Tag Archives: Keynes Bequest

Something Fishy

Among the more curious items in the Keynes Bequest is a book entitled Vox Piscis; or, The Book-Fish; Contayning Three Treatises Which Were Found in the Belly of a Cod-Fish in Cambridge Market, on Midsummer Eve Last, Anno Domini 1626 (1627). The title says it all. The circumstances surrounding this catch are detailed in the preface of the book, where we are told that “a codfish being brought to the fish-market of Cambridge and there cut up, … in the depth of the mawe of the fish was found wrapped in a peice of canvase, a booke in decimo sexto, containing in it three treatises bound up in one” (p. 8). The preface was written by the clergyman Thomas Goad (1576-1638), who became a Fellow of King’s College in 1596. In his will, he bequeathed his land in Milton to the College, “to the intent that the whole yearlie profitt thereof bee faithfullie emploied yearlie for ever in divinitie bookes for the librarie”. Many of these books bear the inscription “Legavit Thomas Goad”.

Vox Piscis 1b

The voice of the fish: title page and frontispiece of Vox Piscis; or, The Book-Fish (Keynes.D.4.15). It is unclear how the book ended up in the fish’s stomach.

Joseph Mede (1586-1639), theologian and Fellow of Christ’s College, helped clean the bundle and decipher the content of the treatises. They were attributed to John Frith (1503-33), the Protestant reformer who was imprisoned in Oxford in a “darke cave, where salt-fish was then kept” (p. 19) and burned at the stake in London on 4 July 1533. Frith received his B.A. degree from King’s, so the book bears a close connection with the College. Incidentally, his tutor at Cambridge, Stephen Gardiner, later played a role in condemning him to death. That’s Cambridge supervisions for you. The Keynes Bequest has two other copies of Frith’s works: A Pistle to the Christen Reader (Antwerp, 1529) and A Boke Made by Iohn Fryth, Prysoner in the Tower of London (Antwerp, 1548), a reply to Sir Thomas More.

Vox Piscis 2b

The second plate of Vox Piscis, wanting in King’s College copy; this is from the copy in the Cambridge University Library.

If you think this already sounds like something out of Pinocchio, there is more to come. Inside the book is preserved a newspaper cutting with the date “Feb 10 1912” pencilled in by a former owner. The short article recounts how a pocket knife was found inside a silver hake by Thomas Hughes, a salesman at the Wholesale Fish Market in Manchester. It then describes the knife, “one of a superior quality” bearing the makers’ name on each blade, “Newman and Field”, before inviting the owner to come forward and have it returned to them.

Vox Piscis 3

“Knife found in a fish”: newspaper cutting preserved inside the book.

Carrying such items is now probably illegal following the introduction of the Offensive Weapons Act in 1996, but if a knife that matches this description has been missing from your kitchen for the last century, now may be a good time to claim it back.


The Vagaries of English Spelling

When George Bernard Shaw died in 1950, he bequeathed a substantial portion of his estate to finance the creation of a new English phonemic alphabet. The word ‘ghoti’, i.e. ‘fish’ (gh, pronounced [f] as in tough; o, pronounced [ɪ] as in women; ti, pronounced [ʃ] as in nation), is often cited as an example of the irregularities in English and misattributed to Shaw. While his endeavours to simplify English orthography are well known, he is not the first one to have taken steps towards this end.

Shavian Alphabet

The Shavian Alphabet, devised in 1958 by Kingsley Read and three other entrants who won a competition to create an economical writing system for English, as stipulated in Shaw’s will

The Keynes Bequest features a first edition of Epistolae Ho-Elianae: Familiar Letters Domestic and Forren (1645) by James Howell (ca. 1594-1666), in which the author argues in the epilogue: ‘Amongst other reasons which make the English language of so small extent, and put strangers out of conceit to learn it, one is, that we do not pronounce as we write, which proceeds from divers superfluous letters, that occur in many of our words, which adds to the difficulty of the language’.

Keynes.D.3.16-2 Title page

Engraved title page of Howell’s Epistolae Ho-Elianae: Familiar Letters Domestic and Forren (1645)

Keynes.D.3.16-2 Epilogue

Howell’s Epilogue ‘To the Intelligent Reader’ criticising redundant letters in English words

Keynes wrote to Shaw on 5 January 1946 to draw his attention to Howell, ‘the first pioneer whom you are following’. The carbon copy of the letter, initialled by Keynes, is preserved in the book and accompanied by his transcription of Howell’s epilogue ‘To the Intelligent Reader’. This highlights the importance of cataloguing the collection, as it throws light on Keynes himself, his book-collecting habits and uncovers new correspondence between him and his illustrious friends.

