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St. John's College Library

Address. The Library, St. John's College, Cambridge CB2 1TP
Telephone. (01223) 33 93 93
Fax. (01223) 33 70 35
e-mail. [library@joh.cam.ac.uk]
Internet. http://www.joh.cam.ac.uk/library/

Governing body or responsible institution. St. John's College
Functions. General academic library; collections are maintained both for research and for current students of the College.
Subjects. Broad range of academic subjects: theology, classics, history, mathematics and sciences, early printed books.

Access. Open to all bona fide researchers; appointment essential; letter of introduction required. - Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Closures at Christmas, Easter and August Bank Holiday.
Special facilities. Photocopier, microfilm reader, ultra-violet lamp, computer. Microfilming and photography by arrangement.
Travel directions. Frequent bus service from railway station to town centre. Park and ride service from outskirts of city. Parking in city centre car parks.


1.1 St. John's College was founded in 1511, by Lady Margaret Beaufort, acting on the advice of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester. A library was included among the first buildings (1516), and several donations of books are recorded from the earliest years of the College. By 1544 there were 92 books listed in an inventory of the library; a large proportion of these are no longer in the collection having succumbed either to neglect or, more often to reorganisation of the collection in the 17th and 18th centuries.

1.2 The collection grew slowly but steadily in the second half of the 16th century. Early in the 17th century the original accommodation was outgrown and in 1623-24 a new building was erected with a finely furnished library room on the first floor, the gift of John Williams (1582-1650), then Bishop of Lincoln. In the decades following completion the collection grew rapidly as the result of a number of major benefactions. The most important of these was the collection of William Crashaw (1572-1626), puritan divine, consisting of c. 800 printed books and 350 medieval manuscripts, purchased from him for the College by Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624). Other large benefactors included: Thomas Morton, Bishop of Durham (1564-1659), Valentine Cary, Bishop of Exeter (d. 1626), David Dolben, Bishop of Bangor (1581-1633), John Collins (d. 1634), Fellow of the College and Peter Gunning (1614-1684), Bishop of Ely.

1.3 In the 18th century the collection was much enriched by a c. 4,000 printed books and manuscripts from Thomas Baker, the antiquarian (1656-1731), a collection of fine editions of the classics from the poet Matthew Prior (1664-1721), and books from Humphrey Gower (1638-1711), Master of the College.

1.4 In the 19th century the University under- graduate curriculum was expanded, and the College library began to be expected to provide systematically for students for the first time. This brought about rapid growth in the collections and an expansion of the library into the lower floor of the 17th-century building. This expansion has continued throughout the 20th century: in 1994 a new building was opened to house the undergraduate collections, and the 17th-century buildings refurbished to provide facilities for readers of the research collections.


Chronological outline and analysis by language

2.1 The research collections comprise approximately 40,000 books. Of these approximately 300 are incunables and nearly 4,000 of the 16th century. The 17th and 18th centuries account for approximately 25,000 books, and the remainder are of the 19th and 20th centuries.

2.2 No complete breakdown by language has been undertaken, although of the books printed before 1800 approximately half are either in English or are English imprints. Of the remainder the majority are in Latin, with Greek and Hebrew probably the next best represented languages. German and other European languages make up a very tiny percentage of the whole. However, continental imprints, German in particular, are a much larger proportion of the whole for the period before 1700. German imprints account for a third of the incunables in the library and the proportion is likely to be similar for the 16th-century continental imprints.

Subject outline

2.3 The collection reflects contemporary intellectual interests of the University and the College: for the 16th and 17th centuries theology is predominant although a range of other subjects are represented - law, classics, science, medicine and history. In the 18th century a broadening of interests can be discerned in the historical, topographical and antiquarian works which appear in quantity for the first time. In the 19th century the need to provide for undergraduate teaching is reflected in a more systematic coverage of current scholarship; German editions of the classics, reference books and the work of German scientists are particularly well represented. At the same time the College continued to receive gifts of books of antiquarian interest, which for the first time began to include literature in European vernaculars, although none of these collections includes much in the German language.

2.4 Incunabula. Out of c. 300 incunables in the collection, including fragments, none are in the German language; of the German imprints, which make up a third of the total, the largest numbers are from Strasbourg (22), Nuremberg (21), Cologne (18) and Basel (15). The biggest single donor of German incunables was Thomas Baker, the 18th-century antiquarian (12), although the origins of the majority are obscure and it seems likely that many have been in the collection since the 16th century. The earliest is Cicero, De officiis (Meinz 1466).

2.5 The holdings are, as might be expected, largely theological. There are a number of Bibles including a Biblia latina (Speyer: Peter Drach [1490]), and works of Biblical criticism, such as Thomas Aquinas, Glossa super evangelia (Nuremberg: A. Koberger 1475). There are a number of works of medieval theology, Alexander de Hales's Summa (Nuremberg 1481-1482), Alexander Anglus's Destructorium viciorum (Cologne 1485), Gerson's Opera (Strasbourg 1488 and 1494), and works by Albertus Magnus and Duns Scotus. In this category works by Thomas a Kempis should particularly be mentioned (see below 2.14 for Yule Collection). Liturgical works are few, but include a particularly finely produced Missal of the use of Lyon (Mainz: Johann Neumeister 1487).

