Category Archives: Guest blog post

Robert Hooke’s Euclid? | Guest post by Elizabeth Wells

Guest post by Elizabeth Wells, Archivist and Records Manager at Westminster School

‘he went to Mr. Busby’s, the schoolemaster of Westminster, at whose howse he was; and he made very much of him…There he learnd to play 20 lessons on the organ. He there in one weeke’s time made himselfe master of the first VI bookes of Euclid, to the admiration of Mr. Busby (now S.T.D.), who introduced him’

‘Biography of Robert Hooke’, John Aubrey’s Brief Lives.

Dr Richard Busby (1606-1695), Head Master of Westminster School 1638-1695, and his pupil Robert Hooke (1635-1703) both deserve greater notoriety than they currently enjoy.  Busby remained a household name until fading from the public consciousness in the 20th Century.  His fame was due to his great stature as a pedagogue: other pupils of his include John Locke, Christopher Wren and John Dryden; and to the strict discipline he enforced – Busby once boasted of having birched sixteen of the bishops on the bench in the House of Lords. Hooke’s reputation has been on the rise, thanks in part to Lisa Jardine’s biography, published to mark his tercentenary. However, his contemporary and friend, Wren, with whom he collaborated on so many projects following the fire of London, still eclipses him. It doesn’t help that there is no surviving picture of Hooke, although the popular story, that Isaac Newton destroyed the sole portrait as an act of revenge, is unlikely to be true.

Portrait of Dr Busby

Westminster School is fortunate to hold a substantial number of rare books, the bulk of which were accumulated by Dr Busby during his Head Mastership.  A library for the pupils had been founded by donations from Mildred and William Cecil in the 16th Century.  Busby, a keen bibliophile, developed the collection.  In 1648, the year before Hooke started at Westminster, the school reacquired a space to the south of the main schoolroom to use as a library.[1] . It was a room which Busby let selected pupils use for private study, and it may well have been where Hooke learnt his Euclid, for a contemporary remarked that he ‘seldome sawe him in the schoole’.

Today nineteen editions of Euclid’s work remain in the school’s collection, dating from 1533 until 1678.  Could one of these have been the copy that Hooke pored over?  We can discount those published after 1654, at which point Hooke had certainly left the school for Oxford, which takes us down to twelve contenders. A further five volumes which are listed in the manuscript library catalogue of the mathematician John Pell (1611-1685) can also be eliminated.  These books were purchased by Dr Busby in 1687, following Pell’s death, too late for Hooke to have made use of them.  Pell’s books are often easy to spot in the library; his preferred binding style in velum with a green spine label stands out.  He was also an attentive, pedantic, reader and regularly annotated and corrected his books.

John Pell corrected this diagram in his 1546 edition of Euclid’s Elements

So what of the remaining seven works in the library? It is improbable that Hooke used the Arabic edition in Busby’s Library which was printed in Rome in 1594.  Dr Busby did teach pupils at the school Arabic during his time as Head Master  – John Evelyn records that he ‘heard and saw such exercises at the election of scholars at Westminster School to be sent to the University in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic, in themes and extemporary verses, as wonderfully astonished me in such youths, with such readiness and wit, some of them not above twelve or thirteen years of age.’  However, Michael Hunter has suggested that it is unlikely that Hooke had much knowledge of the language, and there were certainly no examples of Arabic books amongst Hooke’s own library when it was sold following his death.[2]

Title page to the Arabic edition of Euclid’s Elements with a manuscript Latin translation below

Bound as one whole are the three tracts concerning Euclidean geometry edited by Conrad Dasypodius (Rauchfuss), printed in Strasburg in 1564.  Dasypodius only included the first two books in full and the third tract contains the ‘enuciations’ of the Euclid’s books III-XIII.  In a later edition he explained that he added the enuciations as he did not wish to leave the book unfinished, but that including Euclid’s full work would make the book unwieldy for students.  Therefore, if we believe that Hooke fully mastered the first six books we must discount this particular translation.

Our earliest Euclid dates from 1533: Simon Grynaeus’ edition published in Basel.  This was the first edition of the Greek text and was based on several rather poor manuscript copies. Hooke might have used this volume, but the binding is very ornate and I wonder if Dr Busby might have held this fine copy in reserve.

