Category: Manuscripts

Beasts in the University Library

By , 11 April 2014 11:22 am

Guest post by Harriet Hale, Graduate Library Trainee at Trinity College. Cambridge.

One of the great things about a traineeship in Cambridge is that, with the central cluster of departmental and college libraries as well as the public Central Library and main University Library, there always seems to be something book-related going on. For the Science Festival, 10-23rd March 2014, the University Library welcomed festivalgoers for a number of talks examining the more technical side of books, including ‘Beasts in the University Library,’ examining the creation and conservation of parchment. Continue reading 'Beasts in the University Library'»

Thomas Erpenius: an Arabist of many talents

By , 18 March 2014 4:07 pm

Portrait of Thomas van Erpe

Thomas van Erpe, or Erpenius, as he is usually known, is best remembered for his collection of Arabic manuscripts which came to the University Library following his death from the plague in 1624. These were acquired after complex and protracted negotiations involving the University Librarian, Abraham Whelock, and George Villiers the 1st Duke of Buckingham, and arrived in 1632. They formed the basis to which were added all the later Arabic manuscript collections which came to the Library in later centuries.

Erpenius was born in 1584 at Gorchum in Holland and entered the University of Leiden where he studied oriental languages. Early in his career he travelled in Europe, including a visit to Cambridge, adding to his language skills and contacting like-minded scholars including the English Arabist William Bedwell, who also became his teacher. During this time he also collected manuscripts and books relating to his studies wherever he could and which eventually grew into a notable library. On his return to Leiden he became the Professor of Arabic and spent the rest of his life in academic pursuits. But apart from his talents as a collector, what is less well-known, is that Erpenius was also a significant author in his own right and the owner of his own printing house for the production of books using Arabic script.

The early part of the seventeenth century was a time of important developments in Arabic studies in the Universities in England and in Europe; the Chair of Arabic at Cambridge was founded in 1632 and the Oxford Chair in 1636. There was also a flourishing group of Arabic scholars in Leiden of whom Erpenius was only one. Notable figures included Joseph Scaliger (1540-1609), a widely travelled scholar of the Classics and Arabic and Professor at Leiden, Franciscus Raphelengius (1539-1597), a scholar, printer and Professor of Hebrew in Leiden and Jacob Golius (1596-1667) an Arabist who was Erpenius’ most distinguished pupil. Continue reading 'Thomas Erpenius: an Arabist of many talents'»

Pricking and Pouncing: Alchemical Discoveries in Special Collections

By , 11 March 2014 4:05 pm

By Anke Timmermann, Munby Fellow in Bibliography 2013-14


CUL MS Gg.1.8, f. 78r

Dragon, man and god combined: a winged messenger of alchemy past. My recent encounter with this personification of alchemical principles in a seventeenth-century manuscript (CUL MS Gg.1.8) was certainly unexpected. Described as a ‘small quarto, on paper, written in the XVIIth century’ containing three works on alchemy, the volume seemed innocuous enough. I was forewarned that I should find ‘allegorical illustrations’, among them this ‘adaptation of an ophite [intended to mean gnostic or esoteric] emblem’.[1] But like many deceptively unassuming manuscripts in Cambridge collections, this volume proved much more intriguing.

Who is this draconic gentleman? As ‘Spiritus Mercurialis’ he would be familiar to some readers of the works of C.G. Jung, where he is reproduced from an unidentified German manuscript of 1600, a rather colourful, red-booted and black-faced version of the Cantabrigian pencil sketch. The image is used on the cover of this recent edition of Jung’s Aspects of the Masculine. To the more versed reader of early modern printed books, however, he is recognisable as an illustration from Giovanni Battista Nazari, Il metamorfosi metallico et humano (Brescia, 1564), f. 28v.[2]

The affinity between Nazari’s work and the mystical-erotic-literary Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (full text available from Project Gutenberg) has been remarked upon variously in literature.[3] This dragon/man also reminds of fabulous illustrations of the apocalypse, military technology, dream visions or unusual books of hours of the Renaissance.[4]

CUL MS Gg.1.8, f. 78v

CUL MS Gg.1.8, f. 78v

The question of what brought our alchemical messenger creature to Cambridge is intriguing, even beyond the fact that the volume, as part of the two-letter classmarked collections, has a modern binding that does not represent an original collation of its contents. Unfortunately, the origins of this leaf in CUL MS Gg.1.8 are lost, or at least not obvious. But something both noticeable and notable reveals itself upon turning over the leaf: the figure’s outline is pricked, evenly, to create a ghost image on the reverse. When the page is held up against a light the figure appears, ‘illuminated’. The purpose of this pricking is clear: in order to produce an accurate, proportionate copy of this image all one would need to do is to encourage ink or a coloured powder to transfer through these prick holes onto a surface underneath. This method, known as pouncing, has been recently described in detail in the Folger Library’s blog. In a way, then, our allegorical figure travels in the spirit of reproduction. The French annotations surrounding this holy image detail the colours to be applied to finish the copy. An early modern version of joining the dots and drawing by numbers, if you will.

