac Newton. Our copy of The Paschal or Lent-Fast apostolical & perpetual by Peter Gunning (London, 1662) is the third volume we’ve found in our stacks (so far) with a connection to the illustrious scientist. As in the case of our first discovery, it all began with a couple of bookplates. 

Shortly after Isaac Newton’s death, his entire library was purchased for £300 by a local prison warden named John Huggins. Not an especially scholarly man himself, he had acquired the books for his son Charles who had recently become rector at Chinnor in Oxfordshire. On the books’ arrival at the rectory, Charles Huggins’ armorial bookplate (which can be seen here) was pasted into each volume.

bookplates

James Musgrave’s bookplate, with Charles Huggins’ bookplate faintly visible underneath.

When Charles died in 1750, the benefice of Chinnor went to Dr. James Musgrave, who was an acquaintance (and later, son-in-law) of Charles’ older brother William. Along with the patronage, Huggins sold the contents of the library to Musgrave, who placed his own bookplate bearing the motto “Philosophemur” on top of, or occasionally beside the Huggins bookplate.

The books remained in the Musgrave family for several generations, but by the end of the 18th century, their association with Newton appears to have been forgotten. When the family experienced financial difficulties in the 1920s, hundreds of the books were sold at auction and scattered around the world. 

So on Wednesday afternoon when I sat down to catalogue this rather unassuming quarto and saw a bookplate with the motto “Philosophemur” and the shadow of another armorial bookplate underneath, I began to get rather excited. 

title page

The Paschal or Lent-Fast apostolical & perpetual by Peter Gunning (London, 1662), with James Musgrave’s “Philosophemur” bookplate on the pastedown.

There was still plenty of work to be done before I felt comfortable announcing that we’d found another Newton book though. The presence of both the Musgrave and Huggins bookplates is generally accepted as proof that a book previously belonged to Isaac Newton. However, Charles Huggins would also have placed his bookplate in any books he purchased after acquiring Newton’s library, so the bookplates alone are not an absolute guarantee.

Fortunately for us, the 1727 purchase was accompanied by a list of titles included in the sale, commonly called he “Huggins list”. The original manuscript still survives in the collections of the British Library and its contents have been published in The library of Isaac Newton by John Harrison. Short of Newton’s own handwriting, inclusion on the Huggins list is the most definitive form of proof that a book came from his library. Unfortunately for us, The Paschal or Lent-Fast does not appear on that list.

This isn’t quite as damning as it sounds, however. Thanks to a detailed inventory of Newton’s possessions which was conducted shortly after his death, we know that his library held 1,896 printed volumes, along with an unspecified number of pamphlets. The Huggins list includes 969 separate titles comprising 1,442 volumes, but also several vague entries for groups of books, such as “3 Dozen” or “About a hundred & half”. It’s entirely possible that our volume belonged to one of those blanket entries.

ownership inscription

Our volume has inscriptions on the title page, but not in Newton’s hand.

Without a matching entry on the Huggins list, I would need to look for evidence left by Newton himself, such as marginalia in Newton’s own hand. The only ink markings on our volume are an earlier ownership inscription on the title page (“Th: Ch:”) and a price (“pr: 4s 6d”) in what appears to be the same hand, suggesting that Newton bought the book second-hand.

He did have a habit of marking his books in another way though. Several of Newton’s books have dog-eared corners, and not just with small, neat, page-marking folds. He would fold over large portions of pages so that the corner pointed to a particular word or passage on the page. (You can read more about Newton’s dog-ears here.) While all of the leaves in our volume are currently unfolded, I noticed while checking the book’s signature statement that I could just make out the shadow of a crease on several leaves, showing that they had once been dog-eared in a manner very much like what’s described in the link above. Without an entry on the Huggins list or Isaac Newton’s own handwriting in the margins, it’s impossible to be 100% certain of the book’s origins, but between the dog-eared pages and the bookplate evidence, it seems reasonably likely that our copy did, in fact, come from Newton’s library.

dog-ears

The corners of several pages show signs of having been folded in the past.

As I mentioned earlier, The Paschal or Lent-Fast is the third book we’ve found bearing both the Huggins and Musgrave bookplates. Our first discovery came in 2012 when my predecessor Ken Gibb traced the history of our copy of Myographia Nova by John Browne (London, 1698) by means of the two bookplates on the front pastedown of the volume. The second volume to come to light was Meteorologicorum libri sex by Libert Froidmont (Oxford, 1639), also catalogued in 2012. A fourth volume, The works of that learned and judicious divine, Mr. Richard Hooker (London, 1676), has Musgrave’s bookplate but not Huggins’, suggesting that it may have been a later addition to the Musgrave family library. All four volumes come from the Cardiff Rare Books Collection, which Cardiff University purchased from Cardiff City Council in 2010.

