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Scholar, Courtier, Magician: The lost library of John Dee

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Morgana Post number 23012 Posted: 9th September 2016     Subject: Scholar, Courtier, Magician: The lost library of John Dee
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Scholar, Courtier, Magician: The lost library of John Dee
21st August 2016

John Dee Ashmolean Portrait, Artist Unknown c1594 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

John Dee is one of the most fascinating characters provided by centuries of English history and the recent exhibition of the remnants of his library at the Royal College of Physicians provided fresh insight into the mind of one of the great Elizabethan magician scientists.

In his lifetime, John Dee assembled one of the greatest private libraries of 16th century England. He claimed to have owned over 3,000 books and 1,000 manuscripts which he kept at his house in Mortlake, Surrey. However, when Dee embarked on his travels in the 1580s, he left his library and laboratories in the care of his brother-in-law, Nicholas Fromond. While Dee was away, Fromond “unduely sold it presently upon my departure, or caused it to be carried away”. Libraries are, of course, nowadays also prone to extinction for financial ends. We must hope that, as Jorge Luis Borges says, “the library will endure: it is the universe”. Luckily, some of Dee’s library remains.

Dee was devastated at the loss of his library, and many of his books were lost forever. However, some of his books came into the possession of a student of his, Nicholas Saunder. Saunder’s collection later passed to Henry Pierrepont, marquis of Dorchester and book collector. After his death in 1680, Pierrepont’s family bequeathed his entire library to the Society of Physicians. And in the vaults those 100-or-so books remained, the largest existing collection of books belonging to John Dee in the world, until they were examined by the Society’s curators for the current exhibition.

And what a collection it is. Not only are they a selection of books spanning the many scientific, philosophical and magical disciplines by which Dee was fascinated; they are also beautiful artefacts in their own right. Better even than their beauty, though, are Dee’s frequent annotations throughout the texts. He makes notes in Latin, makes note of questions and highlights passages both by underlining and drawing “manicules”, wonderfully cartoonish hands that highlight points of interest. And sometimes, even the legendary genius even doodles – the main image for the exhibition is a beautiful ship in full sail, drawn at the bottom corner of a page in Cicero’s Opera (1539-40). At other times, Dee’s sheer inventiveness refused to be constrained by the flat page of the book and he constructs three-dimensional shapes that stand up from the page.

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http://www.pagandawnmag ... of-john-dee/
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