The First Printed Book on Book Collecting – With the First Catalogue of Manuscripts at Oxford

Bury, Richard de, Bishop of Durham (1287-1345); James, Thomas (1573-1629)

Philobiblon Richardi Dunelmensis sive De amore librorum, et institutione bibliothecæ, tractatus pulcherrimus. Ex collatione cum varijs manuscriptis editio jam secunda; cui accessit appendix de manuscriptis Oxoniensibus. Omnia hæc, opera & studio T.I. Novi Coll. in alma Academia Oxoniensi socij. B.P.N

Oxford: Joseph Barnes, 1599


Quarto: 17.3 x 12.7 cm. [8], 62, [10] pp. Collation: *4, A-I4 (complete with blank leaf H4)


Bound in 20th c. calf, gilt, by Pratt. With a typographic ornament on the title, woodcut initials, head-and tail-pieces. An unusually nice copy of this scarce book, upper margin cut close, headlines on 2 leaves shaved. With contemporary annotations and corrections. Light soiling to title, a few small ink spots. Provenance: John Bellingham Inglis (1780-1870), translator and editor of “Philobliblon”(1832); James P.R.Lyell (1871-1948), famed book collector (book-label); James Stevens Cox (1910-1997), bookseller, publisher, writer, archaeologist, historian, and hairdresser (book-label).

The first edition to be printed in England of the first published work on bibliophily, the “love of books”. The book was written in 1345 by the English statesman, intellectual, bibliophile and book collector Richard de Bury (Aungerville), Bishop of Durham, whose collection of manuscripts numbered in the hundreds. Bury discusses various aspects of book collecting and the maintenance of a library, as well as the state of learning and scholarly practices of his age.

“Philobiblon” was printed four times in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (Cologne, 1473; Speyer, 1483; Paris, 1500; and Oxford, 1598/9). It was printed in the seventeenth century in an anthology “Philologicarum epistolarum centuria una” in 1610, 1614, and 1674. All editions are rare. ESTC locates 8 copies of the 1598/9 edition in North America.

The text of this Oxford edition was edited by Thomas James of New College Oxford, who dedicated the publication to his patron, Thomas Bodley, who had begun the renovation of Oxford’s library. James added as an appendix a list of the authors of manuscripts preserved in Oxford colleges, the first such catalogue. A 1598 issue, probably a trial publication (see Madan), is recorded in only one copy, without James's dedication to Bodley or the appendix.

The book is divided into twenty chapters, among them: I. That the treasure of wisdom is chiefly contained in books.; II. The degree of affection that is properly due to books.; III. What we are to think of the price in the buying of books.; VIII. Of the numerous opportunities we have had of collecting a store of books.; IX. How, although we preferred the works of the ancients, we have not condemned the studies of the moderns.; X. Of the gradual perfecting of books.; XI. Why we have preferred books of liberal learning to books of law.; XII. Why we have caused books of grammar to be so diligently prepared.; XIII. Why we have not wholly neglected the fables of the poets.; XIV. Who ought to be special lovers of books.; XV. Of the advantages of the love of books.; XVI. That it is meritorious to write new books and to renew the old.; XVII. Of showing due propriety in the custody of books.; XVIII. Showing that we have collected so great store of books for the common benefit of scholars and not only for our own pleasure.; XIX. Of the manner of lending all our books to students.

"[Bury’s] preferences for literary and theological works are prominent, along with his belief in the importance of language study in Greek and Hebrew. The liberal arts remained central to his understanding of learning and far more rewarding and important than the study of law.”(ODNB)

The book is also a cornerstone of library studies. Bury set out the methods he used to acquire his library (including his dealings with booksellers), and his plans for endowing a new college at Oxford that would house his collection of hundreds of manuscripts, some of it commissioned through scribes, much of it acquired by purchase or gift from monastic communities and the second-hand book market.

Bury envisioned a library at Durham College (where Trinity College now stands), but his plan was never fulfilled because of the debts he left at the time of his death. It is traditionally reported that Richard's books were sent, in his lifetime or after his death, to the house of the Durham Benedictines at Oxford, and there remained until the dissolution of the College by Henry VIII., when they were dispersed, some going into Duke Humphrey's (the University) library, others to Balliol College, and the remainder passing into the hands of Dr. George Owen, who purchased the site of the dissolved College.

“Philobiblon” and the Bodleian Library:

In 1598, the scholar and diplomat Thomas Bodley turned his full attention to the restoration of the former university library at Oxford. In 1599, Bodley chose Thomas James as the first keeper of the nascent library. “Bodley’s letters to James deal with every aspect of the library: acquisitions; cataloguing and classification; binding; preservation; cleaning; the receiving of visitors. They constitute a manual of library management, and a uniquely detailed account, from its founder's point of view, of the birth of a great library.”(ODNB)

“Thomas Bodley developed his plans for his library in close consultation with his indefatigable librarian, Thomas James. James, a fellow at New College, secured Bodley's attention in 1599 by publishing an edition of Richard de Bury's ‘Philobiblon’, with a dedication to Bodley and a catalogue of Oxford manuscripts, printed in an ‘Appendix de manuscriptis Oxoniensibus’, that James compiled himself. The ‘Philobiblon’, subtitled ‘De amore librorum, et institutione bibliothecae’ (on the love of books and establishing a library), could have been expected to appeal to Bodley's ambition to recuperate Oxford's lost medieval library. In his choice of de Bury's ‘Philobiblon’, James published a medieval work that gave bibliophilia a new name and identity. Originally written in 1345 by the bishop of Durham, whose library was said to be without peer in fourteenth-century England, the work expresses and defends a love of books that borders on the obsessive: ‘this ecstatic love has carried us away so powerfully,’ de Bury writes, ‘that we have resigned all thoughts of other earthly things, and have given ourselves up to a possession for acquiring books.’

“In his dedication, James compares Bodley with de Bury on the basis of ‘the love which you have for books and literature.’ In so doing, he also implies a parallel between Bodley and de Bury as founders of great Oxford libraries; like Bodley, de Bury planned to establish a library at Oxford by bequeathing his own large book collection to Durham College (the site of the current Trinity College, Oxford), a plan that might have established an Oxford library to rival Duke Humfrey's if de Bury's debts at his death in 1345 had not forced his library's sale and dispersal. Without anticipating this fate, de Bury's ‘Philobiblon’ concludes with a set of rules for the imagined library that resembles those of the Bodleian in their stipulations restricting the books' circulation and use.”(Summit, Memory's Library: Medieval Books in Early Modern England, p. 221.)

The Appendix of Oxford Manuscripts:

There are 375 authors in James’ index of manuscripts, “the first ‘union’ catalogue ever attempted at Oxford or, for that matter, anywhere else.”(Pforzheimer) In his introduction to the index, James announces that he is preparing a catalogue of manuscripts not only at Oxford but also in the libraries of Cambridge (That book, the “Ecloga Oxonio-Cantabrigiensis”, would appear in 1600.)

Madan, Early Oxford Press, I p.47, no. 8; Pforzheimer 21; ESTC S104430; STC 959