When much of the Musgrave family library was auctioned off in 1920, its association with Newton was long forgotten and the books sold at bargain prices, the majority of them in lots cof several books bundled together as “Theology (Old)” or “Books (various)”. In 1927, Richard de Villamil published an article in The Bookman entitled “The tragedy of Sir Isaac Newton’s Library” tracing the connection between the Musgraves and Newton. After the article’s publication, the value of books bearing both the Huggins and Musgrave bookplates skyrocketed. 

booksellers note

A bookseller’s note in Myographia nova reads, “A fine Copy with brilliant impression of the portrait by White.”

Both Myographia nova and Meteorologicorum libri sex have their purchase prices written in pencil on the front pastedowns (£5-10-10 for  and £1-15, respectively) and neither seems astronomically high. For comparison, a 1655 edition of Euclid which sold for five shillings in 1920 was offered for sale at £500 the following year after the scribbles in its margins were identified as Newton’s own hand (see Harrison, p. 51-52). Our copy of Myographia nova has a bookseller’s note describing it as a “fine Copy” but with no mention of Newton anywhere, suggesting that it was sold before the publication of de Villamil’s article in 1927.

In the early 1920s, the Cardiff Public Library was still actively building its rare book collection, so it is not inconceivable that more books from the Musgrave auction may have ended up in their stacks. Given that a significant portion of the Cardiff Rare Books Collection has not yet been fully catalogued, I can’t help but wonder how many more of Newton’s books might be there, waiting to be uncovered.

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The Cardiff Rare Books Project: historical highlights and favourite finds

IMG_9828The Cardiff Rare Books Collection, acquired by Cardiff University in 2010, includes 14,000 rare and early printed books and pamphlets dating from the 15th to the 20th century. Before arriving here, the collection had been in storage for decades and had never been comprehensively catalogued. The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation kindly agreed to fund a specialist rare books cataloguer to work on the collection over a three year period and I happily took up the role in June 2011. The Cardiff Rare Books Project began with the aim of cataloguing as much of the collection as possible, uncovering hidden treasures and making them accessible to scholars and the general public alike.

Cardiff’s incunabula (books printed before 1501)

During the course of the project, almost five and a half thousand records have been added to the library catalogue and numerous exciting discoveries have ???????????????????????????????been made. The library’s cataloguing team and I have been able to provide access to one of the finest collections of private press books in the UK, as well as a remarkable collection of annotated Restoration dramas which are already attracting considerable interest from researchers. Our 178 incunabula, some of them printed as early as 1470, have been fully described and accurately recorded for the first time.

With so many wonderful discoveries made during the project (many of which I have been able to blog about here), it is hard to pick favourites but a few very special items do come to mind.

Duodo

Pietro Duodo’s copy of “Amadis de Gaula” (1582), bound in the olive-brown leather for literary works

I love the story behind the beautiful Duodo bindings I found very early on in the project. These two little volumes were intended to be part of a gentleman’s travelling library for Pietro Duodo (1554-1611), Venetian ambassador to Paris in the late 16th century. The books were sent to a Parisian bindery to be luxuriously bound in gilt-tooled morocco leather, colour-coded by subject and incorporating Duodo’s arms and motto (“She whom I await with longing will not elude me”), but the ambassador never returned to collect his library; suddenly and unexpectedly recalled to Venice, Duodo was forced to leave his beloved books behind.

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You never know what you might find when you pull a book of the shelf in the rare books stack and on a few occasions I was delighted to discover paintings on the fore-edges of books I retrieved for cataloguing. We are lucky to have two examples of the fore-edge paintings produced by John T. Beer, a successful businessman and  book collector who turned to fore-edge painting after his retirement. Beer selected books from his own collection to be decorated and, as with our examples, he often took inspiration from texts themselves.

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Our “Newton book” certainly deserves its place on any list of favourite finds. On opening a copy of John Browne’s Myographia Nova (1698) I discovered two unidentified bookplates together with other evidence of former owners. With a little detective work, I was able to trace all the previous owners and follow the book back into the library of the renowned scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, whose books were dispersed and lost after his death. The discovery of this volume led to an unprecedented level of media interest for Cardiff Special Collections and our rare books. Articles and photographs appeared in national newspapers and I was rushed off to be interviewed live on BBC Radio Wales, an unusual experience indeed for a rare books cataloguer!

A woodcut of me, hard at work on the collection – a cataloguer’s work is never done!

IMG_9467Last but not least, I have had enormous fun rummaging through the collection trying to track down as many manicules as humanly possible. I find these little pointing fingers, created by or for readers to mark noteworthy passages, endlessly fascinating and I have always been delighted to discover new and surprising variations in our early books. I am sure there are many, many more out there.

