Cataloguing Crouch: Dates, Errata, and ‘charta nuda’

Further explorations of collecting, correcting and marginalia from the ‘Reconstructing Nicholas Crouch’ project

Crouch makes his feelings known (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 i 4 (9))

Most of the items which constitute Nicholas Crouch’s library were published in his own lifetime. His collection is weighted towards works published in the latter years of his life, in the 1670s and 1680s. Crouch died in 1690, and we find him collecting right up to the end: the latest item catalogued so far is Walter Harris’s De morbis acutis infantum, printed in London in 1689. The contents list for this volume shows Crouch’s handwriting, and his maths, to be as sharp as ever.

MS contents list from the end of Crouch’s life (Balliol College Library shelfmark 905 f 3) (Photograph by Lucy Kelsall)
MS contents list from the end of Crouch’s life (Balliol College Library shelfmark 905 f 3)

Crouch also collected earlier material, from the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century. There tend to be fewer of his annotations in these older texts. Sometimes other hands are visible; this too is less common in the texts printed during Crouch’s lifetime, many of which he likely obtained upon publication. The volumes containing earlier items still include handwritten contents lists, but often lack a record of prices paid.

So far, around 40% of the collection consists of works printed on the European continent, with particularly strong showings from the Netherlands (14%) and Germany (13%). The majority of this continental material is Latin medical texts, whereas Crouch’s British collecting ranged more widely.

Crouch would often have additional blank leaves bound into his volumes; this is particularly true of works that included lists and records, such as William Dugdale’s The antient usage in bearing of such ensigns of honour as are commonly call’d arms. With a catalogue of the present nobility of England (1682). He would use these leaves to inscribe his own careful additions to the text, or to create handwritten indexes of content that interested him.

At times, his ambition appears to have exceeded his energy, and we find unused blank pages or contents lists that trail off before completion. In one notable example, Crouch paid 3d. to have a significant amount of blank paper bound in at the end of one of his books. This has been methodically added to the contents list (‘charta nuda’), but was never used. The two printed works in this volume are bibliographical in nature, so it’s possible Crouch had plans for annotation that were never realised. The blank leaves are clearly visible below in the unstained right-hand portion of the fore-edge.

Above left: Crouch is charged 3d. for ‘charta nuda’ (Balliol College Library shelfmark 905 a 2)

Above right: The blank paper is visible at the right-hand side of the fore-edge (Balliol College Library shelfmark 905 a 2)

Crouch’s character continues to be revealed via his marginalia. Below are two of my favourite Crouch-isms discovered so far.

Here, Crouch disavows all responsibility for a misbound leaf (note the characteristic ruled lines for this expostulation):

Crouch makes his feelings known (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 i 4 (9))
Crouch makes his feelings known (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 i 4 (9))

And here, even in the list of errata, Crouch spots a mistake:

Crouch makes a correction to the errata (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 i 2 (6)) (Photograph by Lucy Kelsall)
Crouch makes a correction to the errata (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 i 2 (6))

I am especially fascinated by this latter example, as there is really no need for Crouch to correct the errata: he could have simply amended the text at the correct point. Is he venting his frustration in a more subtle manner than at the ‘ignorance of the Binder’, above? Or could he just not stand to leave a mistake uncorrected?

Despite the terse and factual nature of Crouch’s marginalia, hints of his personality can still be glimpsed behind the black ink.

By Lucy Kelsall
Early Printed Books Cataloguer