December 2015 Book of the Month: Tomus quartus omnium operum by Martin Luther (1552)


Title-page of Tomus quartus omnium operum with Rowland Heylin’s donation book label: Fellows’ Library F.15.12 (© Jesus College, Oxford)

This volume forms part of Martin Luther’s complete works, which collectively had a profound impact on the German Reformation. Published around the time of his death, the collection displays the range of genres Luther adopted: Biblical translation and commentary, sermons and catechisms, and polemics against the Catholic Church. In contrast to his seminal Bible translation and many of the controversial tracts printed during his lifetime, the texts in this imposing collection are in Latin rather than German. These volumes were produced by a number of printers, including Hans Lufft, whose trade in Lutheran Bibles made him the richest man in Wittenberg.


Back board showing use of a Latin manuscript as binding material: Fellows’ Library F.15.12 (© Jesus College, Oxford)

With unintentional irony, Luther’s diatribes on the Catholic Church were bound in pages of text and music from a dismembered monastic manuscript. This common binding practice was both economical and practical, as parchment was valued as a tough material. The hole in this binding is not a sign of neglect by its owners, but a flaw which dates back to the parchment’s preparation. This is shown by how the medieval scribe has carefully written around the tear and even tried to sew it together: although the thread has disappeared, the puncture holes of the needle are still visible.


Tear in manuscript binding with needle puncture holes: Fellows’ Library F.15.12 (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Emma Sillett (Library Assistant)

Sources and further reading:


After two years, this blog is taking a break from monthly books. See all 24 books displayed at

Posted in Book of the month, Fellows' Library | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

November 2015 Book of the Month: Somnium (‘The Dream’) by Johannes Kepler (1634)

‘How would the phenomena occurring in the heavens appear to an observer stationed on the moon?’ 

Somnium is the first treatise on lunar astronomy and is widely considered to be the first work of science fiction. It was written in Latin over a 37 year period, and began as a student dissertation defending the Copernican model of the solar system.

The title page of Somnium: Fellows Library L.4.17.Gall, Jesus College, Oxford

The title page of Somnium: Fellows’ Library L.4.17 Gall. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Kepler imagines practicing astronomy on the moon to demonstrate that the Earth moves around the sun, later adding a dream framework to distance himself from that controversial claim. A mixture of fantasy and scientific argument, the narrative recounts the space travel of an astronomer and his mother, Fiolxhilde, a sorceress.  A manuscript copy circulated in 1611, and was taken to be autobiographical: Kepler’s mother, Katherine, was conflated with Fiolxhilde, and was arrested on suspicion of witchcraft in 1615. She was acquitted five years later.

Kepler died before Somnium’s publication, to which he had added 223 footnotes describing the scientific and allegorical elements of the text.  These form the largest part of the text, and were intended to refocus attention on the narrative’s scientific speculations.

The price paid for the book and Lord Herbert's signature

The price paid for the book and Lord Herbert’s monogram: Fellows’ Library L.4.17 Gall. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

The college’s vellum-bound edition bears the initials of Lord Herbert of Cherbury, an important benefactor to the library, and records how much he paid for it: 3 shillings and 4 pence—or around 17 pence today.

Anna Thomas (Graduate Library Trainee 2012-13)

Sources and further reading:

Posted in Book of the month | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

October 2015 Books of the Month: Partridge’s The Treasurie of Hidden Secrets (1633) and Read’s The Manuall of the Anatomy or Dissection of the Body of Man (1655)

DSC_0231 cropped

Title-page of Read’s Manuall: Fellows’ Library K.5.19 Gall (© Jesus College, Oxford)


Title-page of Partridge’s Treasurie: Fellows’ Library R.4.5 (7) Gall. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

These books illustrate some of the range of medical publications in early modern England. Read’s work attempts to distil anatomical concepts, while Partridge’s Treasurie is a cheap, popular household manual of ‘kitchen physic’ and culinary recipes. Their intended readerships vary from learned (male) students to ‘Courteous Gentlewomen, honest Matrons, and virtuous Virgins’. While different in emphasis, however, they bear an interesting similarity in publication history: both were printed by women.

Despite being prohibited from establishing businesses by the Stationers’ Company, women stationers comprised approximately eight percent of the book trades in Britain (Smith, p.164). These women were permitted to manage the family business in the intervening period between remarriage or a son’s coming of age. Sarah Griffin had an unusually long career, spanning two decades. Although only five of her publications are confirmed, the records detailing her two printing presses, one apprentice and six workers suggest that her print shop was a successful one (McKenzie, p.116).