How many copies were actually produced (the page is clean but forcefully drawn, perhaps to avoid abrasion during pouncing?), how accurately the colour instructions were followed, and how they made their way through France, England or indeed Germany into manuscripts that would be perused by Carl Gustav Jung is a story that awaits discovery.

[1] Catalogue of the Manuscripts preserved in the Library of the University of Cambridge by Henry Richards Luard vol. 3 (1858), entry 1403.

[2] This identification would have been much more time-consuming without the help of the Alchemy Website.

[3] See e.g. Didier Kahn, Alchimie et Paracelsisme en France à la fin de la Renaissance (1567-1625) (Geneva, 2007), 128; also pp. 207 and 664 on Nazari’s work and editions.

[4] On Konrad Keyser’s Bellifortis see also the images collected on Wikimedia.

Special Collections at the Science Festival

By , 7 March 2014 10:49 am

The Cambridge Science Festival takes place from 10-23 March and is bigger than ever before. The University Library is hosting several talks and interactive events organised by staff from the departments of Rare Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Conservation. Here’s a preview: Continue reading 'Special Collections at the Science Festival'»

The Papers of Sir John Glover

By , 3 March 2014 9:40 am

Sir John Glover (top right) and his Asante War lieutenants, from the ‘Life of Sir John Glover’ (1897); RCS.A.43c99g.1

The Royal Commonwealth Society Library at Cambridge University Library has recently published an on-line catalogue of the papers of Sir John Hawley Glover.  A Royal Navy officer distinguished for surveying, Glover charted the waters of the Niger during Dr William Balfour Baikie’s second exploration of the river in 1857. After the expedition’s steamer ‘Dayspring’ was wrecked near Jebba in October, Glover trekked overland to Lagos three times to ensure the safe return of the party. Britain annexed Lagos in 1861 and Glover left active naval service to join its new colonial administration, becoming Secretary in 1864 and then Administrator from 1866 to 1872.

The Chief of Boussa [Bussa] wearing a medal dating from Mungo Park’s visit; ‘Voyage of the Dayspring’ (1926); RCS.C.43c.80



Glover’s papers vividly document the significant challenges confronting the fledgling colony. Alluding to the healthiness of the coast, the explorer Richard Burton had described Government House as ‘an iron coffin with generally a dead consul inside.’ Lagos’s survival depended upon commerce with the interior and Glover promoted trade in palm oil, cotton and other commodities. He strove to enlarge the colony’s territory and increase Britain’s regional influence. A committed Christian evangelist, Glover also battled the slave trade and encouraged the work of missionaries. Glover earned a reputation for sympathy and fairness as an arbiter of grievances within and beyond Lagos. He travelled widely in the region, often being the first European that many local people had seen. On one memorable occasion, an African princess, solicitous for his health, urged that he be taken under shelter, lest he melt in the sun.




Niger Delta House; ‘Voyage of the Dayspring’ (1926); RCS.C.43.c.80

 The naval surgeon Dr Eales described the development of Lagos under Glover, ‘Now commenced in earnest the improvements of the town. A splendid esplanade was laid out the entire length of the settlement… parallel with the lagoon, and planted the whole way with trees. Long, broad streets were made through the native portions of the town. A fine court-house was built, a jetty thrown out into the lagoon. A colonial hospital, one Church of England and two large Nonconformist churches erected. By this example public enterprise was awakened’ (‘Life of Sir John Hawley Glover’, 1897, p. 103).

Map showing the route from the Gold Coast to Asante; RCMS 131_8_2

A major section of the papers describes the salient role Glover played during the Second Anglo-Asante War of 1873-74. With a handful of British officers and a cadre of Hausa police, Glover mobilised an army of African auxiliaries. He mounted a successful diversion supporting the main army commanded by Sir Garnet Wolseley, which defeated the Asante and captured Kumasi on 4 February 1874. The journalist Henry Morton Stanley, who covered the expedition, emphasised Glover’s dynamic energy during the campaign, ‘… he was here, there, everywhere – alert, active, prompt, industrious. He was general-in-chief, quartermaster-general, commissariat officer, military secretary, pilot, captain, engineer, general supervisor of all things, overseer of all men, conductor of great and small things; and in short, the impellent force of his army’ (‘Life of Glover’, p. 178). Glover later served as Governor of Newfoundland and Governor of the Leeward Islands.

To view the on-line catalogue, please follow this link:

‘rhythm and line and necessity’: John Riley and Czargrad

By , 19 February 2014 9:00 am

‘Царьград’, Riley’s title of a folder containing drafts of ‘Czargrad’. From MS Add. 10038.

