Reconstructing Nicholas Crouch

A Wellcome Trust-funded project to restore a 17th-century library

December 1634: Nicholas Crouch, a 16-year-old from a small hamlet just north of Luton, Bedfordshire, arrives in the city of Oxford to enrol at the University.

July 1690: He dies at Balliol College, his home for the intervening 56 years. He leaves a collection of books that encompasses the intellectual, spiritual and political life of the turbulent middle years of the 17th century. Balliol College Library’s donor register records 319 volumes which he left to the College on his death; and other volumes in his library, probably given during his lifetime, are identifiable by their similar bindings and his handwriting inside them. His total library consists of an estimated 4,000 separate titles.

July 2016: Supported by a Wellcome Trust grant, the College embarks on an ambitious project to make this collection of books accessible through cataloguing and conservation.

Nicholas Crouch was a true 17th-century character. His books, diary, notes and prescription books, all surviving at Balliol, show that he studied and practised medicine, perhaps as a politically neutral subject after supporting the losing side in the English Civil War. The minutes of the Philosophical Society of Oxford also show him joining in with contemporary scientific experimentation and debate; at the gathering on 19 January 1686 he ‘acquainted ye Society, that in ye Abdomen of Mr Hodges, who lately died of a dropsie, 7 gallons of watery humor were found’ (Gunther, R.T., Early Science in Oxford, (Oxford, 1925), v.4, pp. 171).

Typically for his times, his interest in medicine did not limit his reading to scientific publishing. Alongside medical books in his library there are also plenty of political, literary, and religious texts. Most of the titles in his library are bound together in groups of anything up to about 65 short texts. For example, in one book a catalogue of medical books is sandwiched between two catalogues of theological works, one in English, one in French. Crouch’s collection shows medicine from a 17th-century perspective, at the nexus of science, politics and religion – a vision that is often obscured by today’s more distinct disciplines. It is hoped that once the project is complete, medical humanities researchers will be able to use Crouch’s library to explore the connections between disciplines in the 17th century.

The short publications that make up the bulk of Crouch’s library are of an ephemeral nature and the cataloguing project has already found items that are completely unique to Balliol’s collection, so demonstrating the desirability of having this collection fully catalogued.

Entry in Crouch's hand in Balliol College Lease Book (Photo: Catherine Casson)
Entry in Crouch’s hand in Balliol College Lease Book (photo: Catherine Casson)

Nicholas Crouch played a major part in the life of Balliol College. His handwriting appears frequently in contemporary records in the College Archives and the survival of many of them may be down to his meticulous administration.

His attention to detail extends to his library, where he has left a treasure trove of book history in the form of handwritten contents pages for each volume, detailing what he spent on each title, how much it cost to bind the whole, and sometimes even the name of the binder.

Handwritten contents and costs note in one of Crouch's pamphlet volumes (Photo: Lucy Kelsall)

Project staff – cataloguer Lucy Kelsall and conservator Nikki Tomkins – will spend a year working to achieve a much higher level of accessibility for Crouch’s books. Lucy’s cataloguing will allow researchers to find all the titles in Crouch’s amazing library on the University’s public catalogue (SOLO), including details of the rich copy-specific information such as the handwritten contents pages. Nikki’s conservation will allow us to use the collection without fear of damaging it and make sure it is preserved for posterity. The benefits of the project will extend beyond academia helping Balliol to make the most of the collection’s potential for public exhibitions, school sessions and University teaching, so benefitting a wide range of audiences.

By Naomi Tiley, Librarian at Balliol College

 

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).

Comments welcome: email library@balliol.ox.ac.uk.

Hobbes’ Leviathan: editions in disguise

The head, the bear and ‘the ornaments’

Balliol’s copy of the first edition of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan has recently returned from conservation by the Oxford Conservation Consortium. The front board has been reattached and several leaves cleaned.

In addition to the iconic engraved title page, the first edition was issued with a letterpress title page. Three distinct editions would eventually appear with this imprint between 1651 and 1680.

The first edition of Leviathan had sold for a mere 8s 6d in 1651. By 1668, Pepys records that a secondhand copy ‘was mightily called for’, and was going for 24 shillings.

The second edition, printed by John Redmayne in 1670, copied the imprint of 1651. Noel Malcolm notes that it also contained text reprinted almost page-for-page from the first edition. After the Restoration and the 1662 Printing Act, powers of censorship were returned to the bishops. Charges of atheism against Hobbes led to the banning or suppression of many of his works.

Malcolm suggests that the 1670 edition may have been designed in this way to minimise attention to Leviathan’s republication.

The undertaking attracted attention nonetheless. Printed sheets were seized from Redmayne’s workshop on the orders of the Stationers’ Company in the autumn of 1670. They were taken away for ‘damasking’ (obliterating the text), although many sheets were probably salvaged and eventually issued.

The 'head' word cut ornament from the title page of the 1651 edition of Leviathan (Photo: Paris O'Donnell)

At first glance, the one obvious difference among the three ‘first editions’ is the printer’s ornament on the title page, above the imprint. The copy in Balliol library carries the woodcut ornament known as ‘the head’, while the 1670 edition carries ‘the bear’ and the 1680 edition ‘the ornaments’. This is how we know that ours is from the genuine first edition of 1651.

