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Merton College Oxford exhibition

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Merton College, Oxford exhibition marks the 275th anniversary of the Edward Worth Library.

This exhibition, curated by Dr. Elizabethanne Boran, was displayed in the Old Library of Merton College, where Edward Worth studied for his BA degree. The exhibition focussed on Worth’s connections with Merton and the Royal Society.

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Exhibition case in the Old Library at Merton College, Oxford.

Item 1

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Michael Worth’s matriculation oath
Item 1

Parecbolæ sive Excerpta è corpore statutorum Universitatis Oxoniensis. Accedunt Articuli religionis XXXIX. In Ecclesia Anglicana recepti. Nec non juramenta fidelitatis & suprematus. In vsvm juventutis Academicæ.

Oxford, 1682. 8o.

Edward Worth (1678-1733), founder of the Worth Library in Dr. Steevens’ Hospital, Dublin, matriculated at Merton College on 18  October, 1693. He was following in the academic footsteps of his elder brother Michael, who had come to Merton in 1692. On display here is Michael Worth’s copy of the abstract of the statutes of the University of Oxford, a text commonly given at matriculation. It contains two pasted-in notes: one outlining the topic of Michael Worth’s disputation and the other, visible here, his signature to the university oath.

Signing an oath of subscription to the Articles of the Church of England was not likely to prove a problem for either of the Worth brothers since both came from a well-known clerical family of the Church of Ireland. Michael and Edward were the only sons of John Worth, 1648-1688, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, and grandsons of Edward Worth, c. 1620-1669, Bishop of Killaloe. While little is known of their father who died young, their grandfather had played an important role in mid-seventeenth-century Ireland, adroitly manouevering his way through the turbulent ecclesiastical politics of the interregnum. John Worth had been anxious that the two boys follow the family profession but neither Michael nor Edward chose the Church. Michael left Oxford to study Law in London, dying soon afterwards. Edward followed other Merton scholars to Leiden, there to study Medicine. He took his M.D. at Utrecht in 1701 and returned to Dublin where he lived for the remainder of his life.

Item 2

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Marbled paper cover of Item 2
James Petiver
Gazophylacii naturæ & artis: Decas IV
London, 1702. 2o.

Edward Worth became a Fellow of the Royal Society on 11 January 1699. His library reflects his fascination with all things scientific and in particular the new discoveries of Robert Boyle, 1627–1691, and Isaac Newton, 1642–1727. Worth was evidently a keen follower of the activities of the Society and its counterparts in continental Europe. While it is clear that he was interested in the genesis of the Royal Society he was equally committed to purchasing recent works, such as these pamphlets by James Petiver, c. 1665-1718, the renowned botanist and entomologist.

Petiver had become a Fellow of the Royal Society in November 1695. A  collector of examples of natural history his extensive collection became known as the Museum Petiverianum. He was especially anxious to ensure that his collection would facilitate further research and, in the period 1696 to 1709, produced a steady stream of material, similar to the items on display, which were designed to alert fellow scientists to new discoveries.

Two or Petiver’s five ‘Decas’ are on display here. Each of the five parts are sewn into different ‘French curl’ marbled papers and Worth may have felt that the wrapper was distinctive enough not to require re-binding in calf or goat. These pamphlets are representative of a small but fascinating collection of unbound works held at the Worth library which offer the historian of bookbinding a unique glimpse into the History of the Book – bound and unbound.

Item 3

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Dixon Colby’s illustrated page: Item 3
James Petiver
Gazophylacii naturæ & artis: Decas III
London, 1702. 2o.

‘Whereas for the Encouragement of the Undertaking, several Worthy Persons have Voluntarily been pleased to deposite each a Guinea to wards the Chardge of these Plates, and others have promised to do the like or more assoon as this First Decade is published: This is therefore to satisfie such Curious Persons, that there are more Tables already done, and that the Second Decade will contain many things New and very Rare, which shall be published with all convenient Speed.’

