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Focus on The John Hay Library #1

Featuring new, interesting, and unusual items from the Library's Special Collections


Schindler's Lexicon, 1612, Gift of President James Manning It seems appropriate to inaugurate the continuing series Focus on The John Hay Library with the first known book to be included in Brown University's library holdings, Valentin Schindler's Lexicon Pentaglotton, Hebraicum, Chaldaicum, Syriacum...Rabbinicum & Arabicum, published in Hanover in 1612. A gift from Brown's first president, the Lexicon is inscribed "The gift of the Revd. James Manning to Rhode Island College June 17th, 1767."

Inscription on Schindler's Lexicon, 1612

The college’s early poverty is reflected in the fact that the Lexicon came to the library fully three years after the first students matriculated. How President Manning acquired the Lexicon is unknown as is the role it played in the early curriculum. Hebrew grammar was taught at least as early as 1772, and so the Lexicon may well have been used for instructional purposes. Even so, the Lexicon was over 150 years old when it came to Brown and while it had been a standard and much praised work of scholarship in the 17th century (it went through four editions between 1612 and 1695) it had long since been superseded by more modern works.

Although perhaps of limited value for teaching and learning, the Lexicon quickly established, and has ever after retained, its symbolic status as the Brown Library’s first book. Along with the entire college library, at the time numbering some few hundred volumes, the Lexicon was taken for safekeeping during the Revolutionary War to Wrentham, Massachusetts where it was kept hidden by William Williams.

Williams, a member of Brown’s first graduating class (1769), later joked that the Library was so small that he could hide it in its entirety in the drawer of his kitchen table. While the story may be apocryphal, the table emphatically is not, for both it and the Library’s earliest holdings, known today as the Williams Table Library, are on permanent display in The John Hay Library’s Reading Room.

The Williams Table

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Williams Table

William Williams' diploma, the earliest diploma 
in the Brown University Archives

William Williams’ role in preserving the College Library has been commemorated in recent years through the William Williams Award, presented to individuals who have provided extraordinary support for Brown’s Library.

In addition to the copy of the Lexicon presented by President Manning, The John Hay Library also owns a second copy of the first edition, with a very interesting provenance, and a copy of the 1653 third edition. Copy two of the 1612 first edition appears to have belonged to John Morris, an important book collector whose library, for the most part, was purchased by Charles II as the first major post-Restoration accession to the Old Royal Library at St. James’s Palace.

 The title page of this copy of the Lexicon bears the phrase, in ink, sum Johanis Morris, an established form of Morris’ statement of ownership; the preliminary essay contains marginalia in a 17th century hand, perhaps indicating Morris’ historically documented efforts to learn Hebrew. 

Ownership mark of John Morris on the Library's second copy of the first edition of Schindler's Lexicon

Lexicon, First Edition, 1612, with ownership mark of John Morris

The Old Royal Library today is part of the British Library. Some of the Morris Collection books were sold as duplicates many years ago by the British Museum (the predecessor of the British Library) and this, presumably, was the source of Brown’s second copy of the 1612 Lexicon. Internal evidence indicates that this copy of the Lexicon also was an early gift to the Library, a gift that unfortunately predates the practice of recording donors.

Schindler's Lexicon, 

Third Edition, 1653

For additional information about the Lexicon Pentaglotton, go to Josiah, Brown’s on-line catalog or contact John Hay Reader Services at Hay@Brown.edu.

For additional information about William Williams and the Williams Table Library, see Martha Mitchell, Encyclopedia Brunoniana (1993) or contact University Archives at The John Hay Library (401) 863-2148.  See also The History of Special Collections at Brown University.

For additional information about John Morris, see T.A. Birrell, The Library of John Morris, The Reconstruction of a Seventeenth Century Library (1976).

Lexicon, Third Edition, 1653


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This page was last updated on Wednesday, 15-Mar-2006 14:58:04 EST