My name is Mary Crawford and I am an a postgraduate student from the University of Edinburgh currently interning in the Rare Books Department here at the National Library of Scotland. I am writing today to tell you about a really interesting item I found in the course of doing provenence research on the rare book collections. I came across a book by Conrad Schluesselburg entitled, The Catalogue of Heretics, by Conrad Schlusselburg, Doctor and Teacher of Theology, Book Eight. (NLS Gray.865). This book has several names inscribed on the titlepage foremost among which is the signature of John Donne in the bottom right hand corner.
Now you may be wondering, how do you know it is THE John Donne who owned this book and not just some other, less famous, John Donne? Well, we know because John Donne was a consistent and methodical book collector who always marked his books the same way. His books have three obvious marks.
First, his distinctive signature “J:Donne” always appears in the bottom right hand corner of the title page (as seen to the left). Secondly, his Italian motto, “Per Rachel ho servitor, & non per Lea” always appears at the head of the title page. (For more information on his motto, check out the article by Geoffrey Keynes cited below) And lastly, the margins of his books are often marked with small neat pencil ticks next to passages that Donne found particularly interesting. All of these marks are present in the Schluesselburg text (as seen below).
In addition to John Donne, the names, R. Baillie, M.R. Young and Hugo Blarus (Hugh Blair, no known relation to the Scottish literary critic) are also inscribed on the title page dating from the 17th century. Unfortunately, we have not been able to find any record of M.R. Young or Hugh Blair but R. Baillie is actually Robert Baillie, minister for the Church of Scotland and Principle of Glasgow University from 1661 until his death in 1662.
Now, using these details it is possible to create a rough framework for the book. First and foremost, considering the book was published in 1599 in Frankfurt, how did it come to Britain? Since there is no evidence that Baillie ever went to Germany, this seems to suggest that it was John Donne who acquired it in Frankfurt during his travels and brought it back. So, assuming he got the book at that point and brought it back to England, it most likely reached its next author upon Donne’s death in 1631 when his library was dissolved and sold. From there it becomes almost impossible to trace other then to say that at some point it made its way up to Scotland. Robert Baillie seems a likely candidate for that movement because he lived mostly in Glasgow but made relatively frequent trips to London in the 1640s on church business. The next definite point we can trace is 1961 when the book was donated to the National Library of Scotland by the town of Haddington as part of the Gray Collection. This collection was largely made up of the books of Reverend John Gray former minister of Aberlady (in Lothian) who lived from 1646-1717 and donated his whole book collection to the town of Haddington upon his death. While we cannot be completely sure, it would seem likely that this book was acquired by Rev. Gray at the end of the 17th century and donated along with the rest of the collection. (This would explain the lack of ownership inscriptions from the 18th, 19th or 20th centuries.) Although we might never know all of the details of this book’s provenence, we can be absolutely sure that it had quite an interesting life before arriving at the National Library of Scotland!
Bibliography of John Donne, by Geoffery Keynes (Oxford: 1973)
“Books from John Donne’s Library” by Geoffrey Keynes in Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society (1949 Vol. 1 No. 1) avaible online through JSTOR (accessible through NLS licensed digital collections)
More Books from the Library of John Donne, by Hugh Adlington in The Book Collector (Spring 2012, vol. 61. No. 1)