The 1641 Depositions: Day 3

On Saturday, 23rd October Dr Paisley, Eileen, Sharon, Kyle, Jane Ohlmeyer and I visited Marsh’s Library beside St Patrick’s Cathedral. This was built in 1701 by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh (1638 to 1713) and is the first public library in Ireland. One of the earliest in the British Isles, it was designed by Sir William Robinson, who had earlier been the architect for the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham. The governors and guardians appoint a keeper and a deputy keeper, the present incumbents being Muriel McCarthy and Ann Simmons. There are four main collections, consisting of 25,000 books relating to the 16th, 17th and early part of the 18th Century.

These include liturgical works, missals, breviaries, books of hours, bibles printed in almost every language and a great deal of theology and religious controversy. But there are also books on medicine, law, science, travel, navigation, mathematics, music, surveying and classical literature in all the collections. The most important collection is that of Edward Stillingfleet (1635 to 1699) who was Bishop of Worcester. Archbishop Marsh left all his books to the library. Dr Elias Bouhéreau was a Huguenot refugee, with medical training at Orange and practice at La Rochelle, both of which we visited with the Farset Youth Project. He fled from France in 1685, became the first librarian and donated his books mainly on Protestant theology. Baroness Eileen Paisley (née Cassells) is herself of Huguenot extraction and Dr Paisley has a particular interest in them. Finally John Stearne (1660 to 1745), the Bishop of Clogher, bequeathed his books in 1745.

In addition to these four collections there are 300 manuscripts, including a volume of the Lives of the Irish Saints, dating from about 1400 and written in Latin, a processional which belonged in the 15th Century to the Church of St John the Evangelist in Dublin. Archbishop Marsh was responsible for the preparation of printing of Bishop Bedell’s translation of the Old Testament into Latin. This was first published in 1685, with the help and encouragement of the great scientist Robert Boyle, whose bust is present in the Provost’s House, the wonderful 1760’s Palladian style building in which we had dinner with the Provost of Trinity College, John Hegarty and his wife Neasa the night before. Neasa, the President of the European Bureau of Lesser–Used Languages, had shown us around the House and I was particularly impressed by its central Venetian window and Doric pilasters.

As Dean of St Patrick’s Jonathan Swift was a governor of Marsh’s Library and attended the annual visitations for many years. In Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion there are extensive annotations of his, mostly insulting references to the Scots for the part they played in the rebellion. We were privileged to see this as well as an exhibition “Hippocrates Revived” containing medical books in the Library compiled by Muriel McCarthy, Ann Simmons and Sue Hemmens. I was delighted with the section on the Ancients, particularly to see the Canon medicinæ (Quanan) of Avicenna, (Abu-Ali al Hasayn Ibn Adallah Ibn Sina), (980-1037), perhaps the finest medical text ever written, translated into Latin from Arabic by the Dutch doctor Vopiscus Fotunatus Plempius (Louvain 1658). It was from the Bishop Stillingfleet Collection.

Among the books in the Bishop Stearne collection was a 1585 volume of the works of the famous Catalonian Doctor and Professor of Medicine at Salerno, Arnald of Vilanova (c1220 to 1311), which bears the inscription “Alexr. Ramseus Med Doctor” on its title page. In that book there is a note from an apothecary, William Long, dated at Londonderry 31st July 1660 and addressed to a Dr Thomas Ramsey of Newtown Limavady. This 16th Century printing of the writings of a 14th Century medic used by a practising doctor in the 17th Century and collected in the 18th is but just one example of the preservation, dissemination and renewed understanding of centuries of medical knowledge assembled in the library and presented in this exhibition.

This entry was posted in Article. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.