Tuesday, January 22

One of the bibliographic hero’s

I was bidding for a set of books on ebay and came across this name. John Leland.

What a great man in the annals of bibiliophilia. I quote from his wiki entry.

In 1533, the king appears to have entrusted Leland with a document, "a moste gratius commission" (or principis diploma as he called it in Latin), which authorized him to examine and use the libraries of all religious houses in England.[10] Leland spent the next few years travelling from house to house, for the most part shortly before they were dissolved, compiling numerous lists of significant or unusual books in their libraries.[11] About 1535, he met the ex-Carmelite churchman and fellow antiquary John Bale, who much admired his work and offered his assistance.[2]

In 1536, not long after the First Suppression Act commanding the dissolution of lesser monasteries was passed, Leland lamented the spoliation of monastic libraries and addressed Thomas Cromwell in a letter seeking aid for the rescue of books.[2][12] He complained that

"The Germans perceive our desidousness, and do send daily young scholars hither that spoileth [books], and cutteth them out of libraries, returning home and putting them abroad as monuments of their own country."[12]

In the 1530s and 1540s, the royal library was reorganised to accommodate hundreds of books that were previously kept in monastic collections. Leland himself describes how Henry's palaces at Greenwich, Hampton Court and Westminster were adapted for the purpose. Leland's part in this is uncertain.

In humanist fashion, Leland styled himself antiquarius, a title which was at one time interpreted as referring to a formal appointment as 'king's antiquary': however, it is now understood to have been merely Leland's own preferred way of describing himself.[13] There is no evidence that he personally oversaw the relocation of the books to their new home or received a librarian's wages. What he did do was to compile his lists of important volumes, and to take measures to encourage their preservation.

What a man, eh? a man who rescued books. Hats off to you, Sir.

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