This Day In Writing History
On November 8th, 1602, the world famous Bodleian Library, located at Oxford University in England, was opened to the public. Although one of the oldest libraries in Europe, the Bodleian Library was not the first library that existed at Oxford.
The first library at Oxford was founded in the 14th century by Thomas Cobham, the Bishop of Worcester. It began as a small collection of books that were chained to prevent theft. The collection grew steadily, but modestly.
Then, around 1436, Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester, (brother of King Henry V) donated a huge collection of manuscripts to the library.
There wasn't nearly enough room to store these manuscripts at the library's current location, above the north side of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. So, construction of a new library began.
The new library, located above the Divinity School, became known as Duke Humfrey's Library. By the late 16th century, the library had declined so dramatically that its furniture was being sold off due to lack of interest.
In 1598, Sir Thomas Bodley, a wealthy retired nobleman known for his work as a diplomat, determined to restore and expand the Oxford library as a much needed antidote to "the mediocrity of worldly living." He wrote the following to Oxford's Vice Chancellor:
"Where there hath bin hertofore a publike library in Oxford: which you know is apparent by the rome it self remayning, and by your statute records I will take the charge and cost upon me, to reduce it again to his former use."
Bodley pledged his own money and collected donations from his fellow nobles to finance the library project. He also donated a collection of his own books.
The new library, which took four years to build, was renamed the Bodleian Library. It was opened to the public in November of 1602.
A huge hit with students, the aristocracy, the royal family, and the general British public, the Bodleian Library's collection began to grow rapidly.
When Sir Francis Bacon donated a copy of his classic work Advancement of Learning to the library, he praised Bodley for "having built an ark to save learning from the deluge."
Bodley spent his remaining years acquiring manuscripts from around the world for his library. In 1603, he acquired the library's first Chinese language book.
In 1610, Bodley made a deal with Stationers' Company - England's largest publisher - to place a copy of every one of its volumes in the library.
The Bodleian Library's collection grew so quickly that its building needed to be expanded. Eventually, new buildings were constructed as part of the library's complex.
Although Bodley wouldn't live to see it - he died in 1613 - the Bodleian Library would ultimately become the United Kingdom's second largest library.
Today, the Bodleian Library boasts an incredible collection of over 11 million items, including books, periodicals, maps, sound and music recordings, drawings and prints, and rare handwritten manuscripts such as Shakespeare's First Folios.
Sir Thomas Bodley would have been angered by the Bodleian Library's Shakespeare holdings; he had originally banned play scripts from his library as "very unworthy matters." This and other policies would change over time.
One of the biggest changes in library policy occurred recently, as patrons are now allowed to photocopy or digitally scan library materials.
The library itself, working with the Oxford Digital Library, had already archived most of its pre-1801 holdings on microfilm and continues to digitize its collection.
The fantastic architecture of the Bodleian Library complex has made it an ideal location for filming. Most recently, it served as the set for the library at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the first two Harry Potter films.
Sir Thomas Bodley would have been horrified. He was an extremely devout Christian and banned all occult books and manuscripts from his library. Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester, the co-founder of Oxford's first library, wouldn't have been thrilled, either.
Humphrey was accused of witchcraft and hanged. His wife Eleanor was exiled to the Isle of Man - after being forced to march in a humiliating "parade of penance." Shakespeare depicted these events in his classic play, Henry VI, Part 2.
Quote Of The Day
"No university in the world has ever risen to greatness without a correspondingly great library. When this is no longer true, then will our civilization have come to an end." - Lawrence Clark Powell
Today's video features a presentation on one of the Bodleian Library's great treasures - a rare medieval manuscript of Dante's classic epic poem, The Divine Comedy. Enjoy!