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This article is taken from PN Review 232, Volume 43 Number 2, November - December 2016.

From Chetham’s Library

02: When thou hast Donne…
Michael Powell

Image © Chetham’s Library 2016

LIKE MOST OTHER SEVENTEENTH-century libraries, the one established by the will of Humphrey Chetham in Manchester did not go in for English literature. Chetham’s Library was endowed with a sizeable bequest, which, thanks to prudent investment, provided its governors with a good income to buy books. Within a few years they had laid the foundations of a scholarly collection, which, in the words of the Puritan divine John Worthington, was better than any college library in Cambridge. By the end of the seventeenth century the library had amassed over three thousand volumes, two-thirds of which were devoted to divinity but with strong holdings of science, law and history.

Literae humaniores, of course, meant classical literature, although a sort of exception could be made for the copy of the three-volume Estienne Plato of 1578, which the Library bought for the sum of £3, 10 shillings in the very first batch of books it acquired on 2 August 1655. This turned out to be Ben Jonson’s copy of Plato’s works, with his motto ‘Tanquam Explorator’ on the title-page alongside the price he paid for it, £4  (ten shillings more than it cost Chetham’s). So much for provenance. Jonson’s own works were not acquired, nor were any of Shakespeare’s or Milton’s other than the latter’s History of Britain.

In the following century this changed as the Library decided that English poetry and drama should be added to the stock. Wherever possible the governors avoided paying ...

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