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Ancient manuscripts - Introduction to the catalogue 2

Sir Roger Mynors: Catalogue of the Manuscripts of Balliol College Oxford, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963.

c. Oxford University Press 1963. Reproduced with permission.


4. The Later History of the Collection

With the installation of Gray's books in the College library as extended by Abdy, the collection of manuscripts reaches its zenith, and there is little more to add. Robert Abdy himself, who died in 1483, gave three fifteenth-century English books: MS 81, a Destructorium Vitiorum written in 1475; MS 92, Walter Burley on the De anima with Oxford pledge-notes of 1470-6; and MS 186, Albertus Magnus on St Matthew. William Worcester, the antiquary [1], presented MS 124, an autograph of John Free, perhaps the first volume whose acquisition was prompted not merely by its utility but by what we should nowadays call 'association.' William Appleby, who had been given a living by Gray and was bequeathed a piece of silver by Abdy, and who died before April 1498 as vicar of Norton-on-Tees and of St Oswald's Durham [2], gave a volume of Sermons, now at Antwerp (MS Plantin-Moretus 57). John Burton, who died a year later, gave MS 141, Boethius De consolatione philosophiae. The date of Robert Norman's bequest of the Aristotle, now at Cambridge [3], is uncertain. And that is all I know; for the copy of St Augustine on the Psalter is bequeathed by Thomas Cisson, Master of Balliol 1512-18, which is entered as a manuscript in the library Donors Book, is now in the Bodleian (pressmark 7.Q.2.29), and is in fact a printed book (Proctor 8807; GKW 2908). So no doubt was the Summa predicantium bequeathed by Thomas Harrop, rector of Haseley and Stoke Talmage (Oxon.), in his will dated 22 December 1521, to Master John Aston 'so that he do gyue it afor his death to Balyoll College.' [4]

The major operation of replacing manuscript by print, which can perhaps be followed in some detail in one or two Oxford colleges, has left in Balliol no trace. [5] The campaign of rebuilding did not finally spend itself until the third decade of the sixteenth century with the completion of the new chapel; but the future was already uncertain, funds were never very plentiful, and it is likely that under the ex officio control of the senior dean, to whom it was entrusted by Bishop Foxe's new statutes of 1507, the library vegetated until the upheavals associated with the changes in religion.

Fortunately before the troubles there were one or two visitors who recorded a certain number of volumes that were to be lost soon afterwards. It was probably in the early thirties of the century that John Leland the antiquary went the round of many libraries, noting down titles of works in manuscript that he thought worth preseving, and in his collectanea he lists more than 150 from Balliol. [6] Eighty extant volumes can be identified, leaving nearly forty titles which are no longer to be found. About the middle of the century, when John Bale was collecting materials for his Index Britanniae Scriptorum [7], he seems to have listed about twenty-five surviving volumes, and perhaps as many as ten which have disappeared. These lost titles put on record by Leland and Bale will be found below in Appendix B; Appendix A contains those books which are known to have strayed in the course of the sixteenth century to other libraries, we know not how: five to Antwerp, one by way of the Jesuits of Louvain to Brussels, one to Douai; four to Cambridge; [8] one to the Royal Library at Westminster, and one to Lambeth Palace; five to the Bodleian.

Four of the Bodleian volumes were borrowed and never returned by Thomas James, Bodley's first librarian, and this fate was always liable to befall books which a complaisant custodian might allow some scholar to take away. Elmenhorst tried (in vain) to get Gray's Tertullian (MS 79) sent to Hamburg in 1621. [9] The big Abelard (MS 296) spent many years in the hands of an Oxford antiquary, Henry Jackson (1586-1662), fellow of Corpus Christi College [10] and was nearly snapped up by Sir Robert Cotton, as the following letter shows, written to Jackson by Thomas James' nephew Richard, who became Cotton's librarian about 1624, some seven years before Cotton died.