Petiver’s Decas were part of a serialization of work on various plants, insects and animals which Petiver financed by attracting subscriptions for future publications. Individual plates were financed by contributors such as Dixon Colby, who had matriculated at Merton College in 1696, three years after Edward Worth. Colby took his BA in 1700 and was in the process of studying for his MA when he subscribed to Petiver’s publication. He received his BA in the following year and went on to take a take a BD and  DD, awarded in 1710.

Many of the subscribers to the Gazophylacii naturae & artis were members of the Royal Society and it is perhaps not surprising that among the subscribers to the first Decade was Sir Hans Sloane, 1660–1753, who had played an important role in sponsoring the entry of apothecaries like Petiver into the Society in the early 1690s. Petiver includes Sloane among a list of nine benefactors at the end of Decas IV, a list which likewise demonstrates the links between the Royal Society and its counterparts elsewhere in continental Europe.

Item 4

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Front cover and spine of Item 4
James Milnes
Sectionum conicarum elementa nova methodo demonstrata. Authore Jacobo Milnes, rectore de Ingestre in Agro Staffordiensi.
Oxford, 1702. 8o.

While Milnes’ work on conic sections drew on the work of many previous authors (most notably the seminal work of Apollonius of Perga, c. 262 BC–c. 190 BC), it should primarily be viewed in the light of the reception of Newtonianism in early eighteenth-century England. Published some fifteen years after Newton’s celebrated Principia (1687), Milnes’ mathematical text demonstrates the dominance of the Newtonian  philosophy, a philosophy which heavily influenced Worth’s scientific collection.

1702 witnessed the publication of a host of works, all aimed at introducing the Newtonian natural philosophy to a ready market. Milnes’ work, like John Keill’s Introductio ad veram physicam (1702), and David Gregory’s Astronomiae physicae et geometricae elementa (1702), was aimed at a market which was fascinated by Newton’s work but which needed some clarification of his more difficult ideas. Milnes provided a useful introduction to some of Newton’s geometrical arguments, an introduction which would subsequently be used by later commentators on Newton such as John Clarke, bap. 1682, d. 1757.

This copy of the Sectionum conicarum was once owned by the noted collector Jean-Paul Bignon, 1662-1743, Abbé de Saint-Quentin and Royal Librarian. Bignon invariably had his bindings decorated with a plate including the phrase ‘BIBLIOTHEC BIGNON’. As in the Worth copy, the use of inverted ‘B’s down the spine was a typical feature of his bindings.

Item 5

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Front cover of Item 5
Hipolito Samper y Gordejuela
Montesa ilustrada. Origen, fundacion, principios institutos, casos, progressos, iurisdicion, derechos, privilegios, preeminencias, dignidades, oficios, beneficios, heroes, y varones ilustres de la … religion militar de N. S. Santa Maria de Montesa, y San George de Alfama. Por … Frey Hippolyto de Samper …
Valencia, 1669. 2o.

Hipolito Samper y Gordejuela’s history of the order of Santa Maria de Montesa and San George de Alfama reads as a panegyric of this military religious order. Founded by Jaime II of Aragon, ca. 1264-1327, in the aftermath of the dissolution of the Templars, its primary purpose was to offset the power of the Templars’ successors, the Hospitallers. The new order proved to be successful, playing a vital role  in later medieval Aragon but by the later seventeenth century was under pressure.

Whether Worth collected this because of its historical interest (his historical collection was very wide-ranging), or whether he bought it for its fine binding is unfortunately unknown. The binding is a late Dutch red morocco gold-tooled binding of the seventeenth century, belonging to an Amsterdam merchant called Goswin Uilenbroek, 1658-1714. It bears the typical Dutch ‘drawer handle’ tooling, coupled with gilt edges. Uilenbroek’s collection came on the market in 1729 and we know that Worth was an assiduous buyer. His annotated sales catalogue of the Uilenbroek sale is one of a number of sales catalogues in the Worth library and this binding is representative of a range of fine bindings bought from Uilenbroek and other Dutch collections.