Illustration to accompany the treatise on muscles in Read’s Manuall: Fellows’ Library K.5.19 Gall. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Women chose to print a variety of subjects, from prayers for pregnant women to grammar textbooks. Some women printers exploited their lower legal status to print seditious texts with fewer reprisals. However, for the majority like Allde and Griffin, their gender did not define the content of their work.

Emma Sillett (Library Assistant)

Sources and further reading:

  • Catalogue records for Treasurie and Manuall on SOLO.
  • McKenzie, D., McDonald, P., & Suarez, M., Making meaning : “Printers of the Mind” and Other Essays (Amherst: University Of Massachusetts Press, 2002).
  • Smith, Helen, ‘Print[ing] your Royal Father off’: Early Modern Female Stationers and the Gendering of the British Book Trades”, TEXT 15 (2003), 163-86.
Posted in Book of the month, Fellows' Library | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

150 years of the Meyricke Library

1865 is the telephone dialling code for Oxford. Coincidentally, it is also the year in which Jesus College opened its first reading room for undergraduates. The College had established a library in the 1620s, the room now called the Fellows’ Library, but as its current name suggests, this was not open to undergraduates.

The reading room was established by J.R. Thursfield, Fellow in Classics. Its first home was beneath the Fellows’ Library, apparently on the location of the present Memorial Room. In 1882 it was named the Meyricke Library and moved to the northwest corner of Second Quad, near the site of the current Middle Common Room.

Edmund Meyricke (pronounced ‘Merrick’ and often spelled Meyrick) was one of the College’s major benefactors. His portrait hangs in the Hall, next to Queen Elizabeth’s. From 1882, when a new statute was approved, the Meyricke Trust paid an initial £50 each year “for the maintenance and improvement of the Meyricke Library”, as well as for the continuing scholarships in his name.

(C) Jesus College, Oxford. Photography by the Public Catalogue Foundation.

Presumed to be Edmund Meyricke (matriculated 1656), painted 1694, artist unknown. Formerly in the Fellows’ Library, now in the Hall. Photographed in 2012 by the Public Catalogue Foundation (© Jesus College, Oxford, reference PI/BE.5)

At that time, Third Quad was a collection of outbuildings, including the College stables. A fire in the Ship Street premises of the Oxford Electric Light Company in 1904 instigated the development of a new range of buildings. The Meyricke Library moved into a single room inside the gate tower in 1907, alongside the College’s purpose-built chemical laboratories on three storeys of what is now numbered Staircase XVII.

The Sir Leoline Jenkins’ Laboratories were named after a seventeenth-century Principal. Professor Derek Long (Chemistry, 1943) describes them as “a basement containing a workshop and stores, and a further three floors with a library, two lecture rooms and a number of laboratories”. During World War II, confidential work took place here on ‘Tube Alloys’ – code for the British nuclear weapons project, and specifically for the separation of uranium isotopes. The laboratories were closed in the autumn of 1947, having been the last college laboratories in operation after the University centralised provision in the Science Area next to the University Parks.

Meyricke Lower Library memorial plaque

Memorial plaque in the Lower Library. Sir Walter St David Jenkins (matriculated 1893) gave £300 towards the new Library. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

The ground floor room which had been used for teaching physics became the fourth and current incarnation of the Meyricke Library. The new Library opened in Michaelmas 1949 as a memorial to those who died in the Second World War. (The Celtic Collection, established around the turn of the century under Principal Rhŷs, was moved to an adjoining room at the same time, the weight of books in the central aisle of the Fellows’ Library having been considered a risk.)

The Lower Meyricke Library from the 1966 College Record (© Jesus College, Oxford)

It is in the nature of libraries to expand, and the Meyricke Library was extended upstairs in 1964–1965. The buildings of Third Quad received Grade II listing in 1972, but this did not prevent further expansion of the upper section in 1984–1985. In the words of that year’s Record, “it now rises skywards on three floor levels”. (The Celtic Collection moved upstairs at the same time, linked to the Meyricke by a catwalk behind the office of the Jesus Professor of Celtic.) The ground-floor lecture theatre was annexed in 1990 and refurbished as the Periodicals Room.

In 1992, Jesus became an early member of OLIS, the computerised catalogue of the University’s libraries. Computerisation later made possible self-service borrowing. The Librarian’s office moved out of the little ground-floor room known as the Cave up to the first-floor room relinquished by the Celtic Professor after 1996, a year after the College Archives had moved to the second floor. The Meyricke Library continues to develop: a temporary Graduate Study Room has been established in Staircase XIII, and this summer has seen the installation of electronic tags on all 36,000 books to improve security and self-service.