Good Mr Iackson it lies in your power to doe me a singular favour and your self no harme if you wilbe pleased to send up unto Sr Robert Cotton your Abelard which will heere be presebed with honour, and is allready lost to Bailioll College, whither if it returne, it must perish assuredly, wherefore my Uncle borrowed somme of their MS and gave them to the Universitie librarie. Pray will you like his charitable exemple, and doe goodnesse and courtesie together, for which I shall ever rest

Your more obliged friend
Rich : James

(Postscript) If you desire any caution or printed books for an exchange, Sr Robert will gladly please and thancke you with yether. Nil mihi rescribas, attamen per amicitiam nostram ipse veniat Abelardus, meque ipsi, teque itrisque reddat chariorem. Fac denique ut gaudeat ipsa Abelardi anima percupiens videre libros suos in mostrum thesaurum cum principibus includi. Salvere vos meumque Paraeum iubet vester cordatissimus amicus iterum iterumque. [11]

In the same way, MS 229 was for some time on loan to James Ussher, archbishop of Armagh, and was reclaimed by Langbaine in 1652, only three years before the archbisho's death.

Three catalogues shew, however, how little has been lost since the opening of the seventeenth century:

(1) Thomas James, in his Ecloga Oxonio-Cantabrigiensis (London, 1600), lists 260 survivors from the medieval library, and his order is, at any rate in the main, that inwhich they then lay on the library lecterns. This we know from the notes of Richard Symonds, who visited the library in 1643/4, and saw 'Neare the entrance into the library... eight severall Formes for bookes all filled with very antient Large Vast manuscripts in parchment.' He then notes nearly a score of the volumes that lay on the 'First Stall right hand coming in,' [12] and this group, which he saw lying together, is entered together near the end of Thomas James' inventory.

(2) The Donors Book, drawn up with care about 1630, is followed by the unfinished but wholly admirable catalogue of Gerard Langbaine (1609-58), provost of Queen's College, of which the autograph is now in the Bodleian, MS Wood donat. 4 (8617). [13] In the College library is a transcript by a Mr Davies, which cost 6 guineas in 1743-4 and 2s. for the binding. This, which never was printed, covers 230 items, in their modern order, and was in fact as far as it goes the basis of Coxe's later catalogue, as Coxe, had his book allowed of a preface, would no doubt have acknowledged. No one can work with Langbaine in front of him without very great admiration for his intelligence and his determination.

(3) In 1698 appeared the Catalogi librorum MStorum Angliae et Hiberniae (Oxford, 1697) edited by Edward bernard, in which pp.6-11 of the second part list 319 manuscripts in Balliol [14]. Bernard, or his assistants, found the manuscripts provided with new pressmarks, consisting of a letter and number, to which they added a running number of their own; and this is an indication that Thomas James' arrangement had been abandoned, with a major change in the organization of the library: at some date of which we have no record, the medieval lecterns had been swept away, and shelving introduced.

A generation later, in the years 1724-7, came another major alteration in the physical condition of the books: a wholesale campaign of rebinding, carried out at a cost of nearly 50 pounds by one Ned Doe. The uniform cheap rough calf which has replaced all the medieval bindings without exception is not attractive; but the condition of many fly-leaves and an occasional note by Langbaine suggest that the old boars were in poor condition, and at least Doe preserved almost all the old guard-leaves, which even twentieth-century college binders elsewhere have been known to throw away. The last mention of chaining in the library accounts falls in the year 1767-8, and an entry under 1791-2 'From Stone the Smith for old iron and brass' probably marks the ending of the practice altogether. Only some two years later the architect James Wyatt was called in to effect the major reconstruction of the room built by Chace and Abdy, which left it very much as it is today.

