June 2014 Book of the Month: Insectorum by Thomas Moffet (1634)

Title-page of the Insectorum: Fellows’ Library L.6.5 Gall. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Each of the Insectorum’s four contributing authors died before this encyclopaedia of insects was finally brought to publication.

Begun by the Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner, the draft was sold to his assistant Thomas Penny after Gesner’s death in 1565. Penny combined it with notes from the Oxford physician Edward Wotton and, on Penny’s death, the unfinished manuscript was given to his friend and neighbour Thomas Moffet. Moffet, himself a naturalist and physician, completed the book and commissioned the distinctive title-page, but failed to get it published before his own death in 1604. Thirty years after Moffet’s death it was sold to Sir Theodore Mayerne who published it in 1634.


Illustration of a spider: Fellows’ Library L.6.5 Gall. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Moffet studied medicine at Cambridge and became interested in entomology, the study of insects, while observing silkworms in Italy. He was also particularly fond of spiders; it is thought that the nursery rhyme ‘Little Miss Muffet’ could be about his daughter, Patience.

This edition was donated to the College by Edward Herbert of Cherbury. Visible in the binding is a fragment of manuscript, a common recycled material for bookbinding.

Anna Thomas (Graduate Library Trainee, 2012–13)

Sources and further reading:

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