700 manuscripts and 4000 printed books sold for 33,000 Dutch guilders
In 1690 the Curators of Leiden’s Academy bought the library of Isaac Vossius (Leiden 1618-Windsor 1689), the most famous private library of its time. The heirs of philologist, bible critic, natural philosopher and book collector Vossius, who had spent the last nineteen years of his life in England as Canon of Windsor, sold the library of their uncle to the Academy for 33,000 Dutch guilders. The 700 manuscripts and 4000 printed books brought the existing collection of the university library up to date. Also, the enormous volume of newly acquired books made structural alterations of the library room in the Faliede Bagijnkerk necessary, which were completed in 1694. But it would take some time before students could use the new acquisitions. After its arrival in Leiden the value of the collection was contested by a committee of three professors and a few booksellers. Over the next fifteen years the heirs and the Academy were involved in several lawsuits. Only after these had been completed could Leiden scholars fully enjoy the treasures of the Bibliotheca Vossiana.
Before the sale the heirs compiled a catalogue of Vossius’ library in Windsor, which is presented here. Leiden University Library owns two more manuscript copies of this catalogue. Annotations at the end of some sections in this copy show that it was used to collate the library before sending it off from London, and also after arrival in Leiden. There Vossius’ manuscripts were shelved together, but the printed books were dispersed and shelved among books in the existing library collection. Those printed books can only be recognized as Vossiani by a printed library label with the text “Ex Bibliotheca Viri Illustri Isaaci Vossii”, which is usually pasted at the bottom of the title-page. Marginal annotations in the presented manuscript catalogue often refer to the new shelfmark in Leiden University Library, or indicate that the book was a duplicate and could be sold.
Ms. BPL 127 AF is the most important source for reconstructing the Bibliotheca Vossiana at the time of its sale in 1690. With the help of this manuscript a new catalogue of the mathematical, medical and philosophical books could be compiled. It is part of a thesis on a new history of the Bibliotheca Vossiana, to be published by Astrid Balsem. The digitized version of the manuscript will facilitate reconstruction of the other sections in Vossius’ library as well.
Post by Astrid Balsem, former research fellow of the Scaliger Institute.