Of the history of the collection itself there is not much more to record. The increased number of items in Bernard's inventory as against his predecessors indicates that the process has already begun of more or less haphazard accretion, by which most colleges have added to their earlier possessions a small penumbra or tail of miscellaneous manuscripts: at one end of the scale perhaps real treasures collected by some bibliophile benefactor; at the other, sermons and lecture-notes found on the study-table of some deceased fellow, who might have been the first to protest against their being given this brief measure of immortality. Balliol is no exception to the rule. A few Arabic and Turkish books mark the new interest in oriental studies in oxford from the end of the seventeenth century onwards. George Coningesby, a herefordshire antiquary who died in 1768, left a few books of unexpected interest to the medieval historian. And lately there have arrived a certain number of most welcome pieces in the autograph of some of those eminent persons who have made a new name for their ancient College in modern times.

But before this happens, in January 1849, we find the Revd Henry Octavius Coxe at work upon the new catalogue, in the order of langbaine's, which was published in the first part of his Catalogus codicum MSS qui in Collegiis Aulisque Oxoniensibus hodie adservantur (Oxford, 1852). Coxe's catalogue was part of a great undertaking, performed under difficulties; there were almost no works of reference in those days, and he would start work in a cold library at six in the morning in order not to trench upon his duties as a member of the Bodleian staff. It has done good service for over a century, and if the same may eventually be said of this, the first, attempt to supplant it, one could wish for no higher praise.

[1] On him see KB McFarlane in Studies presented to Sir Hilary Jenkinson ed. J. Conway Davies (Oxford, 1957), 196 221.

[2] Emden i. 42.

[3] Above, p. xxxix.

[4] Bodleian Library, Oxfordshire Wills, series vol. 3, folios 151v-4v (I owe this reference to Miss DM Barratt).

[5] See Mr NR Ker's 'Oxford College Libraries in the Sixteenth Century' (Bodleian Library Record vi (1959) 459-515). In his Pastedowns in Oxford Bindings (Oxford Bibliographical Society Publications, new series, v, 1951/2) he has shown that between (say) 1520 and 1570 it is exceptional to find a volume bound in Oxford the covers of which are not lined with leaves of a parchment MS. The Mapheus Vegius we have ascribed to Bole was one of these victims.

[6] Vol. iii, pp.58-62 according to the pagination of the autograph in the Bodleian Library, given in the margin of Thomas Hearne's econd edition of 1774, which I have used. Hearne's transcription is very accurate. The lost titles are given below in Appendix B. (p.385).

[7] Bodleian MS Selden supra 64 (3452), edited at Oxford in 1902 by Rl Poole and Mary Bateson. For the compiler see Wt Davies, A Bibliography of John Bale (Oxf. Bibl. Soc. proceedings and Papers, v, 1936/9).

[8] Three of these are nos. 67, 72 and 100 in the 1556/7 catalogue of Cambridge University Library, edited by JCT Oates and HL Pink in the Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society i (1952) 310-40.

[9] J. Kemke, Patricius Junius (Sammlung Bibliothekswissenschaftlicher Arbeiten, ed. K. Dziatzko, 12 Heft, Leipzig, 1898) 44.

[10] Reporting his death in June 1662 as rector of Meyseyhampton in Gloucestershire, his cousin Anthony Wood says of him: 'He had completed all Peter Aebealard's his Ethicka out of Sir Robert Cotton's library; but when the war came and he began to dote the designe failed... He was an excellent Scholman.' So Life and Times of Anthony Wood. ed. A Clark. i (OHS xix, 1891) 441.

[11] Bodleian MS Tanner 75, f.34. Richard James was more successful at Jesus College; see CJ Fordyce and TM Knox in Oxf. Bibl. Soc. v.ii. 57-58.

[12] Collectanea iv (OHS xlvii, 1905) 119.

[13] A page of the original is reproduced in Wood's Life and Times iv (OHS xxx, 1895), plate vi. On Longbaine's work see RW Hunt in the Bodleian Summary Catalogue of Western MSS i (1953) xviii-xxv.

[14] Bernard's work is discussed by Hunt, op. cit. xxv-xxxv. The College bought a copy a year after publication in sheets for £1. 5s. and spent 3s. 6d. on binding it.

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