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  • The Fox and the Bees: The Early Library of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. The Lowe Lectures 2017 by R. M. Thomson
Thomson, R. M., The Fox and the Bees: The Early Library of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. The Lowe Lectures 2017, Cambridge, D. S. Brewer, 2018; hardback; pp. viii, 95; 23 colour illustrations; R.R.P. £60.00; ISBN 9781843844853.

This most welcome volume joins the many other fine contributions to the history of medieval libraries that Rodney M. Thomson has made. Yet the Library of Corpus Christi College, founded in 1517 by Richard Fox to bring the 'New Learning' into better focus in Oxford, has special claims. In his three Lowe lectures, 'Richard Fox: The Concept and the Foundation of the College' (pp. 3–15); 'John Claymond: Executor of Fox's Erasmian Programme' (pp. 19–31); and 'The Library in the Age of Elizabeth' (pp. 35–52), Thomson sets out to demonstrate that the Corpus Christi Library was different, in that it was, from the start, 'consciously Renaissance' (p. 4).

The first lecture considers the materials that allow us to study the library from the beginning: the still-existing books of Fox and his protégé, John Claymond, the college's first president; the books of Claymond's friend, Greek scholar [End Page 247] William Grocyn; the 1598 catalogue of the library's chained books; Fox's Statutes describing the conception of the library; the college's financial accounts (recording book repairs, acquisitions, binding, chaining); and the library room itself. Thomson also studies Fox (c. 1448–1528): his education, career, and the origins of his interest in the New Learning. He looks at Fox's colleagues, including John Shirwood and Desiderius Erasmus; provides Fox's programme of studies, and his 'beehive' of President, twenty Fellows, twenty scholars, two chaplains, and two clerks, pointing out that what was new was the choice of texts the lecturers were to expound, and that thus might be expected in the College Library.

Lecture 2 concerns college President, John Claymond (c. 1467–c. 1537), of the humanist circle including Grocyn, Linacre, Tunstall, and More. Thomson examines a notable handful of Claymond's many donations to the library, including Reuchlin's De arte cabalistica (1530), and Erasmus's Greek and Latin New Testament (1519). He gathers Claymond's friends and colleagues, several living at the college: Erasmus, Grynaeus (who borrowed Claymond's manuscript of Proclus as the basis for his edition), Vives, Lupset, and king's astronomer Kratzer. He considers other aspects of Claymond's life, via an inventory of his movable goods from even before his presidency, from 1498 to 1518. Thomson notes Claymond's Latin learning (including his unpublished commentary on Pliny's Natural History), and considers how Claymond and Fox obtained the books and manuscripts in Greek for the college. Some were imported, in barrels, primarily from Venice (p. 25); others, owned by Grocyn, were sold or donated to the college. Hebrew and Latin-Hebrew works obtained for the Library are also considered (p. 28). The library was largely formed, Thomson finds, by 1537, although other, slightly later, donors had a part, such as Richard Fox's nephew, John (classical and Italian Renaissance works), and Thomas Walsh (patristic). By Claymond's death, Thomson records, the library contained 'virtually all the Greek and Latin classics known to us today' (p. 31) except Apuleius's Metamorphoses, Lucretius, Apicius, Claudian, and Petronius.

In the third lecture, Thomson deals expertly with the patchier book donations after Claymond's departure. Richard Marshall, Dean from 1553 to 1559, donated fifteen books, not all Protestant, including works by Anselm of Canterbury and Bernard of Clairvaux. On the death of President Thomas Greneway (d. 1571), the library received sixty-three printed books, thirty-nine in original bindings, many theological, and Protestant, such as Luther's works. Thomson also discusses here the physical disposition of the library, including the organization of the sixteen desk-plus-seat units, some double-sided, accommodating between eleven and twenty-one books, on each side of a central aisle. The book order was unusual, beginning not with biblical, but ancient and modern, works in Greek and Latin on geography and astronomy; then ancient works, mainly Greek, on medicine and philosophy; Latin history; Greek and Latin rhetoric; Cicero; Greek literature; Latin literature; Greek and Latin grammar; and miscellaneous; then Bibles and Greek and Latin Fathers, before modern theology. [End Page 248]

Colour illustrations, many full-page, support each lecture. They not only provide a taste of the library's treasures, but also a high-quality resource for the wider use of scholars of illumination, handwriting, early printing, marginal indexing and subscription, multilingual formats, and early bookbinding.

Four appendices add much of value—'Surviving Books from the College Library to 1589' (with shelf marks and grouped by donor); 'Letter of John Claymond to an Unidentified Old Friend' (with translation); 'Letter of Thomas Linacre to Claymond'; and 'Extracts from the College Accounts', from 1517 to 1599—as do the bibliography and index. Thomson's writing has a concise simplicity that makes reading the volume wholly pleasurable; his underlying scholarly rigour is always present.

Janet Hadley Williams
The Australian National University

Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
247-249
Launched on MUSE
2019-12-09
Open Access
No
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