Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Importance of Thomas Bodley 400 Years Later

Thomas Bodley 1545-1613

Thomas Bodley 1545-1613

Today marks the 400th anniversary of Thomas Bodley’s death.   Although his name is not as well known on this side of the Atlantic, Bodley’s contribution to research and learning has had lasting impacts in the English-speaking world for centuries.

Though English, Bodley spent his childhood and adolescence abroad in Europe.  He had the misfortune to be born into a Protestant family in the last year of the reign of Henry VIII in 1545.  After the short reign of Henry’s son, Edward, Mary took the throne and spent the entire five years of her reign persecuting Protestants.  His family escaped to mainland Europe, and there, Bodley studied under the tutelage of John Calvin in Switzerland and attended services by John Knox.  When Mary died and was succeeded by Queen Elizabeth, the family returned and Bodley enrolled in Magdalen College at Oxford University.

A Catalogue of the Several Pictures, Statues, and Busts, in the Picture Gallery, Bodleian Library, and Ashmolean Museum, at Oxford.

A Catalogue of the Several Pictures, Statues, and Busts, in the Picture Gallery, Bodleian Library, and Ashmolean Museum, at Oxford.

After finishing college, his career took him to Parliament and eventually he served as a diplomat and sent on secret missions to the Netherlands, France, and Denmark.  In 1596, he returned home and settled back in Oxford.  Two years later, Bodley was given a large dinner in his honor.  It is speculated that it was that fateful evening in 1598 when 53 year-old Thomas Bodley, while speaking to old friends and colleagues, came up with the inspiration to do one last project that would make his name live on 400 years later.

Over 120 years earlier, the main library at Oxford University had been presented as a gift from Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester.  However, after Queen Elizabeth had ascended to the throne, the library had been stripped and abandoned.  In 1598, after the dinner in his honor, Bodley determined to restore the library and spend the rest of his life working in it.  Oxford immediately and graciously accepted his offer.  In 1600, Bodley began collecting books to donate to the library that would use his name.

To motivate others to donate money and books, he created a large book bound in

The Book of Hours

Noah's Ark from The Book of Hours

vellum, a “Benefactor’s Book”, which would remain on display in the center of the library.  The book would contain the names of all those who had contributed to the library.  This novel idea is used to this day in libraries around the world.


The Bodleian Library is one of six legal deposit libraries in the United Kingdom and Ireland.  A copy of every book, CD-Rom, website, and other public materials published in the UK and Ireland is deposited at the Bodleian.  As such, space is limited and larger facilities are used as depositories to hold all of the materials the Bodleian possesses.  Some of the treasures of the Bodleian include a copy of the Magna Carta, one of 42 complete 1455 Gutenberg Bibles still in existence, the Ashmole manuscripts, the Song of Roland, the Book of Hours (shown here) and the Codex Bodley.

Special Collections has various items relating to the Bodleian Library and its long history.  The items depicted in this blog post are all materials you can find by visiting us up on the 4th Floor West in Ellis Library.  We would be happy to help you and answer any questions you might have.

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Posted in Closed Collection, Rare Book Collection, Special Collections

Giovanni Boccaccio turns 700

Giovanni Boccaccio was born seven hundred years ago in Tuscany, Italy. Special Collections and Rare Books celebrates this important anniversary by displaying editions of Boccaccio’s work as well as that of influential contemporaries and predecessors.

Il Decamerone, 1729, FlorenceBoccaccio made an inauspicious start as the illegitimate son of Boccaccino di Chellino. He was adopted by his father, but along with security and status came the duties associated with being an acknowledged scion of the merchant class. Boccaccio received training in banking and law–both of which he resented– before abandoning both for poetry.

Though Boccaccio is best known today for The Decameron, he wrote over fifteen works, many of which were valued over The Decameron in his own lifetime. Beyond the passing tides of literary taste, what remains certain is that Boccaccio’s work reflects the uncertainty of his era. Fourteenth-century Italy, with its dynastic wars, popular uprisings, and plagues favored resourcefulness. There were times to cast off the past, and there were tHistoriated Initial, Geneologia degli dei, Venice, 1547imes to cling to past models. Boccaccio began writing in the vernacular early in his career with Caccia di Diana of 1334. It is to this phase that we owe The Decameron, a work that has been called the “epic of the merchant class” and “Boccaccio’s human comedy that stands next to Dante’s Divine Comedy.” His work would take a sober turn after he became acquainted with Petrach. With Petrarch’s encouragement, Boccaccio studied the classics and began writing in Latin. To this phase we owe the existence of De genealogia deorum gentilium.