Balliol College Library shelfmark 30 d 139

Sources

Noel Malcolm, ‘The printing of the “Bear”’. In Aspects of Hobbes. Oxford: Clarendon, 2002
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. ‘Thomas Hobbes’

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

How Bede’s Works came to Balliol: a sidelight on the Reformation

Tracing the trajectory of an early edition of Bede’s Works from Hailes Abbey, dissolved under Henry VIII, to Balliol Library

Manuscript additions on the title page of this book provide a little snapshot of English Reformation history. It is an edition of Bede’s Latin Works ([Paris]: Josse Badius, 1521). Abbot Stephen Whalley (or Sagar) of Hailes Abbey had acquired this volume of Bede’s works in 1538 and written his name at the head of the title page, as this detail shows:

‘Ex exempc[i]o[n]e dompini Stephani Whalley abb[at]is de heyles pro domo cap[itu]lari 1538.’
[Purchased by master Stephen Whalley, abbot of Heyles, for the chapterhouse 1538.]

The abbot's ownership inscription replaced by Grisset's donation note
The abbot’s ownership inscription replaced by Griffith’s donation note  (Photo: Paris O’Donnell)

By the year of acquisition, 1538, the dissolution of English monasteries by Henry VIII was under way.

Hailes Abbey was home to a popular relic, a phial of blood thought to have been collected from the dying Christ. This attracted huge numbers of pilgrims, to the consternation of the reforming Bishop of Worcester, Hugh Latimer. The relic was investigated and declared a fake in 1538. By the following year, Stephen, the last abbot of Hailes, had surrendered the abbey to Henry’s men.

Stephen’s title-page inscription was then supplanted by the donation note of John Griffith, probably an alumnus of Balliol, who donated the book to the College.

The note reads: ‘Liber collegii ballioli ex dono d[o]m[ini] Joh[ann]is Gryffyt’. Griffith’s inscription (‘Ioh[ann]es Gryffytt’) is repeated at the foot of the title page.

John Grissett’s ownership inscription
John Grissett’s ownership inscription (Photo: Paris O’Donnell)

Griffith’s donation is noted in Balliol’s benefactions book (below), and seems to have taken place between 1540 and 1543.

Detail from benefactions book  (Photo: Paris O'Donnell)

Balliol College Library shelfmark 30 f 115

Coryate’s Crudities: travels through 17th-century Europe

A curious early travel book

Thomas Coryate’s Crudities (1611) records Coryate’s extensive travels across Europe in 1608. The self-deprecating title, Michael Strachan has suggested, may derive from Dallington’s View of France (1605). Dallington refers to the glut of travel books on the English market as ‘unseasoned crudities’, incapable of being digested for knowledge or virtue.

crudities tp crop1

The self-deprecation of the title infuses the rest of the engraved title page. It is full of mock-heroic vignettes taken from Coryate’s experiences abroad. Coryate’s seasickness on the Dover-Calais crossing is depicted. His ragged travelling outfit, with lice dropping out of it, is also represented. A Venetian courtesan pelts Coryate with eggs. And from above the portrait of the author, as Ben Jonson glossed it, the allegorical figure Germania ‘pukes on his head’.

crudities tp crop2

A torrent of panegyrics

The engraved title page gave rise to another curious feature of the book, the mass of prefatory verses which precedes Coryate’s own travel narrative. To inspire verses in praise of the Crudities, Coryate circulated the engraving to many poets and wits.

Coryate belonged to a drinking society which patronised the Mermaid Tavern in London. Fellow patrons of the Mermaid, including Ben Jonson, wrote verses for the Crudities. John Donne and Inigo Jones also contributed. Many of the verses were mocking and derogatory. Donne predicted that the Crudities would be recycled to wrap market wares, and broken up to bind more worthy publications. He tells Coryate:

Go bashful man, lest here thou blush to look
Upon the progress of thy glorious book.

Many other contributors of verses professed not to have bothered to read the Crudities at all. As the torrent of panegyrics got out of hand, Coryate decided to suppress some of them. But the dedicatee, Prince Henry, commanded that all verses received (amounting to 107 pages) be printed in full. The cost of compliance was significant, as Coryate was financing the publication himself.

The tombstone traveller

Coryate’s appetite for travel was not sated by his European perambulations. He set off for the Levant in 1612 to gather material for another book. He visited Constantinople and Jerusalem before taking a route through Iran to India.

Tom Coryate, nicknamed ‘the tombstone traveller’ for his interest in epitaphs, never completed this second narrative. He died at Surat, Gujarat in 1617, aged about 40.

Balliol College Library shelfmark 575 b 6

Video created by Paris O’Donnell

Sources

Michael Strachan. The life and adventures of Thomas Coryate. Oxford University Press, 1962
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. ‘Thomas Coryate’ and ‘The Mermaid Tavern’

A golden hind

Martin Bucer’s Scripta Anglicana (1577)

Our copy of Martin Bucer’s Scripta Anglicana (1577) came via the large bequest of Sir Thomas Wendy in 1677. The gold-tooled centrepiece on the boards of this book shows a ‘hind statant’. It is believed this is the armorial device of the Hatton family, politicians and bibliophiles of the 16th and 17th century. Books from their collections can be found in a number of college libraries in Oxford.

Sir Christopher Hatton (1540-1591) helped finance Sir Francis Drake’s voyages of circumnavigation from 1577-1580. In 1580 Drake changed the name of his vessel mid-voyage from The Pelican to The Golden Hinde to honour Hatton.

Identification by Paul W. Nash