Monday, April 20, 2009

Thomas Bodley Endows his Library

Thomas Bodley's gift to humanity is incalculable. His collection became the first private, perpertually-funded library open to the public and, in the process, he helped preserve a significant unique archive of English history and literature. Thomas Bodley (1545-1613) came from a Protestant merchant family and was born while Henry VIII was still alive (just barely). When Mary I ruled England, the Bodleys moved to Geneva, with Nicholas Hilliard, the artist, in their household. Bodley came to know Calvin, Knox and Beza, attending their lectures and services. He mastered Greek and Hebrew. The family returned to England; Thomas graduated Oxford in 1563, where he stayed as lecturer in languages. The University asked him to restore an old library in 1598. In 1600 he started acquiring books en masse, using his wife's ample fortune. His library opened on November 8, 1602, at that time having about 2,500+ books. James I visited the Bodleian in May 1605 and was astounded, proclaiming that if he wasn't burdened with being king, he would gladly live in the Bodleian and just read. At the core of the collection was the inherited libary of Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester (brother of Henry V), a unique, priceless archive of 281+ manuscripts.

On April 20, 1609, Bodley granted to his trustees certain lands and income-producers in Berkshire and London to create a permanent endowment for the Bodleian Library. That endowment continues to the present day.
In 1610 an arrangement was made between the Bodleian and The Worshipful Company of Stationers -- whereby the Stationers would secure one copy of every book they printed to the Bodleian for safe keeping and reference, with the proviso that they could always borrow a copy back to serve as fair copy for a reprint. This set the model for copyright procedure in America and the use of the Library of Congress as repository for all domestically printed books.



  1. Robert: Thought this might be of interest ... I read somewhere recently (it must have been in KDJ's book about the Sonnets) that William Herbert (Earl of Pembroke) donated 100 pounds (I believe) in 1609 to help Bodley with this project. Best, Matthew

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