Keynes.D.3.16-2 Letter

Keynes’s letter to Shaw, 5 January 1946 [recto]

Keynes.D.3.16-2 Letter 2

Keynes’s letter to Shaw, 5 January 1946 [verso]

Later this year, the English Spelling Society will host the first International Spelling Congress to come up with proposals to update the English spelling system. While the implementation of such recommendations is likely to face major obstacles, the case for simplification has been made compellingly in a 2003 study which investigated literacy acquisition rates in 13 languages, and concluded what Howell had already highlighted in 1645: ‘Children from a majority of European countries become accurate and fluent in foundation level reading before the end of the first school year. […] The rate of development in English is more than twice as slow.’

In 1991, the Académie française recommended a number of ‘rectifications orthographiques’ to regularise French spelling, which, though largely ignored at first, have now become widely accepted. The Germans too introduced an orthography reform in 1996, which has been adopted throughout German-speaking countries after some initial controversies and teething problems. So shud Inglish follou sut?


Je suis Louis de Montalte

At a time when freedom of expression has been widely debated following the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, it may seem appropriate to look at a book in the Keynes Bequest published when the freedoms which we take for granted were but a distant mirage.

Keynes.Ec.7.3.20 Title page

Title page of Keynes.Ec.7.3.20

Blaise Pascal’s Lettres provinciales was first printed in 1657 under the pseudonym Louis de Montalte during the formulary controversy between the Jesuits and Jansenists. Jansenism was a seventeenth-century movement in the Catholic Church which came under attack from the Jesuits in 1655. Pascal was invited to write a rejoinder, which took the form of a withering criticism of the casuistical methods of argument used by the Jesuits to justify their lax morality. Having been forced into hiding while writing this work, Pascal pretended the letters were reports on religious and doctrinal issues debated at the Sorbonne sent from a Parisian, Louis de Montalte, to a friend in the provinces.

Port-Royal-des-Champs (1700-49) Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht

The abbey of Port-Royal-des-Champs in Paris, the theological centre of the Jansenist movement (Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht, ca. 1700-49)

The 18 letters were published and circulated anonymously as individual pamphlets from 23 January 1656 to 24 March 1657, and later collected under the fictitious imprint ‘Cologne, Chés Pierre de la Vallée’. They were in fact printed in Paris, probably by Pierre le Petit, Denis Langlois, Sébastien Hyp, and others. Anyone found in possession of the pamphlets was arrested, as the book was banned by both King Louis XIV and Pope Alexander VII.

Keynes.Ec.7.3.20 Title page detail

Close-up of the signature on the title page: L’abbé de champagne du Saullay?

Most editions are bound with polemical responses to Pascal’s epistles. Our copy is noteworthy in that it consists of no fewer than 57 items, and the original owner recorded on the flyleaf that ‘la plus grande partie de ces pièces m’ont esté données par les autheurs’. The identity of this owner remains elusive: ‘L’abbé de champagne du Saullay’? Or ‘L’abbé de champ [?] Saullay’? Any assistance in identifying them would be much appreciated!

Keynes.Ec.7.3.20 Nodier 2

A 19th-century owner’s inscription from Charles Nodier’s Mélanges tirés d’une petite bibliothèque (1829)

The book passed through several hands before Keynes. An anonymous owner recorded: ‘Acheté à M. Guillemot, libraire, le 28 mai 1832’. The same person inscribed on one of the fly-leaves a quotation from the French author and bibliophile Charles Nodier’s Mélanges tirés d’une petite bibliothèque (1829): ‘La réunion des éditions originales de nos classiques est un genre de collection encore peu à la mode, et qui fixera tôt ou tard l’attention des amateurs les plus délicats.’

Keynes.Ec.7.3.20 Keynes
Keynes’s pencil note on the fly-leaf

This statement could not have been more prophetic in light of the book’s subsequent owners. Unusually, Keynes recorded on one of the fly-leaves details of the book’s provenance and notable features: ‘This is evidently Recueil no. 2 from the collection of J. H. Basse [Jean Hippolyte Basse, d. 1877]’. It was offered for sale in Paris in 1878 by Léon Techener,  and must have been bought by the book collector Sir Thomas Brooke (1830-1908), whose bookplate is on the front paste-down. The volume was acquired in 1913 by the Austrian philosopher and rare books collector Heinrich Gomperz (1873-1942), who fled his homeland in 1938 following the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany and joined the University of Southern California. It was bought by Keynes in Vienna in 1936, and bequeathed to King’s College in 1946.


Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) studying the cycloid. At his feet are the Pensées; the open book is the Provinciales (Augustin Pajou, 1785)

King Louis XIV’s order that the Lettres provinciales should be burned, and Pope Alexander VII’s placing it on the Index of Prohibited Books in 1657, clearly did nothing to deter educated Frenchmen from reading it: its popularity spread like wildfire, both in France and abroad, so that there were about 30 editions by 1700. The genealogy of this rare first edition’s illustrious owners, spanning three centuries and three countries, and their eagerness to mark their ownership on the book in a way that Pascal could not (he was identified as the author only after his death), is a testament to the letters’ enduring significance and importance. Apart from their religious value, Pascal’s brilliant prose style, his coruscating wit and use of mockery and satire contributed to making the Provinciales popular as a literary work. It later influenced Molière, Montesquieu and Voltaire, who, despite his aversion to Pascal’s thought, defined it in Le Siècle de Louis XIV (1751) as ‘le premier livre de génie qu’on vit en prose’.

‘I have made this [post] longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.’


Isaac Newton’s dog-ears

Keynes.Ec.7.3.26 Lexicon Hebraicum et Chaldaicum - title page

The title page of Keynes.Ec.7.3.26

Bookplate on inside front board of Keynes.Ec.7.3.26

Bookplate on inside front board of Keynes.Ec.7.3.26

Among the highlights of the Keynes Bequest are two volumes from Sir Isaac Newton’s library, with a fascinating history behind them. This copy of Johann Buxtorf’s third edition of Lexicon Hebraicum et Chaldaicum (Basel: Ludwig König, 1621) features an armorial bookplate with motto ‘Philosophemur’ and ‘Case G. F.4. Barnsley’ in ink underneath the bookplate. On the rear fly-leaf is the shelfmark ‘F2_27’. The ‘Philosophemur’ bookplate belonged to Dr James Musgrave, who was Rector of Chinnor, near Oxford. After he died in 1778 the library was removed to Barnsley Park, Gloucestershire, the home of his son, where the books were re-catalogued and re-classified with ‘Barnsley’ shelfmarks. Musgrave’s books had been previously owned by his predecessor at Chinnor, Charles Huggins, who received them from his father, John Huggins, Warden of the Fleet Prison. John Huggins had bought the collection from the estate of his late neighbour, Isaac Newton, for £300.

Signature of Isaac Newton

Signature of Isaac Newton

Newton’s library was preserved almost intact until 1920, when more than half of the items were auctioned off and dispersed. Before securing one of the most important collections of Newton’s manuscripts in the world, which he acquired during and after a sale at Sotheby’s in 1936, John Maynard Keynes purchased two of Newton’s books from the Guildford bookseller Thomas Thorp in March 1921. This Latin-Hebrew dictionary is signed on the front and rear fly-leaves: ‘Isaac Newton’, who also noted the price on the rear fly-leaf: ‘Pret: 4s: 8d’.

Newton highlighting the word 'Lutum' in Keynes.Ec.7.3.26

Newton highlighting the word ‘Lutum’ in Keynes.Ec.7.3.26

Newton had the habit of ‘dog-earing’ his books, turning back the corner of leaves to note a reference, the corner of the leaf pointing to the exact word he wished to highlight. Eight pages (pp. 11, 18, 29, 45, 164, 247, 593 and 636) are turned back in this way in this dictionary. For more information, see John Harrison, The Library of Isaac Newton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978). Some of the information in this post is drawn from the SCOLAR blog of Cardiff University.


Munby Cataloguing Project (Rare Books)

Title page

The title page of Keynes.D.1.9

In June 2013 King’s College held a conference to mark the centenary of the birth of A.N.L. (Tim) Munby, Librarian at King’s from 1947 to 1974. The conference was a great success, with a distinguished panel of speakers from the world of bibliography and the history of books, and over 120 registered participants. As a follow-up to the conference, and as a permanent tribute to Tim Munby, King’s College inaugurated a fund in his name—The Munby Centenary Fund.  Donations to the fund support projects initiated by Munby, or related closely to his interests and achievements.

Spine detail

The gold tooling on the book’s spine.

The initial objective is to complete the online cataloguing of all of the books in the collection of John Maynard Keynes and generous donations have already made it possible to hire Dr Iman Javadi as ‘Munby Project Cataloguer (Rare Books)’ to begin this work. Iman joined the library team in November 2014, and has so far catalogued over 200 books.

Tim Munby began his career at King’s as the first cataloguer of Keynes’s collection, although cataloguing in those days was very different. Catalogue cards often included little more than author, title and imprint details.

Index card2

Tim Munby’s original catalogue card.

Front pastedown1

Inside front pastedown showing Keynes’s bookplate.

These days catalogue records for rare books typically include a wealth of copy-specific information such as binding descriptions, provenance information and information relating to former owners and detailed physical descriptions of the book as an object. This change not only reflects changes in research interests in bibliography, but also assists librarians in collection management, and the availability of these descriptions online improves access to the collections.

The newly created online record for this  item can be viewed here: MARC record (opens a .docx file)

Further updates about the project will be posted on this blog.