A new exhibition in the University Library Entrance Hall traces the composition of John Riley’s poem Czargrad, a seminal work in the alternative tradition of British poetry exemplified by the so-called ‘Cambridge School’ in the 1960s and 1970s.

Riley was born in Leeds in 1937 and was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, between 1958 and 1961. He took employment as a schoolteacher before leaving the profession to concentrate on literary work. He was killed in a street robbery in Leeds in 1978, aged 41. John Riley’s literary papers were generously donated to Cambridge University Library by his wife, Carol Riley Brown, in 2013. Continue reading '‘rhythm and line and necessity’: John Riley and Czargrad

The Moving Word

By , 11 February 2014 12:00 pm


CUL MS Gg.1.1 f. 8r

Ralph of Linham writing his Comput (CUL MS Gg.1.1, f. 8r)

The Moving Word: French Medieval Manuscripts in Cambridge is the current exhibition in the Milstein Exhibition Centre, running until 17 April. On display are over fifty medieval manuscripts from the University Library, the Fitzwilliam Museum and several colleges (Christ’s, Corpus Christi, King’s, Peterhouse, St John’s and Trinity). The accompanying virtual exhibition contains additional items and video interviews with the curators. It will continue to be available after the physical exhibition closes. Continue reading 'The Moving Word'»

Sandars Lectures 2013-14: Professor Nigel Morgan

By , 3 February 2014 9:00 am
CUL MS Add. 4105, f. 157r

A late fifteenth-century Italian Book of Hours bequeathed to the University Library by Samuel Sandars

The Sandars lectures for this year will be given by Professor Nigel Morgan, Emeritus Honorary Professor of the History of Art in the University of Cambridge.

The lectures were instituted in 1895 following a bequest from Samuel Sandars (1837-1894), a great bibliophile and benefactor to several Cambridge institutions. Sandars stipulated that there should be one or more lectures on ‘Bibliography, Palaeography, Typography, Bookbinding, Book Illustration, the science of Books and Manuscripts, and the Arts relating thereto’ and particularly desired these topics to be illustrated by examples from Cambridge libraries. Continue reading 'Sandars Lectures 2013-14: Professor Nigel Morgan'»

New exhibition: the Lewis-Gibson collection

By , 20 January 2014 11:32 am
A fragment from the Lewis-Gibson collection

Detail from a letter about a marital dispute, from the Lewis-Gibson Genizah collection. L-G Arabic 2.51

In August 2013 Cambridge University Library and the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, jointly acquired 1700 medieval Jewish manuscripts collected by the twin sisters Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson. The manuscripts were purchased by the intrepid ladies as they passed through Egypt on their visits to the monastery at St Catherine’s, Sinai, towards the end of the nineteenth century.

On their return to Cambridge, their friend Solomon Schechter identified one of their manuscripts as the lost Hebrew original of the book of Ben Sira (known in the Christian tradition as Ecclesiasticus), a sensational discovery. Schechter travelled to Cairo to find the source of the manuscripts, uncovering the remarkable hoard known as the Cairo Genizah and bringing 200,000 medieval Jewish fragments back to Cambridge University Library, the famous Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection.

The sisters’ own manuscripts, minus the leaf of Ecclesiasticus that they donated to the UL, were given to Westminster College, a theological college of the United Reformed Church, where they remained until recently. In 2012, Westminster decided to offer them for sale to the UL for £1.2 million. Since this was a considerable sum for one institution to find, Cambridge, for the first time, entered into a partnership to purchase the manuscripts jointly with Oxford. Following a successful public appeal the Lewis-Gibson Collection is now undergoing careful conservation and digitisation in Cambridge. A new exhibition in the Library Entrance Hall cases offers the first chance to see a selection of these fascinating manuscripts, along with materials relating to the fascinating story of their discovery. On display during Library opening hours from 20 January until 15 February.

Cambridge University Library bids to purchase early Gospel manuscript

By , 16 December 2013 1:12 pm

Cambridge University Library plans to raise £1.1m to purchase an outstanding Biblical manuscript. Dating from the 6th or 7th century, Codex Zacynthius is a palimpsest that offers scholars a key to understanding the way in which the text of St Luke’s Gospel was transmitted as Christianity spread.

Cambridge University Library, renowned throughout the world for its faith collections, is raising funds to acquire a remarkable manuscript known as Codex Zacynthius.

Codex Zacynthius was deposited at Cambridge University Library in 1984 by the British and Foreign Bible Society, who have owned it for almost 200 years. At first glance the Codex is a text compiled in the 13th century from passages taken from the New Testament, but its true origins are much earlier.

Bible Society wishes to sell Codex Zacynthius as part of an exceptional exercise to release funds to establish a new visitor centre in Wales. Conscious of the interest in the manuscript, Bible Society has given the UL first refusal to purchase. The acquisition of Codex Zacynthius by the UL would allow scholars and public audiences to discover more about the history of one of the world’s most important manuscripts, by using science to unlock its ancient secrets. Keep reading …