2.6 Other strong fields are philosophy and the classics. There are philosophical works by Boethius (De consolatione philosophiae, Nuremberg 1473 and 1476, Cologne 1482), Gulielmus Burlaeus (Vitae philosophorum, Cologne [n.d.] H 4113) and Robert Holkot (Super sapientiam, Hagenau 1494). Classical authors represented include Cicero, Horace, Terence and Virgil. The collection also comprises works of history and travel; Hartmann Schedel's Liber chronicarum (Nuremberg 1493, Augsburg 1497), Bernhard von Breydenbach's Itinerarium (Mainz 1486) and Ludolphus de Suchen's Iter in terram sanctam (Strasbourg [n.d.] H 10308). On the whole, the incunables cover all fields of interests of an early 16th-century College library.

2.7 Bibles. The library is strongest on scholarly, Latin, texts of the Bible; the Vulgate with the gloss of Nicolas de Lyra (Basel 1507 etc.), editions from Froben (Basel 1491 and 1495) and Koberger (Nuremberg 1501). Among editions of Erasmus's text and translation from Basel are the first (1516) and second (1519), and a copy of the fourth (1527) printed on vellum. The work of the Swiss reformers is represented in copies of Beza's edition of the New Testament (Geneva 1582 and 1580), and the Psalms with Calvin's commentary (Geneva 1564). Copies with the Hebrew text include the Hebrew and Aramaic polyglot, edited by Johannes Buxtorf (Basel 1618-1619), and Hutter's Hebrew text (Hamburg 1587 and Cologne 1603). There is a copy of Sebastian Münster's edition of the Gospel of St. Mark in Hebrew (Basel 1557). Polyglot texts include David Wolder's Greek, Latin and German edition for the German Protestant Church (Hamburg 1596), and the books from Genesis to Ruth in Hutter's edition (Nuremberg 1599). There is only a single monolingual German Bible (Zürich 1549).

2.8 Koran. The collection includes a few copies of the Koran, all of them European scholarly editions as might be expected. These include an Arabic edition (Hamburg 1694), the Latin translation of Matthias Friedrich Beck (Augsburg 1688), and the edition of Theodorus Bibliander (Basel 1550).

2.9 Patristica. The Church Fathers were long the staple of the University curriculum and the library is correspondingly strong in them: St. Jerome's works (Basel 1516); Augustine's works (including editions from Basel 1506, 1528-1529 and 1596); John Chrysostom's works in Erasmus's edition (Basel 1558). Interest in this field was maintained in the 19th century with purchase of new scholarly editions, such as those produced in the series Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum and Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der Altchristlichen Literatur.

2.10 Reformation and Counter-Reformation. This period forms a particularly large part of the library's theological holdings, including the works of Luther (Wittenberg 1558-1552), Bellarmino (Cologne 1620-1617), Melanchthon (Wittenberg 1562-1564, with contemporary manuscript notes), and Erasmus (Basel 1540). Calvin, Beza, Bullinger, Oecolampadius, Gretser and Eck are represented by numerous individual works in Latin, of German printing. The College's strong link with John Fisher has led to acquisition of a number of works of his and of the early stages of the Reformation associated with him, many of them printed in Germany, including: the only copies in Cambridge of the 1523 and 1558 Cologne editions of his Assertiones Lutheranae confutatio; his Defensio regie assertationis contra Babylonicam captivitatem (Cologne, June and July 1525); the only copy in Cambridge of the German language translation of the former, Gründtliche widerlegung und ableynung der XLI. Artickeln Mar. Luthers (Leipzig 1536). Other works include Henry VIII's Assertio septem sacramentorum adversus Martinum Lutherum (Strasbourg 1522), and Luther's Assertionum M. L. confutatio per J. Roff. episc. ...suntque singulis confutt. Lutheri assertiones praefixae (Cologne 1525).

2.11 Classics. The collection includes a cross-section of texts of the classics, including Aristotle in Erasmus's Greek edition (Basel 1550), Strasbourg editions of Suetonius and Homer (1520 and 1534), Sallust in Badius Ascensius's edition (Basel 1564), Herodotus (Frankfurt 1604), Flavius Josephus in Greek and Latin (Geneva 1611). Of the 19th century are a set of the Teubner classics and Passow and Schneider's Greek dictionaries.

