Bodleian Library, Oxford

by Unknown

1851

Bodleian Library, Oxford.—This institution, so called from the name of its illustrious founder, was established towards the close of the reign of Elizabeth by Sir Thomas Bodley, who, having become disgusted with some court intrigues, resigned all his employments about the year 1597, and resolved to spend the remainder of his life in a private station. Having thought of various plans to render himself useful, he says, "I concluded at the last to set up my staff at the library door in Oxon, being thoroughly persuaded that in my solitude and surcease from the commonwealth affairs, I could not busy myself to better purpose than by reducing that place, which then in every part lay ruined and waste, to the public use of students. For the effecting whereof I found myself furnished in a competent proportion of such four kinds of aids, as, unless I had them all, there was no hope of good success. For without some kind of knowledge, as well in the learned and modern tongues as in sundry other sorts of scholastical literature; without some purse-ability to go through with the charge; without great store of honorable friends to further the design; and without special good leisure to follow such a work, it could but have proved a vain attempt and inconsiderate." Having set himself this task—"a task," as his friend Camden justly says, "that would have suited the character of a crowned head"—Bodley despatched from London a letter to the vice-chancellor, offering not only to restore the building, but to provide a fund for the purchase of books, and the maintenance of proper officers. This offer being thankfully accepted, he commenced his undertaking by presenting to the library a large collection of books purchased on the continent, and valued at £10,000. He also collected 1294 rare manuscripts, which were afterwards increased to 6818, independently of 1898 in the Ashmolean Museum. Other collections and contributions were also, by his example and persuasion, presented to the new library; and the additions thus made soon swelled to such an amount that the old building was no longer sufficient to contain them. The edifice was accordingly enlarged; and Bodley thus had the proud satisfaction of seeing Oxford possessed, by his means, of such a library as might well bear comparison with the proudest in continental Europe. It would require a volume to contain an enumeration of the many important additions which have been made to this library by its numerous benefactors, or to admit even a sketch of its ample contents in almost every branch of literature and science. The Oriental manuscripts are the rarest and most beautiful to be found in any European collection; and the first editions of the classics, procured from the Pinelli and Crevenna libraries, rival those of Vienna. In a word, it is exceedingly rich in many departments in which most other libraries are deficient, and it forms altogether one of the noblest collections of which any university can boast.