George Coningesby’s books

Among the early printed books in Balliol Library, one distinctive 18th-century hand appears again and again

Similar notes, in English and Latin, can be found in hundreds of books, on paste-downs, endpapers, on title pages, in the margins, in slips of paper.

The notes belong to one of the most important benefactors to the Library, the clergyman and antiquary George Coningesby (1692-3?-1766).

Coningesby proceeded Doctor of Divinity at Balliol in 1739. He was vicar of Bodenham, Herefordshire and then rector of Pencombe, in the same county.

The Oxford antiquary Thomas Hearne knew Coningesby, and described him as ‘a learned man, & studious, [who] bears the character of being honest’.

Coningesby made himself notorious in Oxford. In a 1727 sermon, he praised Charles I as ‘a Prince that was not alien by birth, & that preferred to dignities in the Church men of true worth and learning’ – in implied contrast to the current king, George I. By the time he was called before University officials to explain the offending sermon, Coningesby had contrived to ‘misplace’ his notes, according to Hearne. He was banned from preaching for two years and had to leave St Mary’s Hall.

The earliest book in the collection is a 1495 edition of Aristotle, but Coningesby collected books published throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Coningesby collected books with great energy, especially in the areas of classics, English history, church history, and religious polemics.

Coningesby acquired books owned and inscribed by other important scholars and antiquaries.

Thomas Hearne’s ownership inscription in a book later acquired by Coningesby.

These include Thomas Hearne; Arthur Charlett, master of Univ; Anglo-Saxonist George Hickes; the bibliophile Thomas Rawlinson; and Cambridge antiquary Thomas Baker.

Coningesby wrote on paste-downs, endpapers and in the margins, as well as on loose scraps of paper. He emended the text, transcribed errata lists and recorded bibliographical information. His notes also offer cross-references, citations and quotations from other scholarly works.

This little-known collection offers students of 18th-century history and literature opportunities for original research on reading and collecting practices.

Research by Paris O’Donnell

Sources

T. Hearne. Remarks and collections of Thomas Hearne. Vol. XI. Oxford: Clarendon, 1921

W.R. Ward. Georgian Oxford: university politics in the eighteenth century. Oxford: Clarendon, 1958

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