2.12 Science and medicine to 1700. The books in this category printed before 1700 are on the whole a broad cross-section of the classic texts of the age. Medical books include Hippocrates's Opera, edited by Anutius Foesius (Geneva 1595), Galen's works in Greek (Basel 1538), Conrad Gesner's Latin edition (Basel 1561-1562), and Andreas Vesalius's De humani corporis fabrica (Basel 1543). Studies of natural history include Gesner's Historia animalium (Zürich 1558, 1585-1587). Holdings of contemporary astronomy include works of Copernicus, Kepler and Tycho Brahe. Geography includes Sebastian Münster's Cosmographia (Basel 1559), Claudius Ptolemaeus's Geographia (Strasbourg 1520) and Opera omnia (Basel 1551). Mineralogy and chemistry include Georgius Agricola's De ortu et causis subterraneorum libri V. (Basel 1546) and a number of works of Paracelsus. Mathematics of this period is less well represented than that of later centuries, although it includes a copy of Adam Riese's Rechenung auff der Linihan (Erfurt 1522).

2.13 Sciences and medicine post 1700. The importance of mathematics and the physical sciences in the University in the 18th and 19th centuries is clearly reflected in the library's scientific holdings of the period, which are more closely focussed, and include larger numbers of works by each author than was possible in earlier centuries. Works in German make an appearance in significant quantities for the first time. Holdings of Leibniz include his Opera omnia (Geneva 1768); the Bernoulli family are well represented with the Opera of James (Geneva 1744) and those of Jean (Lausanne and Geneva 1742) and there are a number of works by Karl Friedrich Gauß, including a few in the German language. A set of the Mathematische Annalen beginning with vol. 1 (1869) continues into the 20th century. Astronomy and physics are particularly strong for this period, including, for astronomy Leonhard Euler's Theoria motuum planetarum et cometarum (Berlin 1744), a number of works of Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel, Astronomische Untersuchungen (Königsberg 1841-1842) and Astronomische Beobachtungen auf der Königlichen Universitäts-Sternwarte in Königsberg 1813-1835 (Königsberg 1815-1844) and the first ten volumes of the Astronomische Nachrichten (1823-1833). Holdings in physics include Hermann Helmholtz's Wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen (Leipzig 1888-1895) and Handbuch der Physiologischen Optik (Hamburg and Leipzig 1896) and Bernhard Riemann's Schwere Elektricität und Magnetismus (Hanover 1876).

2.14 Yule Collection of editions of the De Imitatione Christi of Thomas a Kempis. The collection includes over 20 incunables, of which 9 are German imprints, including the editio princeps (Augsburg 1471), in a contemporary binding with other contemporary devotional tracts issued by the same printer. There are four copies of the edition of the text of Herbert Rosweide, published by the Society of Jesus in Cologne (1629, 1634, 1653 and 1657), a copy of Henry Sommalius's edition (Cologne 1728) and Francis Joseph Desbillon's (Mannheim 1780). There is one edition of the text in German (Cologne 1688). Some of the volumes include other items, mostly other devotional works: Bernard of Clairvaux's Speculum divini amoris (Cologne 1505) and Johannes Gerson's De diversis materiis (Cologne c. 1473).


3.1 Modern catalogues

Computerised catalogue (Dynix Library System)

[covers the majority of the books in the collection printed after 1800]

Interleaved and annotated copy of the published catalogue of the Faculty of Advocates of Edinburgh

[all books printed before 1800]

Card catalogue of the Yule Collection

The incunables are recorded in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC).

Adams, H. M.: Catalogues of books printed on the continent of Europe, 1501-1600, in Cambridge libraries. 2 vols. Cambridge 1967 [lists St. John's College copies]

3.2 Historic catalogues

There are about a dozen historical catalogues of the library and particular collections, among the library's manuscripts, including an author catalogue in manuscript of the mid 17th century (Ms. U.1), and interleaved, annotated copies of the printed catalogues of the Bodleian, 1674 and 1734. Inventories of the collection made in 1544 and 1557 are held in the College Archives (see also below 5, McKitterick).

Lockhart, E. W.; Sayle, C. E.: Incunabula in the library of St. John's College Cambridge. Cambridge 1911


4.1 Archival Sources

Archival material is held in the College Archives.

4.2 Publications

References to the library are included in general histories of the College:

Baker, T. (ed. J. E. B. Mayor): History of the College of St. John's the Evangelist, Cambridge. Cambridge 1869

Miller, E.: Portrait of a College. Cambridge 1961; repr. 1993

Crook, A. C.: From the foundation to Gilbert Scott. Cambridge 1980

Crook, A. C.: From Penrose to Cripps. Cambridge 1978

The Eagle [College magazine, includes various historical articles on the library]


Korsten, F.: A catalogue of the library of Thomas Baker. Cambridge 1990

McKitterick, D.: Two sixteenth-century catalogues of St. John's College Library. In: Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 7 (1978) pp. 135-155 [pp. 144-155 contain a transcription of the catalogue of 1544 and 1557]

See also: A directory of rare book and special collections ... 2nd ed. London 1997, p. 37

June 1999

Elizabeth A. Quarmby Lawrence

Quelle: Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. Digitalisiert von Günter Kükenshöner.
Hrsg. von Bernhard Fabian. Hildesheim: Olms Neue Medien 2003.