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

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

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

Cataloguing Crouch: an introduction

The cataloguing side of the project has now been underway for two months, and over 100 volumes, containing more than 750 items, have been catalogued.

One of the initial surprises with this material is how varied it is in terms of subject matter. Most of the volumes have gold-tooled leather spine labels; these are not contemporary with the bindings but were added at a later point after their arrival in the college library. However, a glance across the spines provides a useful ‘rough guide’ to the collection.

Many of Crouch’s books in the second half of the collection are labelled ‘Medical’, as one might expect from the collection of a physician. In contrast, most of the early volumes are labelled ‘Miscellaneous’. Crouch collected on subjects including (but not limited to!) religion, science, politics, language, travel, poetry, philosophy and mathematics.


Tractatus miscellanei: the early part of the collection is varied in subject matter (Photograph by Lucy Kelsall)
Tractatus miscellanei: the early part of the collection is varied in subject matter
Tractatus medici: many of the later books in the collection are related to medicine (Photograph by Lucy Kelsall)
Tractatus medici: many of the later books in the collection are related to medicine

One of the most striking features of Crouch’s library is his meticulous hand-written contents lists. Crouch would frequently inscribe on the endpapers of a volume a list of the titles inside, often including individual prices, the price of binding and the name of the binder. This makes the collection a fascinating source for the history of the book trade.

Occasionally these contents lists will span four or five pages; Crouch would often include details of the title, author and price of each item, and sometimes imprint dates. In none of the works catalogued so far has he noted the date of purchase or binding.

Above left: contents list for an item bound by Doe (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 e 4)

Above right: contents list for an item bound by Ingram (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 e 3)

Crouch would often annotate his texts, usually with factual information: bibliographical references, corrections, hand-written indexes. So far the tone of his marginalia appears to be brisk and pedantic. The MS contents lists are carefully laid out, using a grid of ruled lines to assist. Crouch even drew lines to ensure his marginal notes were level. Sometimes these ruled lines appear without corresponding marginal notes. This seems a curious oversight for one so thorough: did he intend to return and annotate at a later point?

Above left: an example of Crouch’s factual marginalia (Balliol College Library shelfmark 905 i 1 (7))

Above right: ruled lines without marginalia (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 e 4 (3))

Crouch’s keen mathematical eye is evident in his careful calculations and corrections. He will often step in to improve or clarify a computation.

In the example below, a 1678 text with the title Artificial versifying enthusiastically promises that ‘any one of ordinary capacity, that only knows the A.B.C. and can count 9 (though he understands not one word of Latin, or what a verse means) may be plainly taught (and in as little time, as this is reading over) how to make thousands of hexameter and pentameter verses which shall be true Latine, true verse, and good sense’.

A further claim that such a person may make ‘Six hundred thousand different Latine Verses’ is swiftly disproved by Crouch, in a note that will not fit in the margin: ‘That is, there may be made 531,441 verses, which is the Cube=cube of 9, and noe more, I suppose.’

Above: Crouch is affronted by a vague estimate (Balliol College Library shelfmark 910 d 2 (3b))

These initial glimpses of Crouch’s character will, we hope, be supplemented by further finds as the cataloguing continues. It will be particularly interesting to see how Crouch’s annotations in these early ‘miscellaneous’ texts compare with his notes in the later medical works. With between two and three thousand individual items yet to be catalogued, much remains to be discovered!

By Lucy Kelsall
Early Printed Books Cataloguer

Knowing who’s who in Absalom and Achitophel

‘Annabal’ was the Duchess of Monmouth; ‘Zimri’ was the Duke of Buckingham; ‘Saull’ Oliver Cromwell, ‘Corah’ Titus Oates and so on.

In a volume of literary miscellanea bequeathed by Nicholas Crouch to his college library in 1690, there is a 1682 edition of Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel.

Bound with it is a manuscript list identifying prominent contemporary figures which the poem’s characters represented:

‘Annabal’ was the Duchess of Monmouth; ‘Zimri’ was the Duke of Buckingham; ‘Saull’ Oliver Cromwell, ‘Corah’ Titus Oates and so on.

In his Life of Dryden, Samuel Johnson repeats Addison’s claim that Absalom and Achitophel  was popular because readers enjoyed decoding its allegory and identifying its characters.

But Johnson disagrees:

‘There is no need to enquire why those verses were read, which, to all the attractions of wit, elegance and harmony, added the co-operation of all the factious passions, and filled every mind with triumph or resentment.’

Such resentment could be a stimulus to physical violence. In 1679, Dryden was ‘soundly cudgell’d by 3 men’ in Covent Garden. The biographer Anthony Wood, wondered (mistakenly)  whether the assault had been provoked by Absalom. In other poems, Dryden used more obscure allegory to frustrate hostile interpretation or scrutiny. But to contemporaries Absalom’s characters seemed dangerously identifiable.

Nonetheless, the binding of the written list with the play suggests that identification was not straightforward for everyone.

Perhaps Crouch found the key (one of many circulating in print and in manuscript) useful to stir his memory.

The writing is certainly not Crouch’s, so someone else has given him this list.

There is a tantalising entry in Crouch’s diary for 6th April 1665 which reads ‘Dined with me Mr. Dryden & Rothera[m?]’

Entries for April 1665 in Nicholas Crouch's diary (Balliol College MS 355). Photo: Paris O'Donnell

The rest of the entry is difficult to decipher but seems to refer to the proctors of Cambridge University.

The Mr.  Dryden with whom Crouch dined was probably not the poet, although his identity could merit further investigation.

Perhaps Crouch’s crib came from someone in the know.

By J. Hinchliff &  P. O’Donnell.

The following sources were used in the creation of this post:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. ‘John Dryden’.

Samuel Johnson, ‘Dryden’, in Lives of the poets, ed. R. Lonsdale (Oxford: Clarendon, 2006), vol. 2.

Steven N. Zwicker, Politics and language in Dryden’s poetry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984).

Andrew Clark, The life and times of Antony Wood (Oxford: Clarendon, 1898).

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