St James’s Place (Westminster)

Diplomat Wilhelm Philipp Best was born in Hanover in 1712, but he spent most of his working life in London. After completing his studies at the University of Helmstadt, he entered the service of George II and was posted to the Hanoverian legation in London in 1746 where he remained until about 1782. From the 1750s to the 1770s he lived at no. 6 St James’s Place.

His most significant contribution to Anglo-Hanoverian relations during his long residence in London was as the representative of the University of Göttingen, the Hanoverian ‘national’ university (founded in 1737). He was overseeing the London side of the acquisition of books for the university’s rapidly growing library. His surviving correspondence is a crucial source for the early history of the library. By 1800 it was to become the largest single assembly of books in Europe.

Books acquired through the London book trade formed a significant proportion of the estimated 133,200 held by the library by this date. Their presence in Göttingen contributed in no small measure to the increasing awareness of English-language authors in Central and Eastern Europe. From about 1782, when Best appears to have retired to Hanover his role was taken over by his son Georg August Best. Wilhelm Best died in Hanover in 1785.


Franciscus Junius (1591-1677) and the Bodleian Library

François Junius 
*21.1 x 13.3 cm 

Philologist Franciscus Junius [Francis Du Jon] (1591-1677) was appointed librarian to the Earl of Arundel in 1620, becoming mentor and instructor to De Vere, Earl of Oxford, who would serve in the Dutch army from 1642 to 1646. During his stay at Arundel House he began his studies in Anglo-Saxon literature. He returned to Holland in 1650 where he published his Paraphrase of Caedmon in 1655. He also published a study on early Teutonic languages together with a fellow scholar of Anglo-Saxon, Thomas Marshall, who had been exiled from Oxford in 1648 because of his Royalist sympathies. In 1674, Junius repaired to Oxford spending his last years with his nephew Isaac Vossius, Canon of Windsor. He left his collection of books and Anglo-Saxon manuscripts along with a set of documents he had transcribed from Old English to the Bodleian Library.

Arabic manuscripts in Cambridge

Cambridge University Library has existed in some form since the beginning of the fifteenth century. The earliest catalogue is dated ca. 1424. After the magnificent library Thomas Bodley built for Oxford University during the early years of the seventeenth century, Cambridge was desperately keen to establish an institution that could rival the Bodleian. Ambitions were high, but funds hard to find. The only accessions of consequence were presentation copies from their authors (from Bacon in particular).

In 1629, linguist Abraham Wheelocke was appointed as University Librarian. He was admired for his scholarship in Anglo-Saxon studies, and, in 1632, took on the position of the first Professor of Arabic at the University (and in England). His librarianship was crucial to Cambridge. When appointed the library held barely 1,000 volumes. After his death in 1653, it owned about 12,000 books. He was active in persuading donors to present their collections, and, more importantly, in ordering and describing which books entered the library. One of the many intellectuals who donated copies of their work to the University Library was Gerardus Joannes Vossius who, in 1629, had been offered a Professorship in History by Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke.

Wheelocke assisted the university in obtaining the collection of some eighty-six oriental manuscripts assembled by Thomas Erpenius, Professor of Arabic at Leiden University. This collection had been purchased by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, in conditions of great secrecy from Thomas’s widow in 1625, with the avowed intention of presenting them to Cambridge University. Villiers was close to the Low Countries. In 1619, for example, he appointed Middelburg-born architect and art agent Balthazar Gerbier as keeper of his outstanding York House picture collection. The impressive Erpenius-legacy was finally presented to Cambridge by the widowed Duchess in June 1632. It contained a wide variety of Eastern manuscripts, mainly Arabic but also Turkish, Persian, Hebrew, Syriac, Coptic, and Javanese, and included five of the oldest Malay manuscripts in existence. Previous to that magnificent acquisition, Cambridge possessed only a single Arabic manuscript. Leiden put Cambridge on the map of Eastern learning.