A thorough history must await investigation of the College records. Until then, reminiscences and corrections from Old Members are most welcome, to

Owen McKnight (Librarian)

Sources and further reading:

  • J.N.L. Baker, ‘The College in the Long Vacation’, Jesus College Magazine 1949, pages 14–15
  • J.N.L. Baker, ‘Jesus College’, pages 264–279 in H.E. Salter & M.D. Lobel (editors), A History of the County of Oxford, Volume 3: The University of Oxford (London: Oxford University Press for the Institute of Historical Research, 1954)
  • J.N.L. Baker, ‘Edmund Meyricke and his benefaction’, Jesus College Record 1966, pages 19–28
  • J.N.L. Baker, Jesus College, Oxford 1571–1971 (Oxford: Jesus College, 1971), page 58
  • Derek Long, ‘Sir Leoline Jenkins Laboratories 1907–47’, Jesus College Record 1995/96 pages 46–57
Posted in Celtic Library, Meyricke Library | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

September 2015 Book of the Month: A Table of Humane Passions by Nicholas Coeffeteau (1621)

TableofHumanePassions (5)

Title-page of Coeffeteau’s A Table of Humane Passions: Fellows’ Library N.5.22 Gall. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

This book discusses the passions (or emotions), a key concept of early modern moral philosophy. The title-page depicts the passions as allegorical figures in mannered poses, holding emblematic objects such as Hope’s anchor. Despite their abstract portrayal, the passions were seen to have tangible effects on both the individual’s health and the state of the body politic.

Coeffeteau’s understanding of the passions arises from Aristotle’s theory of the tripartite vegetative, sensitive and rational soul. He situates the passions in the sensitive part, arguing that the reasonable soul should limit the emotional excesses and associated physical illnesses which affect everybody. Coeffeteau contrasts his pragmatic attitude with the Stoic ideal of the imperturbable virtuous man.

Latin inscription 'Posse et nolle nobile': Fellows' Library N.5.22 Gall. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Latin inscription ‘Posse et nolle nobile’: Fellows’ Library N.5.22 Gall. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

This edition presents the translation of Edward Grimeston, a prolific translator and sergeant-at-arms for King James I. It is testament to the flourishing market for French works on the passions, which was to culminate with the English publication of Descartes’ Passions of the Soule in 1650. Its previous owners include one James Coulbye and former Principal Jonathan Edwards. The latter’s inscription ‘posse et nolle nobile’ (to have power and to abstain from using it is noble) is an apt aphorism for a book about developing self-restraint.

Emma Jones (Library Assistant, 2015)

Sources and further reading:

  • Paster, Gail Kern, Rowe, Katherine and Floyd-Wilson, Mary, Reading the Early Modern Passions: Essays in the Cultural History of Emotion (Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).
  • Schmitter, Amy M., ‘Passions and Affections’ in Peter R. Anstey (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy in the Seventeenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pages 442–471.
Posted in Book of the month, Fellows' Library | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

August 2015 Book of the Month: Steganographia by Johannes Trithemius (1606)


Title-page of Steganographia: Fellows’ Library M.7.7 Gall. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Steganography, in modern usage, is the art of concealing a message – not just concealing its content, but disguising that a hidden message exists. Appropriately, although this book appears to offer instructions for magical communication with angels, it conceals a guide to cryptography, that is, writing in code.

Johannes of Trittenheim (1462–1516) was a German monk and historian. He wrote the Steganographia around 1500 and it circulated in handwritten copies for the next century. One transcript belonged to the Elizabethan conjuror John Dee and is now preserved in the National Library of Wales.

This was its first printed publication, long after Trithemius’s death. His Faustian reputation swiftly led to the inclusion of Steganographia in the Catholic Index Librorum Prohibitorum or List of Prohibited Books.

Book III

A table in Book III, enciphering (in corrupted German) ‘nit lais duher zu mir noit gch andel us zudas ich lden brenge ail weis soch behalt’: Fellows’ Library M.7.7 Gall. (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Printed at the end is the Clavis, or Key, which explains the method of encryption in the first two parts of the Steganographia. The third section, however, remained unexplained until 1998, when the tables of numbers were identified as a substitution cipher.

Owen McKnight (Librarian)

Sources and further reading:

Posted in Book of the month, Fellows' Library | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

From Alice to Zuleika

Just in time for Alice’s Day, the Meyricke Library’s Oxford collection has been updated. It contains a selection of books covering everything from pioneering medical discoveries to guided walks of the city centre. The collection has been enhanced by the addition of some Oxford-related fiction, from Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to Beerbohm’s Zuleika Dobson.

Oxford collection

A selection of books from the updated Oxford collection in the Meyricke Library (© Jesus College, Oxford)

The collection is available in the Periodicals Room for all current college members to use and can be explored by searching for shelfmarks beginning OX on SOLO. Suggestions for new books are encouraged.

Emma Jones (Library Assistant)

Posted in Meyricke Library | Leave a comment