Item 6

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Front cover of Item 6
Roderigo a Castro
De universa muliebrium morborum medicina …
Cologne, 1689. 4o.

The first edition of this popular work in gynaecology and obstetrics was published at Hamburg in 1603. It is clear that Worth was particularly interested in the area of women’s health and this is one of a number of works on the topic in his collection. Roderigo a Castro, 1546-1627, a Galenist Portuguese physician, had studied medicine at Evora and Salamanca before being forced to flee Portugal when it fell to Philip II of Spain in 1580. He eventually settled in Hamburg in 1594, making a name for himself when the plague struck that city. His subsequent treatise on the plague, published in 1596, was dedicated to the Senate of Hamburg where he remained for the rest of his life.

This binding is an excellent example of an early 18th century Irish binding style known as the ‘Dark and Delicate style’. Worth not only bought fine Dutch, English and French bindings but also employed Dublin binders to bind items bought in text-block form – or to add decoration to spines. Worth’s Irish binders were working at a crucial stage of development of Irish binding which would later flower into the incredibly detailed ‘Parliamentary style A’ and ‘Parliamentary style B’, regarded as a highpoint of early modern bindings in Europe. Elements of  ‘Parliamentary binder A’ are visible in the work of the ‘Dark and Delicate Style’ binder. The latter gets its name due to the combination of dark-stained calf with a delicate gilt roll. There are a number of these bindings in the Worth library, all using the same roll and combining with it distinctive red and yellow crown endbands.

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Tail edge of Item 6

Item 7

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Front cover of Item 7
Richard Mead
A short discourse concerning pestilential contagion, and the methods to be used to prevent it
London, 1722. 8o.

In some ways, Richard Mead’s early career resembles that of Worth. Both were sons of a cleric (in Mead’s case a non-conforming minister); and both decided to study medicine at Leiden, Mead, 1673-1754,  entering the university in April 1693, just a few years before Worth. Both became members of the Royal Society, Mead being elected in 1703, and both would subsequently become physicians and noted collectors of books. Mead’s collection of 10,000 volumes, while it was double the size of that of Worth, reflected similar themes: a strong preponderance of works on medicine, natural philosophy and the classics.

The influence of Isaac Newton runs through Worth’s collection and Mead’s career. Mead had made a name for himself as a follower of Newton with his initial publication on poison, in which he had incorporated Newtonian principles in a discussion of mechanical chemistry. Newtonian theories were likewise to the fore in his subsequent works.

The work on display, Mead’s treatise on the prevention of plague, was published in 1720 and immediately became a classic, running to seven editions within a year. This is the enlarged eighth edition of 1722. Bound in London in the 1720s in gold-tooled sprinkled calf, the broad frames on the covers are made up of a triple fillet and a delicate flower roll, combined with a pointillé roll in a wave motif.

Item 8

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Front cover of Item 8
Girolamo Franchi di Conestaggio
Del l’unione del regno di Portogallo. Alla corona di Castiglia. Istoria del Sig. Ieronimo de Franchi Conestaggio …
Genoa, 1585. 4o.

This work, though ascribed to Conestaggio, is thought to be by Juan da Silva, Conde de Portalegre. Written just five years after Philip II of Spain’s annexation of Portugal, it outlines the process of union, an uneasy union which would last only sixty years.

The work is bound in the distinctive binding of Henri-Louis de Loménie, son of Louis-Henri de Loménie, Comte de Brienne, 1636-98. The woman rising from a washtub holding a mirror, was intended as a reference to the legendary Melusine, the Lady of Limoges, from whom the counts of Brienne claimed descent. Worth has a number of Loménie de Brienne bindings in his collection, either bearing the coat of arms of Henri-Louis, his more famous father Louis-Henri or his more politically astute grandfather, Henri-Auguste, who had been one of Mazarin’s  advisers. These books were bought by Worth in 1724 when Louis-Henri’s library was put up for sale.

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View of exhibition case

I am grateful to Ms. Maria Kalligerou for providing digital photographs of the exhibition cases in Merton College Library, Oxford.

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