By Harry Ransom Center
In 1986, the Ransom Center acquired the celebrated Carl H. Pforzheimer library of English literature, 1475–1700. Rich in the major works of early English literature, the library boasts significant titles by Francis Bacon, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Donne, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, John Milton, and William Shakespeare. Since its acquisition the Center has added about 40 titles to the collection—five of them in the last year—all within the scope of the library’s focus on early English literature and culture.
Among the newly added titles is John Jones’s The Arte and Science of preserving Bodie and Soule in Healthe, Wisedom, and Catholike Religion: Phisically, Philosophically, and Divinely (London, 1579). Jones’s treatise is one of the earliest English workson pediatrics and represents insights of Elizabethan conceptionsof medicine, childcare, diet, and health. Also added recently are Thomas Cogan’s The Haven of Health: Chiefly Made for the Comfort of Students (London, 1612) and the English translation of Andre du Laurens’s influential Discourse of the Preservation of the Sight: of Melancholike Diseases; of Rheumes, and of Old Age (London, 1599). These two works are preservedtogether in an early seventeenth-century binding, along witheight extra pages of medicinal recipes in a contemporary hand,documenting the volume’s practical use by its earliest owners.
Another seventeenth-century annotated book was acquired that demonstrates the travails of an eighteenth-century literary scholar: a large folio volume containing John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1692), Paradise Regain’d, and Samson Agonistes (1688). Between each page of printed text, the original owner added blank leaves filled with annotations interpreting and analyzing Milton’s poems.
To better understand the provenance of Ransom Center holdings, two auction catalogs documenting important early English book collections were acquired. Catalogue of the Library removed from Stowe House, Buckinghamshire (London, 1849) includes sale catalogs of the printed books in the library at Stowe House, formed by the first Duke of Buckingham and his son.
Among the books described in the Stowe sale now held by the Ransom Center is The Workes of Geoffray Chaucer, newly printed (1532), which contains a sixteenth-century manuscript copy of “The Plowman’s tale,” which did not appear in print until 1542. Finally, Bibliotheca Steevensiana: a catalogue of the curious and valuable library of George Steevens (London, 1800), describes copy by copy the personal library of book collector and Shakespeare scholar George Steevens, including his extraordinary collection of early Shakespeare plays, one of the greatest ever assembled. Among the books listed in the catalog now in the Center’s collections is a copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, printed in 1619 with Steevens’s signature on the title page.
Other acquisitions include:
- The papers of novelist Kazuo Ishiguro
- The Susan E. Cohen and William S. Johnson creativity project archive, which includes manuscripts, correspondence, videotapes, audiotapes, photographs, and research materials produced and collected during the course of a collaborative project, led by Cohen and Johnson in the 1980s, involving artists Robert Frank, Robert Heinecken, John Wood, and Dave Heath
- A donation of scripts and other documents from the career of actor Dennis Farina
- Substantial additions to the archives of Andre Dubus, Dame Edith Evans, John Fowles, Doris Lessing, Peter Matthiessen, and Terrence McNally.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2016 Ransom Edition. See the issue (http://en.calameo.com/read/00464396824b619b7a80f).