Fine blind-tooled binding on Grynaeus’ 1533 edition of Euclid

A stronger contender is Henry Briggs’ 1620 edition.  It is a pleasing folio volume with the first six books in Greek with Latin translation, based on Frederico Commandino’s translation from the Greek.

Dr Busby owned a 1627 copy of the German mathematician, Christopher Clavius’, edition. Clavius did not produce an original translation, but compiled copious notes from previous editors and added his own comments.  It was a popular version, first printed in 1574, but with new editions every decade until the mid 17th Century. This version has rather distracting flowers and leaves pointlessly ornamenting the diagrams. Another German edition, this time printed in Wittenberg in 1634, was produced by the mathematician Ambrosius Rhode. This may also have made an unappealing study, as it is a small book with dense type.

Ornate foliage floats around the diagrams in this 1627 edition

Whilst Hooke might have already mastered Euclid after two years at the school, a tempting book to study would have been Thomas Rudd’s edition, printed in London in 1651. This work, unlike the others listed, was an English translation and had the benefit of an additional mathematical preface of John Dee.

Of course, Hooke may have studied any one of these five works, or indeed, a combination of the texts. Perhaps the most interesting point to take away from this exercise is the popularity of Euclid’s work and the range of translations and editions available to pupils at the school.

Hooke and Busby collaborated on a number of building projects in later life, including the ‘beautyfieing of the School & College’.  Hooke appears to have acted as the architect and overseer for the redesign of the room Dr Busby called his ‘Museum’, which we now know as the Busby Library.[3]   The room was badly damaged by an incendiary bomb in 1940, but has been reconstructed as a faithful replica, based on drawings and photographs in the school’s archive. The majority of Busby’s library survived the blast as the bulk of his collection was evacuated to Christ Church, Oxford, his former college. It is pleasing to think of Hooke employing his Euclidean geometry to construct this beautiful space as a legacy for his former Head Master and a gift to generations of future pupils.

The Busby Library c. 1840

[1] Smith, Eddie, “Westminster School Buildings, 1630–1730” in Westminster: The Art, Architecture and Archaeology of the Royal Abbey and Palace (British Archaeological Association: 2015) pp. 381-2.

[2] Hunter, Michael, Robert Hooke: Tercentennial Studies (Routledge: 2006) p. 14.

[3] Smith, Eddie, “Westminster School Buildings, 1630–1730,” p. 382.

Augustus de Morgan and Euclid | Guest post by Karen Attar

Guest post by Dr Karen Attar, Curator of Rare Books at Senate House Library and a Research Fellow at the Institute of English Studies, both of the University of London. She has published widely on library history, and the library of Augustus De Morgan is one of her areas of interest.

Senate House Library, University of London—known until 2004 as the University of London Library—serves students from all the Colleges and schools of the federal University of London as a library for the humanities and social sciences. One might not, therefore, expect mathematics to feature. But its remit used to be larger; and the founding collection was the mathematical library of the mathematician and mathematical historian Augustus De Morgan (1806-1871), some 4,000 titles purchased shortly after De Morgan’s death by Samuel Loyd, Baron Overstone, for the University, as ‘the first fruits of a Library which shall ere long become such in all respects as the London University ought to possess’.

De Morgan’s Euclids

De Morgan collected as comprehensively as he could on a limited budget on all areas of mathematics: arithmetic (on which he published), geometry, functions, probability, and astronomy, with some related biographies, bibliographies, encyclopaedic works, and works on music thrown in. He had multiple editions of books by various writers. Of these, Euclid stands out. De Morgan’s copies range chronologically from the two productions of the incunable period to Isaac Todhunter’s textbook of 1862, in editions issued throughout Europe, from Venice to Amsterdam and from Basel to Dublin among others. Their format ranges from folio to duodecimo; their languages cover English, French, Italian and German alongside the original Greek and the predominant Latin.

As De Morgan was eminent in his field and a known collector and annotator of mathematical books, his own association with the Euclids bestows cachet upon them. Yet provenance interest does not rest on De Morgan alone.