Detail, Geneologia deorum gentilium, Venice 1494Highlights of our exhibition include a combined edition of De genealogia deorum gentilium and his other reference work, de montibus & siluis de fontibus: lacubus: & fluminibus, published in 1494 in Venice. The Italian translation, Geneologia degli dei, published in 1547, also in Venice, will also be displayed. Other items of interest include sixteenth-century works of Ovid, Petrarch, Dante, and Villani. These include a first edition of the Italian translation of Dante’s De Volgare Eloquenzia.and an edition of Petrarch published by the famous printer, Aldus Manutius, in 1533. We will also display of early twentieth-Illustration from Tales from Boccaccio, New York, 1947century deluxe editions of Boccaccio’s Decameron, rated PG-13 for the portrayal  of clerics in compromising poses.

Printer's Device, De Volgare Eloquenzia, Venice, 1526

Branca, Vittore. Boccaccio: The Man and His Works, trans. Richard Monges. New York: New York UP, 1976.

Serafini-Sauli, Judith Powers. Giovanni Boccaccio. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982.



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Posted in Exhibits, Rare Book Collection

The Struggles of Abolitionism and the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.  If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.  What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.

–          President Lincoln’s public response to Horace Greeley’s open letter published in the New York Times, August 22, 1962

The first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation before the cabinet: From the original picture painted at the White House in 1864. : Premium engraving from "The Independent." / Painted by F.B. Carpenter. Engraved by A.H. Ritchie

Today, the brand new start to a New Year, marks the 150th anniversary of what is arguably the most important document of the 19th century.  Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not outlaw slavery, nor make former slaves citizens, the Proclamation did announce that all slaves in the Confederates States that were still under rebellion were free and ordered the Union Army to treat any slaves they found in the rebellious states as such.  However, there were five slave states not under rebellion.  Of the estimated 4 million slaves in the United States at the time, the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to 3.1 million.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God

–          Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863

Paper presented to the General Anti-Slavery Convention on the essential sinfulness of slavery and its direct opposition to the precepts and spirit of Christianity

Slavery, of course, had been a contentious issue not only in American history, but in the history of many different nations for centuries.  At Special Collections, we have many different print and microform sources on the subject of slavery and abolitionism.  Even though slavery nearly tore apart the United States, a great majority of our sources were published in London.  Before and after the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 by the British Parliament, abolitionists from all over wrote impassioned speeches and sermons decrying the evils of slavery.  Pictured here is one such speech delivered by Reverend Benjamin Godwin of Oxford to the General Anti-Slavery Convention.

One of the greatest, and certainly the most earnest, British abolitionists was William Wilberforce.  Wilberforce took up the cause of ending slavery in 1787.  It took a full twenty years of fighting before Wilberforce saw his first victory.

A letter on the abolition of the slave trade: addressed to the freeholders and other inhabitants of Yorkshire

The Slave Trade Act of 1807 ended the commerce of buying and selling human beings throughout the British Empire, but it did not end slavery itself.  Buoyed by his success in 1807, Wilberforce and his compatriots assumed that a full ban on slavery would be forthcoming.  They were wrong.  It took another twenty-six years for slavery to end throughout the British Empire, only three days before Wilberforce passed away at the age of seventy-three.  The story of his lifelong work to end slavery was told in a major motion picture, Amazing Grace, which was released in 2007 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

Back in the United States, many of the great statesmen of our nation changed their mind on the subject.  Thomas Jefferson is known as a slaveholder, but also someone who spoke on the eventual dismantling of the institution.  In 1807, Jefferson signed into law a bill that banned the importation of slaves into the United States.  In Missouri, our very own Representative James S. Rollins, known as the Father of the University of Missouri, was also a slave owner.  Rollins was reticent at first to completely abolishing slavery.  However, he opposed the expansion of slavery and the secessionist movement that turned into the American Civil War.

Speech of Hon. James S. Rollins, of Missouri, on the proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States

Despite initially stating that the Emancipation Proclamation was legally void, he was eventually one of the most important supporters of the 13th Amendment in 1865, which completely outlawed slavery everywhere in the United States.  His speech on the floor of the House was pivotal in bringing in the two-thirds majority needed for the amendment to become law.  That speech is reproduced in a volume in Special Collections’ MU collection.

As for President Lincoln, his Emancipation Proclamation fundamentally changed the Civil War.  The proclamation provided for the addition of former slaves into the Union forces, increasing the number of soldiers and sailors by almost 200,000.  While the Confederate States were being depleted of fighting men, the Union was gaining more.  Furthermore, the proclamation ignited a new fervor in the north, the idea that with every square mile of ground gained by the Union was more land that was now free from bondage and slavery gave the North the needed boost and a moral imperative to win the war.  Today, the original Emancipation Proclamation resides in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. alongside other famous documents including the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and one of the original copies of the Magna Carta.

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