Collecting Elzeviers (1)

By the end of the seventeenth century, Elzevier books were widely collected. The interest in the publishing dynasty never diminished. Apart from private collections, major holdings outside the Netherlands are to be found in Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and St Petersburg. Amongst book collectors, the Elzeviers were particularly popular in the Britain, especially during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sale catalogues would specifically refer to Elzevier in their listings and – if there was a notable number on offer – the name was carried on the title page. Although the Elzeviers did not publish in English, they were responsible for the Latin works of a number of English and Scottish authors. By the last quarter of the seventeenth century, Elzevier books were widely available in England and such eminent figures as Sir Walter Raleigh, Robert Burton, Thomas Browne, John Milton and John Dryden had copies in their collections. As a consequence, excellent holdings are to be found in the British Library, the Bodleian Library, Cambridge University Library, and the National Library of Scotland, as well as the collection held at Senate House Library (ULL).

The origin of the excellent ULL collection is rather obscure. Archival details show that on 1 October 1900 a collection of Elzevier publications was offered to the Guildhall Library by H.A. Beaumont (sometimes recorded as H.K. Beaumont – his identity remains a mystery although there was a C.W. Beaumont, bookseller, at 75 Charing Cross Road at the beginning of the century) at a price of £50. The Library Committee accepted the offer. The collection was housed in the Guildhall. The press-marking of books was based upon Alphonse Willems’s catalogue and a set of paper title slips accompanied the collection, but no catalogue was produced. On 3 June 1946, the then Librarian reported to the Library Committee that, due to a lack of storage space, the collection should be housed elsewhere, either on permanent loan or as an outright gift. Subsequently, part of the collection was given to the University of London which was formally acknowledged by a letter from the Chairman of the University Court to the Librarian, dated 14 July 1950. The complete collection of Elzeviers is searchable on line.

Henry Batman (d. 1571) and the Corpus Christi College library

Zwolle-born Henry Batman (d.1571) left Holland in 1543 and settled in Somerset. One of his eight sons was Stephan Batman [Stephen Bateman] (c.1542-1584), a Church of England clergyman and author, who became a member of Archbishop Matthew Parker’s household. Batman was a great collector of books, even trying to save ‘papisticall’ publications from the destructive hands of Protestant zealots. He claimed to have collected 6,700 books for Parker, who subsequently gave some of those to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Batman also collected and annotated some twenty-three medieval manuscripts for himself, including texts by Chaucer and Middle English religious literature. Batman’s own publications demonstrate a wide range of interest and a moral impulse towards Protestant edification. He enjoyed a high reputation among contemporary scholars for his work. His Golden Booke of the Leaden Goddess (1577) in which he describes and identifies the symbols of ancient art, is the first handbook of iconography printed in English. His major contribution to late Elizabethan literature was his ability to demonstrate how to use images and concepts derived from either medieval piety or pagan antiquity without compromising Protestant teaching.

Books, wine, and tolerance

The two houses at no. 106 and 107 in High Street, Oxford, originally formed one large tenement known as Tackley’s Inn. It is one of the few examples of a medieval academic hall that has survived. Until the sixteenth century undergraduates and most graduates lived not in colleges, but in similar academic halls which were scattered over the university cities. This was the first piece of property that Adam de Brome acquired when he set to found Oriel College in Oxford. By the mid-fifteenth century the property had been divided into two parts. The western half was Tackley’s Inn proper (also known as Buckley Hall), which consisted of a dining-hall; the eastern half was known the college tavern, the taberna nostra. In 1549, the hall and shops in front were leased to Garbrand Harkes, who sold books from the ground floor and wine from the vaulted cellar. He had been dealing in business in Oxford since 1539. The family remained in business for over a century (1677 to be precise).

Gar­brand Harkes [later Herks Garbrand] was a Protestant refugee from the Low Countries. He was active in rescuing medieval manuscripts from the destruction of monasteries in the time of Edward VI’s commissioners. Manuscripts ex officina Gerbrandi biblio­polae are cited by John Bale in his Index Britanniae Scriptorum. He also saved a ‘cart load’ of books and manuscripts destined for destruction by zealots from the library of Merton College (many of which eventually ended up in the Bodleian Library). During the suppressive Catholic reign of Mary, Buckley Hall became a ‘receptacle for the chiefest Protestants’ who worshipped in the cellar. In the reign of Elizabeth he com­bined the business of book- and wineseller. It was a highly successful family-business, most of his numerous sons and grandsons becoming booksellers, dons, and prebendaries.