Annotations on Euclidis Megarensis philosophi acutissimi mathematicorumq[ue] omnium sine controuersia principis op[er]a, ed. Campano da Novara (Venice: Paganino Paganini, 1509), p. 59. SHL classmark: [DeM] L.6 [Euclid - Elementa - Latin] fol. SSR
Annotations on Euclidis Megarensis philosophi acutissimi mathematicorumq[ue] omnium sine controuersia principis op[er]a, ed. Campano da Novara (Venice: Paganino Paganini, 1509), p. 59. SHL classmark: [DeM] L.6 [Euclid – Elementa – Latin] fol. SSR. © Senate House Library
The version published in Venice in 1509 is annotated in Italian; that from Paris in 1527 in Latin, in an early hand.  More tangibly, the astronomer Francis Baily (1744-1844), a prominent member of the Royal Society, annotated his copy (Edinburgh, 1799), both in the margins of the printed text and on interleaved pages.  We have some record of a few other former owners, such as Sir Thomas Knyvett (1539-1618; edition published in Padua in 1560), much of whose library of some 70 manuscripts and 1,400 printed books ended up via John Moore, Bishop of Ely, in Cambridge University Library, and the antiquary and literary scholar James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips (1820-1889), at whose sale of mathematical books in 1840 De Morgan bought extensively.  A Maltese architect, George Grognet, acquired in 1806 the edition published in Basle in 1550. A woman, one Abigail Baruh Lousada (c.1772-1833), a London scholar who translated the mathematical works of Diophantes into English and published some mathematical papers, owned the 1644 Paris edition; De Morgan patronised the sale of her library in 1834.  Most recently, Dionysius Lardner (1793-1859), London University’s first professor of natural philosophy and astronomy, edited his text of Euclid (1828) for the use of students in and preparing for the University of London and inscribed it to Augustus De Morgan.

De Morgan’s annotations are often bibliographical, place the book within its intellectual context, refer to rarity, or concern provenance. That on Lardner’s edition moves bibliography into the realm of the anecdotal:

“This was one of the first copies issued and was sent out before the unfortunate slip in page 244 was cancelled. Of course that slip was very sharply criticized particularly by Peter Nicholson, who foretold the ruin of the University of London from it.”

(Peter Nicholson (1765-1844) was a Scottish mathematician and architect who wrote about architecture, and who spent some of his life in London. De Morgan was connected with University College London (the ‘University of London’ referred to), as its first professor of mathematics.)

Giovanni Alfonso Borelli’s Euclides restitutus, siue, Prisca geometriae elementa, breuiùs, & faciliùs contexta (Pisa: Francesco Onofri, 1658). © Senate House Library
Giovanni Alfonso Borelli’s Euclides restitutus, siue, Prisca geometriae elementa, breuiùs, & faciliùs contexta (Pisa: Francesco Onofri, 1658). © Senate House Library

An intriguing example of a provenance annotation concerns the inscription ‘Edmond Waller’ on the half-title of Giovanni Alfonso Borelli’s Euclides restitutus, siue, Prisca geometriae elementa, breuiùs, & faciliùs contexta (Pisa: Francesco Onofri, 1658). Was this the seventeenth-century poet and politician Edmund Waller (1606-1687)? De Morgan was at pains to find out, writing both to the British Museum and to the literary critic and antiquary Bolton Corney (1784-1870) in a quest for other examples. He tipped their replies into the book, and summarised their messages in his handwritten notes.

Giovanni Alfonso Borelli’s Euclides restitutus, siue, Prisca geometriae elementa, breuiùs, & faciliùs contexta (Pisa: Francesco Onofri, 1658). © Senate House Library
Edmond Waller’s inscription on the half-title of Giovanni Alfonso Borelli’s Euclides restitutus, siue, Prisca geometriae elementa, breuiùs, & faciliùs contexta (Pisa: Francesco Onofri, 1658). © Senate House Library

An author search under De Morgan as former owner on Senate House Library’s online catalogue brings up a list of all De Morgan’s books here. To learn more about De Morgan’s interaction with Euclid and other writers, see my article on ‘Augustus De Morgan and his Reading’ in The Edinburgh History of Reading: A World Survey, edited by Mary Hammond and Jonathan Rose (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming).

Karen Attar
Curator of Rare Books
Senate House Library, University of London

Finding maths in the RCP library: some 16th century rare books | guest post by Katie Birkwood

Guest post by Katie Birkwood, rare books and special Collections, Librarian Royal College of Physicians

You might expect the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) library only to contain medical books, but for the pre-1800 titles at least, that’s definitely not the case. Ever since the college’s foundation in 1518 it has been collecting books, and the library has reflected the requirement that its physicians be ‘groundedly learned’, ie knowledgeable in a wide range of subjects and not only medicine.

