Thursday, 18 February 2016

Paste Paper, Melancholy and a book belonging to Democritus Junior.

Bur. 02627 – Ludivico Pontico Virunio - Pontici Virunni viri doctissimi Britannicae historiae libri sex, magna et fide et diligentia conscripti : ad Britannici codicis fidem correcti - Londini : Apud Edmundum Bollifantum, impensis Henrici Denhami, & Radulphi Nuberij, 1585

This tiny book is among the books of Bishop Thomas Burgess.  For all you Welsh medievalists out there it’s a Latin abridgement of a collection of histories of Britain, including those of Geoffrey of Monmouth and Gerald of Wales.  Virunio produced this abridgement in the early sixteenth century for the Italian market, but this edition was printed in 1585 in London.  

Looking beyond the text, the book’s binding dates from the early eighteenth century and is particularly attractive.  It’s bound in quarter Calf, with a gilt patch label and boards covered in a lovely red paste paper, decorated with swirly patterns.  This form of decorative paper was used widely in the seventeenth and eighteenth century on library bindings and was made by mixing pigment with wheat paste.  The resulting coloured paste was applied to the surface of the paper and then a tool or the maker’s fingers, were moved through the wet paste to make the patterns.  When dried the resulting decorative paper was hard wearing as well as rather beautiful.    

As well as being an interesting work of history in an attractive binding, the book has a fascinating provenance too.  On the pastedown is the bookplate of the library of Christ Church, Oxford. The engraved bookplate appears to be eighteenth century and may well date from the time the book was rebound.  At some point the book was withdrawn from the Christ Church library stock, as the word ‘Duplicate’ is written on the bookplate in a late eighteenth century hand.  

On the title page of the book, to the right of the title, is written in ink the name ‘Robertus Burton’, the date 1600 and a little cipher that appears to be formed from a triangle of three lower case ‘r’s.  The date 1600 and the monogram are repeated once again beneath the title.    On the reverse of the final page of the book the inscription ‘Robertus Burton’ is repeated again, along with the three ‘r’ cipher but also the date he acquired the book:  ‘martii primo 1600’ – March the first 1600.

The owner identified by the inscription and cipher was the scholar Robert Burton (1577-1640) a prominent Oxford Polymath in the early years of the seventeenth century.  About 1700 books from his library remain and he used this signature and cipher in many of them.[1] Burton bought this book in 1600 when he was twenty three and was still at the beginning of his academic career, a career that would see him explore Philosophy, Theology, History, Mathematics and Psychology.  An undergraduate at Brasenose, at the age of twenty two he had became a student (fellow) at Christ Church and remained there for the rest of his life.  From 1624 to 1640 he served as librarian of Christ Church.[2]  

His tour de force was a book entitled The Anatomy of Melancholy, which he published under the pseudonym Democritus Junior.   Published in 1621, it was an extraordinary and ground-breaking work of Psychology; a discussion of the symptoms, causes and cure of the condition of Melancholy.  It was a hugely influential book in its time.  We have a copy of the 1638 edition here in Lampeter in the Phillips collection (Phi 01502) and the frontispiece is illustrated here, including the potrait of Burton labelled as 'Democritus Junior'.  On his death in 1640 Burton was buried in Christ Church Cathedral in his college, where his monument can still be seen, with a portrait bust once again labelled 'Democritus Junior'.  Burton's personal library of around 1700 titles was split between the Bodleian and Christ Church, the Bodleian getting first pick.[3]  This is how his copy of Virunio came to be in the library of Christ Church, although this book is not recorded among his collection in the monograph on his library published in 1988 by Nicolas Kiessling.[4]    

We don't know quite how this book got from Christ Church library to Thomas Burgess’ collection, but we can speculate.  As stated earlier, the Christ Church bookplate has the word ‘Duplicate’ written on it. We know that the librarian at Christ Church was weeding the collection and disposing of duplicate books (including some of Burton’s) between 1789-91.  Some were sold to a London bookseller called Thomas King who sold them on in 1793[5]   Perhaps Thomas Burgess picked up the book in that sale?   Personally I think Burgess probably picked the book up earlier when he was resident in Oxford.  He was an undergraduate at Corpus Christi college from 1775 and was subsequently a fellow of the college, only leaving Oxford permanently in 1791 when he moved to Durham.[6]  Corpus Christi College is just outside the back gate of Christ Church, close to Peckwater Quad and to Christ Church library,   It would be nice to think of Burgess wandering through Christ Church sometime between 1789-91 and having a rumage through a library book sale and returning triumphant to his rooms with this wonderful prize.  

[1] N. Kiessling, The Library of Robert Burton, (Oxford, 1988), p. xviii.
[2] J. B. Bamborough, ‘Burton, Robert (1577–1640)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2009 [, accessed 18 Feb 2016]
[3] N. Kiessling, The Library of Robert Burton, (Oxford, 1988), p. vii.
[4] N. Kiessling, The Library of Robert Burton, (Oxford, 1988), passim.  
[5] N. Kiessling, The Library of Robert Burton, (Oxford, 1988), p. xv.
[6] D. T. W. Price, ‘Burgess, Thomas (1756–1837)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2009 [, accessed 18 Feb 2016]


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