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Printed Books

Now numbering well over 100,000 items, the printed books and pamphlets make Christ Church the largest and richest library for research material in Oxford outside the Bodleian. Its growth will be outlined and some of the stronger subjects mentioned, but it must be emphasised that this library should be searched by anyone seeking older works on practically any topic.

There has been a steady flow of small donations from new graduates and old members from the 1560s onwards. The first substantial benefaction was that of Otho Nicholson in 1613-14 which included £100 for the purchase of books, mainly spent on theology; others, like John King, Bishop of London (d. 1621), also gave money for books. Robert Burton (1577-1640), who had given a copy of the first edition of his Anatomy of Melancholy in 1621, and had been Librarian from 1626, bequeathed the residue of his books to Christ Church after the Bodleian had had first choice. About 500 volumes were received which have now been reassembled, a process begun by Sir William Osler in 1907-8; as might be expected from the Anatomy, many subjects are represented including rare ephemeral publications. John Morris, Regius Professor of Hebrew from 1626 to his death in 1648, left an annuity of £5 for the purchase of books in Hebrew and a good collection strong in grammars and dictionaries has been built up since this still current fund became operative in 1682.

The eighteenth century was not a period of stagnation, for during the first half some magnificent benefactions were received that are the foundations of this library's riches today. Of these, the first was the bequest of Henry Aldrich, Dean from 1689 until his death in 1710, containing a remarkable assemblage of some 3,000 theological, classical, mathematical and architectural books and pamphlets; and about 2,000 engravings, European and English. Books owned by Aldrich are notable for their fine condition and binding. He expressed the wish that his nephew, Charles, should be given any 'duplicates' from his library, a term rather loosely interpreted at the time. Charles was Rector of Henley-on-Thames from 1709 until he died in 1737, leaving his books to found a parochial library in that town. A catalogue was published in 1852, but by 1909 the books were in a deplorable condition, so a number were brought to Christ Church on permanent loan. A few more were similarly transferred in 1949. They are not shelved together as a collection. The residue was deposited in Reading University Library in 1957. In addition, the bequest contained about 8,000 pieces of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century music by English and foreign composers, many extraordinarily rare.

In 1722 Lewis Atterbury, brother of Francis, Dean 1711-13, gave between three and four thousand pamphlets, a remarkable collection extending from the early seventeenth century to contemporary publications. Next came the bequest of William Stratford (1672-1729), a canon, of nearly 5,000 volumes; it resembled that of his colleague, Henry Aldrich, but was of a more general character, including books on natural science, law, history, and literature not owned by the Dean, as well as some sixteenth-century English books. Charles Boyle, fourth Earl of Orrery (1676-1731), editor of the ill-fated Letters of Phalaris, had been a favourite pupil of Dean Aldrich, and built up a rather similar general library, though with more medical and scientific works; he bequeathed it to his old college, whither it was brought from London in 1733.

The fourth great benefaction in the first half of the eighteenth century was the bequest of William Wake, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1737, whose printed books came with the papers and manuscripts already mentioned. This collection of some 5,000 volumes, naturally strong in theology, includes many early-printed books, finely bound large-paper and presentation copies from authors, European as well as English. This was the last really large gift, but smaller ones from this century are also worthy of note. Richard Goodson, organist 1718-41, left his father's small library of music, which augmented that of Aldrich, and David Gregory, Dean 1756-67, left a good general collection. Richard Trevor (1707- 1771) gave some forty rare early books, including incunabula, on classics, mathematics, and medicine before leaving Oxford for Durham in 1753, while Cyril Jackson, Dean 1783-1809, gave some books in 1795.

During the nineteenth century no benefactions of note were received, though the flow of small gifts from members continued, and the money spent on purchases gradually increased. Typical examples are a bequest of 144 volumes, mainly on Italian history, from Henry Auber Harvey in 1884, and W.E. Gladstone's numerous presentations, often of his own writings, between 1841 and 1897.

The present century, however, has seen several interesting donations. Frederick York Powell (1850-1904) bequeathed about 800 volumes of Icelandic and Scandinavian literature, many given to him by Guðbrandr Vigfússon (1828-1889). In the same year a bequest was received of a small group of books mainly on Oxford and Christ Church from T.V. Bayne, a former Librarian. all, except for a set of Icelandic Bibles, have been deposited in the English Faculty Library. A collection of about 500 volumes on classical literature and strong in editions of and works on Aristophanes was presented in 1908 by the widow of W.G. Rutherford (1853-1907), sometime Headmaster of Westminster School. Theological books were bequeathed by Francis Paget (1851-1911), Bishop of Oxford and a former Dean, and Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918), Regius Professor of Divinity. Eighty-four volumes, mostly in the Thai language, presented by Rama VI (1881-1925), King of Siam and a commoner of the House 1900-1, were deposited in the Bodleian in 1967. Besides his papers, H.J. White (1859-1934) left his working library concerned with his edition of the text of the Vulgate, including a number of early books; many had been bequeathed to White by John Wordsworth, Bishop of Salisbury, in 1911. The travelling library of Edward Gibbon, containing twenty-four miniature volumes of Latin authors, was presented by J. A. Stewart in 1933.

A good collection of liturgical texts, especially English Books of Common Prayer, with many drafts and papers connected with Prayer Book revision in the 1920s, formed by Kenneth Gibbs (1856-1935), sometime Archdeacon of St. Albans, was presented by his widow in 1946; there are many early editions, though some have suffered from the old habit of 'making-up' imperfect copies.

In 1946 also Christ Church library took over the administration of the separate library bequeathed by Richard Allestree in 1681 for the use of the Regius Professor of Divinity and his successors, housed over the south Cloister Although it naturally has a bias towards theology, there are books on many other subjects-classics, science, medicine, mathematics and patristics, for example; 138 were formerly owned by Henry Hammond (1605-1660).

An unusual collection to find in a college library is that presented by Francis Bridgford Brady in 1977 consisting of English theatrical ephemera, especially engraved portraits of performers, and playbills of the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.

Kept with the Allestree library is the parochial library of Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire (a Christ Church living) deposited for safekeeping. John Okes (d. 1710), a St. Edmund Hall man, left it to his native place; there are now about 300 volumes, chiefly seventeenth-century theology, with a bias towards Oriental studies. Many of the books bear the names of members of the Cholmondely family, patron of Okes' living at Whitegate, Cheshire, which he held from 1665 till deprived as a non-juror in 1689.

An attempt has been made to indicate the strong points of individual benefactions. Taken as a whole, Christ Church library is particularly rich in music, theology, classics, travel books, numismatics, early science and medicine, and Hebrew studies. The large pamphlet collection has many rare items, especially of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but there is also a large number from the sixteenth century. The number of printed plays and poetry is not negligible either. But it is invidious to emphasise subjects, for it would be unwise for anyone seeking scarce material from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries to neglect this library.

Orrery Books in Christ Church Library.pdf274.22 KB

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