When William Harvey (1578–1657) gave his collection of books and objects to the college in the 1650s, his rules for his Musaeum Harveianum stipulated that

“Besides medical books we consider those to be especially useful and suitable for this Museum, which deal with Geometry, or Geography, or Cosmography, or Astronomy, or Music, or Optics, or Natural History, or Mechanics, or include Voyages to the more remote regions of the Earth.”

‘Groundedly learned’

The core of the RCP’s rare books collection as it stands today was given to the college in 1680. That was the year that Henry Pierrepont, Marquis of Dorchester (1606-1680) died. Dorchester was not a physician, but rather a lawyer. He was certainly ‘groundedly learned’, with a taste for book collecting, and he was friends with many of the college’s fellows. He was event made the RCP’s very first honorary fellow in 1658. After Dorchester’s death in 1680, his family gave his library of approximately 3,200 books to the college. This was a particularly welcome gift because Harvey’s library had been almost entirely destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Fireworks, fortifications and the art of dance

Dorchester’s library was arranged into four broad sections: mathematics, law, medicine and philology (meaning literature and history), and the books are still shelved in these groupings today.

The ‘mathematics’ section of Dorchester’s library is – to modern eyes – remarkably diverse. It was common practice in the medieval period and later to consider music and astronomy as part of maths, but Dorchester’s collection still looks very broad. On the shelves are works of geography, handbooks to firework-making, diagrams of military fortifications and military strategy, and even one or two dancing manuals.

Black and white engraved illustration of Roman military formations Gl' Ordini della militia Romana. Giovanni Franco, published Venice, 1573.
Gl’ Ordini della militia Romana. Giovanni Franco, published Venice, 1573. © Royal College of Physicians
L’art et instruction de bien dancer, published Paris, c1495 | Orchesographie. Jehan Tabourot, published 1597.
L’art et instruction de bien dancer, published Paris, c1495 | Orchesographie. Jehan Tabourot, published 1597. © Royal College of Physicians

However, there are also plenty of classical mathematical texts. More than 30 books are editions of, commentaries on, or summaries of the works of the Greek geometrician Euclid (active around 300 BC).

Some of the copies of Euclid’s works in the Dorchester Library.
Some of the copies of Euclid’s works in the Dorchester Library. © Royal College of Physicians
Reading Euclid

It was a pleasure recently to welcome Yelda Nasifoglu from the Reading Euclid project team to examine our early modern Euclids. While she was here, two of the books caught my eye.

Each book is a Sammelband: a collection of different texts bounds together as one volume. The first contains three short works or compilations on geometry, perspective and proportions all printed in Paris around the year 1510. Curiously, all of the texts are attributed to bishops or archbishops of the 13th and 14th centuries: Thomas Bradwardine, archbishop of Canterbury (1290?–1349), John Peckham, archbishop of Canterbury (d.1292), Albertus de Saxonia, bishop of Halberstadt (d.1390) and Nicholas Oresme, bishop of Lisieux (c1320–1382). The full contents are:

It wasn’t the coincidence (perhaps deliberate assembly?) of the collection of bishops that caught my attention, but rather the visual appearance of the books. Each of the three is a fine example of early 16th century printing, decorated with a woodcut title page, woodcut illustrations to the text, or both.

Woodcut mathematical illustrations
Geometria speculativa. Thomas Bradwardine, published Paris, 1511. © Royal College of Physicians
Woodcut mathematical illustrations
Perspectiva communis. John Peckham, published Paris, c1510. © Royal College of Physicians
Woodcut border around a title page printed in red and black
Tractatus proportionum. Three works by Albertus de Saxonia, Thomas Bradwardine and Nicole Oresme, published Paris, c1512. © Royal College of Physicians

There is a lengthy inscription on the back of the second title page, but we do not know who left this annotation, nor the identities of any of the book’s owners before Dorchester, so the question of who was reading these short works of geometry is left open.

The second book contains four different printed works:

It is the last of the four that caught my eye. It’s a Jewish calendar compiled by the German scholar Sebastian Münster, printed in Hebrew and Latin characters.