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I will shortly be moving on to work with an even larger and hopefully equally Smileyinteresting collection at Lambeth Palace Library, as the new cataloguer of the Sion College Collection. The SCOLAR blog will keep going strong as library staff continue to work with the Cardiff Rare Books Collection and share their exciting discoveries. We can be certain there is much more to be revealed about these fascinating books.

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Discovery of a long-lost book from the library of Sir Isaac Newton in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection

When I set out to learn more about the provenance of one of our rare books, I could not have predicted the twists and turns that would lead directly to the library of one of the world’s greatest scientists. Our copy of John Browne’s Myographia nova, or A graphical description of all the muscles in humane body was published in London in 1698. When it appeared on my desk for cataloguing I expected to find some interesting (and gory) anatomical engravings and not much else. I opened the book to reveal an unusual bookplate bearing only a Latin motto, “Philosophemur”, with no indication of the previous owner’s name. On closer examination it was apparent that this bookplate had been pasted directly over an earlier, smaller bookplate, obscuring it completely. There were two handwritten shelfmarks, one at the top left of the page, “732_24”, and one at the foot of the bookplate which reads “Case V. E.7. Barnsley.”

The “Philosophemur” bookplate with the Barnsley Park shelfmark

Intrigued by this mysterious provenance, I set out to do some detective work in the hope of identifying some of these previous owners. After a little searching I was able to determine that the “Philosophemur” bookplate originally belonged to a Dr. James Musgrave, Rector of Chinnor, near Thame in Oxfordshire. On his death, he left his library to his son, the eighth baronet Musgrave and owner of Barnsley Park, Gloucestershire, and the books were removed to the library there in 1778. Baronet Musgrave evidently did not feel the need to affix his own bookplates, but the books were recatalogued on arrival and the Barnsley shelfmark added to each volume.

The text of the Huggins bookplate is just visible through the Musgrave plate

More detective work revealed that James Musgrave originally purchased his library from his predecessor at Chinnor, a man called Charles Huggins, and it is his bookplate which is just visible beneath Musgrave’s. Although the plate is covered, the words “… in Com. Oxon” can be made out and Charles Huggins is known to have used a bookplate displaying the Huggins coat of arms with “Revd. Carols. Huggins, Rector Chinner in Com. Oxon” beneath. Huggins received his books from his father, John Huggins, Warden of the Fleet Prison, who in turn purchased the library from the estate of his neighbour, Sir Isaac Newton.

Godfrey Kneller’s portrait of Isaac Newton in 1689

Apparently when Sir Isaac Newton died in 1727, he neglected to leave a will behind and his house and all his possessions, including his extensive library, were put up for auction. John Huggins purchased the books for £300 and a list was made referring to 969 books by name, with others grouped together under miscellaneous headings (an inventory of Newton’s house recorded a total of 1,896 volumes in the library). The Musgrave library was catalogued in 1760 and our book makes an appearance as “Browne’s On the Muscles, with Cutts, 1698”. Presence on the Huggins list is commonly taken as proof that a book belonged to Newton. The Musgrave catalogue is considered less reliable as it also includes later books added by the family, however the existence of both the Huggins and Musgrave bookplates and the two shelfmarks can, according to John Harrison’s (1976) advice on identification, be taken as strong evidence that our book once stood on Newton’s shelves.

Front pastedown of the book with the bookplates and shelfmarks

The later history of Newton’s library is an extraordinary one.  As late as 1775 it was known that Musgrave owned Newton’s books, as visitors wrote about travelling to view the library, but after 1778, when Musgrave died and the books were transferred to Barnsley Park, the connection to the scientist appears to have been lost. Until 1920 it was thought that Newton’s library had simply vanished. In that year the Musgrave family decided to sell their house at Thame Park, and the “Philosophemur” books were sent over from Barnsley Park to be included in the sale. Newton’s books were sold in bundles with no indication of their importance and for a fraction of their true worth. It has long been believed that many of these books ended up in the United States, though it was feared that many more were sent to the mills for pulping, and many are still unaccounted for.

Newton in later life, by James Thornhill

Happily, not all of Newton’s books were scattered and lost in 1920. After the auction a further 858 volumes from the great scientist’s library were discovered at Barnsley Park, secreted throughout the house in cupboards and closets. This time the provenance was firmly established by Richard de Villamil and in 1943 the remaining books were purchased for the Wren Library at Trinity College, Cambridge, where Newton did so much of his remarkable work.

References:
De Villamil, R. “The tragedy of Sir Isaac Newton’s library,” The Bookman, March, 1927, 303-304
Harrison, John. “Newton’s library: Identifying the books,” Harvard Library Bulletin, Volume XXIV, October, 1976. No. 4, 395-406