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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

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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A Visit From St. Nicholas (and other tales of Santa Claus)

The legend of St. Nicholas of Myra has taken so many twists and turns over the centuries that he is barely recognizable to us anymore.   Instead, he has been replaced by a jolly, bearded, portly man in a red suit and cap and coal black boots.  For this installation of Scripta Manent, we will trace the history of St. Nicholas/Santa Claus/Father Christmas/Kris Kingle, just in time for Christmas.  The real St. Nicholas was born in Asia Minor during the third century in the city of Myra (in present-day Turkey). He was the only son of wealthy Christian parents named Epiphanius and Johanna according to some accounts and Theophanes and Nonna according to others.  His wealthy parents died while Nicholas was still young and he was raised by his uncle—also named Nicholas—who was the bishop of Patara.

In 325, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea. There, Nicholas was a staunch anti-Arian and defender of the Orthodox Christian position that Jesus was fully divine and fully human, and one of the bishops who signed the Nicene Creed.  Legend holds that he was so angry with Arius (who taught that Jesus was only a man) that Nicholas punched him in the face.  However, the most famous legend associated with St. Nicholas is that of the poor man with three daughters.  In the tale, the man could not afford a proper dowry for his daughters.  Hearing of the poor man’s plight, Nicholas decided to help him, but being too modest to help the man in public, or to save the man the humiliation of accepting charity, he went to his house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the man’s house.  There are different variations of the story.  One has Nicholas throwing the bags down a chimney.  Another embellishes the story and has a daughter’s stocking hanging over the embers of the fireplace to dry, where the bag of gold dropped straight in.

The Examination and Tryal of Old Father Christmas by Josiah King, 1686

In the ensuing centuries, the story of St. Nicholas has evolved.  Beloved by children all over the world, St. Nicholas/Santa Claus/Father Christmas/Kris Kringle brings gifts to good boys and girls on Christmas (and sometimes coal to bad children).  However, he has not always been the most beloved of figures.  In 1686, Josiah King published a pamphlet called The Examination and Tryal of Old Father Christmas.  In the pamphlet, Father Christmas is put on trial by those who worry that Christmas is becoming too materialistic and too much of an excuse to party and commit debauchery.  In the end, Father Christmas is acquitted of his charges, and yet he is admonished by the judge to remember that Christmas is about Jesus.

Although Father Christmas was usually thinner and wore a green coat, the modern idea of a rotund jolly man in a suit came about with the publication of A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clark Moore in 1823.  However, Moore’s Santa was an elf with a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.  It was Thomas Nast’s subsequent illustrations that helped cement the image of the modern Santa Claus in the minds of most Americans.  The idea that Santa Claus resides at the North Pole may also be attributed to Nast.  One of his illustrations is entitled “St. Claussville, N.P.”  Another depicts two children drawing Santa’s route to their house from the North Pole.

Merry Old Santa Claus by Thomas Nast, 1889.

One of the most famous writings involving Santa Claus came from a newspaper column in the New York Sun.  Little 8-year old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor asking if there really was a Santa Claus.  As her letter says, her father told her that “if [it is] in the Sun, it’s so.”  Her letter was answered eloquently and reassuringly by Francis Pharcellus Church, whose line “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” is often quoted more than a century later.  It remains the most reprinted editorial ever to run in any newspaper in the English language.


Christmas Overseas Gifts by Graves, 1945.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the image of Santa Claus has been used for all sorts of advertisements.  The most famous may be the Coca-Cola Santa Claus, which debuted in the 1920s.  During World War II, Santa was depicted with a helmet to ask Americans at home to send Christmas gifts overseas to soldiers fight in Europe and the Pacific.  However, not everyone is thrilled with the overexposure of Santa Claus.  Fred Rinne’s hand drawn artist book, God Santa Christ depicts Santa Claus as a creation of a consumer culture.  As he writes:

Santa Christ/is the protecting god/of the consumerist economy/Belief in Santa Christ/is crucial to that/vague entity known as/”our way of life”.

God Santa Christ by Fred Rinne, 2003


However, it is the spirit of giving to those in need that the original St. Nicholas represents. It is our hope here at Special Collections that this spirit touches you, dear reader, and that you intently research local and national charities before giving to those in need this season.  By doing so, you keep the spirit of St. Nicholas and Santa Claus alive.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone.  See you in 2013!

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Posted in Artist's Books, Rare Book Collection

Special Collections and Rare Books

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