Title page printed in Latin and Hebrew
Kalendarium hebraicum. Sebastian Münster, published Basel, 1527. © Royal College of Physicians

There are two owners’ names inscribed on the title page: ‘L Chambres’ and ‘David Goubard’. Either Chambres, Goubard, or another unknown person has left annotations in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, as well as calculations relating to the calendrical and information in the printed text.

Inscription by David Goubard
Kalendarium hebraicum. Sebastian Münster, published Basel, 1527. © Royal College of Physicians
Inscription by L Chambres
Kalendarium hebraicum. Sebastian Münster, published Basel, 1527. © Royal College of Physicians
Mathematical calculations in the margin of a printed book
Kalendarium hebraicum. Sebastian Münster, published Basel, 1527. © Royal College of Physicians

I’ve not managed to identify ‘L Chambres’ for certain. He may be the Leonard Chambers who studied at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1561, and was vice-master of that college and later a prebend of St Paul’s Cathedral. David Goubard was a translator of astronomical works, active around the year 1633. He is known to have owned other books, including three incunabula (books printed before the year 1501), all on astronomical or astrological topics, now kept at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and Lambeth Palace Library. It’s not clear whether idea of these, or a later owner, brought the other three works together with the Jewish calendar.

Unanswered questions like these are a constant companion when investigating the history of rare books. The RCP rare books collections – whether mathematical or not – are a rich source of evidence, sometimes tantalising, of book use from the earliest days of printing throughout the early-modern era.

Katie Birkwood, rare books and special collections librarian

Katie’s post is also on the RCP website at

Robert Ashley’s Euclids | guest post by Renae Satterly

Guest post by Renae Satterley, Librarian, Middle Temple Library

Middle Temple is one of the four Inns of Court, alongside Inner Temple, Gray’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn. The Inns were traditionally responsible for educating barristers and calling them to the Bar. Since the mid-19th century they have been responsible for calling lawyers to the Bar and ensuring continuing professional standards as well as providing scholarships and support to the Bar.

Middle and Inner Temple trace their origins to the Knights Templar. It is not known when the Inns became two separate entities, but it was at some point before 1500. Members generally lived and worked at their Inn, some throughout their whole lives. As such the Inns were cosmopolitan places, especially during the early modern period. Many illustrious men were called to the Bar as honorary members. Some notable members of Middle Temple include Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Martin Frobisher and Henry Atkins, physician to the King in 1604.

‘Ordinary’ members were also significant men of their time. Robert Ashley (1565-1641) is one such member. His bequest of over 3,700 books re-established the library at Middle Temple. Ashley was a lawyer, although by his own admission, not a successful one; he describes the ‘ebbs and tides’ of his law practice. Thus Ashley spent most of his life collecting and reading books- he was a true bibliophile. He also translated six works during his lifetime, from French, Italian, Latin and Spanish. The breadth of his collection is characteristic of the learned men of the Inns of Court, that is to say, far-reaching and covering a wide range of topics. The collection is also interesting for being one of the few of its size to have remained relatively intact in central London, where it originated.

One of the areas of particular interest to Ashley was science- including mathematics, geometry, algebra, music and astronomy. There are two works by Euclid in the collection: Elementorum libri XV (printed in Cologne in 1607) and Elementorum libri XIII (printed in Wittenberg in 1609). There is one other Euclid work in the collection without marginalia in Ashley’s hand, Elementorum libri XV, a two volume work printed in Frankfurt in 1607. However, given the paucity of book acquisitions made by the Inn after Ashley’s death, this set most likely belonged to his bequest as well.

The two books that do have Ashley’s marginal notes in them are shown in the images here; both feature fairly extensive manuscript notes about Euclid on the pages preceding the title page:

Unfortunately Ashley did not leave behind any personal papers or manuscripts, apart from two versions of an original work entitled ‘Of Honour’. One version of this manuscript is at Trinity College Cambridge (R.14.20 664) and the other at the Huntington Library (MS EL 1117). He also wrote an autobiography, Vita (MS Sloane 2131) now held at the British Library.

It is difficult to know how well Ashley would have understood the principles presented in these scientific works, but as a trained lawyer, he had been taught to read and cross-reference works closely. Reading and practising law meant being able to reference a wide range of legal precedents and statutes, from Magna Carta onwards. Many of his scientific books are heavily annotated and cross-referenced to other works.

Researchers interested in the mathematics books in our collection may find this list a useful starting point.

Renae Satterley
Librarian, Middle Temple Library