50 objects 1: the oldest book

The oldest book held in Brunel Library was printed in 1679 and contains various works by Francis Bacon, collected and edited by Thomas Tenison, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1694 until his death in 1715.

Archbishop Tenison was known for his interest in, and support of, education and libraries. He gave some of his own books to found a library at St Martin in the Fields, and various books and manuscripts of his were given or bequeathed to Lambeth Palace Library. Lambeth Palace Library’s manuscript 2086 is a commonplace book written by William Rawley, who was chaplain to Francis Bacon, and whose executor passed on to Tenison books and papers relating to Bacon. Some of the anecdotes in that manuscript are printed in this book.

Baconiana title-page

Baconiana title-page

Bacon (1561-1626) was a statesman, scientist, philosopher, and essayist, whose works continued to be popular and influential after his death. A theory arose that Bacon was the author of various works attributed to Shakespeare, and this copy of Bacon’s works is at Brunel as part of a collection surrounding Shakespearean authorship, but the book has wider appeal in terms of its content and history.

Baconiana. Or certain genuine remains of Sr. Francis Bacon, Baron of Verulam, and Viscount of St. Albans; in arguments civil and moral, natural, medical, theological, and bibliographical; now the first time faithfully published contains several different works, including theological treatises, recipes for medicines, reports on the chemical properties of metals, and copies of correspondence in English and Latin. A transcription of the whole text has been made available here by the University of Michigan.

Recipes from Bacon's works

Recipes from Bacon’s works

Copies of this edition of this work survive in many libraries but every copy has its own distinct history and can give unique information. Brunel’s copy has clearly been heavily used: there is damage to the binding and the front cover is missing. Previous users have written notes in the margins, which gives us some insight into who the readers were and how the book was used. One previous owner seems to have been interested in the book’s value over time: cuttings from sales catalogues featuring other copies of this book have been glued to the back board.


4 thoughts on “50 objects 1: the oldest book

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