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2005 articles 2005 articles

The Library of Henry Oldenburg

Noel Malcolm (notes)

Abstract

This article presents three hitherto unpublished listings of books in the library of Henry Oldenburg (c.1619-1677), the first Secretary of the Royal Society. The main list is a catalogue of his collection, first drawn up in 1670 and augmented in 1677 by his friend John Pell, who surveyed the library after Oldenburg 's death. Although the total number of books is not great, the lists do provide valuable evidence of Oldenburg's interests and activities; the article discusses this evidence, in the light of other information drawn from Oldenburg's correspondence and from surviving books which can be identified as having come from his collection. Through his work for the Royal Society he was acquainted with a wide range of British and continental scientists, philosophers, and virtuosi; many of their books are present, though it was not always clear whether they had been sent as gifts to the Royal Society or to Oldenburg personally. His work also involved him in the production of books: not only the Philosophical Transactions and the works officially sponsored by the Royal Society, but also other books which he translated or helped to publish. Some of these are present, but some are not; the evidence suggests that Oldenburg was an active manager of his collection, trading books for other books, and often using them as currency in a larger economy of scholarly giving and receiving.

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