We spare the reader the long list of titles of Dee's own books, poured out in an almost continuous stream since The Art of Logicke, in English, printed 1547, during his college days. The only idle years as regards literary output, from then up to his departure for life abroad in 1583, seem to have been 1563, 1564, and 1566-9.
The most important of his printed contributions to knowledge are mentioned in these pages. One more may be alluded to here - his edition, in 1582, of Robert Recorde's arithmetical work, The Ground of Artes, etc. Dee had probably known this accomplished physician, antiquary and mathematician at Cambridge, where Recorde was a tutor before 1545. Recorde was afterwards Comptroller of the Mint at Bristol, and Surveyor of Mines and Money to King Henry VIII., but he died a youngish and impoverished man, inthe King's Bench Prison, Southwark, in 1558. He introduced algebra into this country; was something of an astrologer and a good mathematician. His choice of titles for his books was ingenious. In The Whetstone of Witte (1557), the signs for plus, minus and equality were first used inthis country. In his Castle of Knowledge, a beautiful and dignified hymn of his own composition appears. The Ground of Artes, his first work (1540), went through eleven editions before Dee augmented it and added some of his apologetic doggerel rhymes.
That which my friend hath well begun
For very love to common weale
Need not all whole to be new done
But new increase I do reveale.
Something herein I once redrest,
And now again for thy behoofe
Of seale, I doe, and at request,
Both mend and add, fit for all proofe.
Of numbers use, the endlesse might
No wit nor language can expresse,
Apply and try, both day and night,
And then this truth thou wilt confesse.
From original and autograph works we may now turn to the miscellaneous contents of Dee's library - a truly vast and precious collection for one private gentleman of precarious fortune to won in the sixteenth century. Printed books were by no means easy to obtain, and manuscript copies entailed a great expenditure of skill, industry, time and cost. The text was often ignorantly or corruptly rendered by an imperfect scribe or copyist, and the scholar and collector could not rest satisfied without several versions of one work.
The cataloguer of the 200 most important manuscripts - Dee himself
- enters with exactitude the size and substance of each volume.
The bulk of course were in quarto, although a few folios and octavos
are mentioned. Most of them were written upon parchment, but a
certain number were on paper. Bindings were not noticed, chiefly
because as yet few were bound. Two of Roger Bacon's tracts, however,
on the multiplication of species, and on perspective, the owner
describes as together "in paste-bords with strings."
These identical tracts, in Dee's own hand, and now being edited
by Mr. Robert Steele, from the originals in the Mazarine Library,
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. From Dee they passed to Sir Richard
Eden, afterwards to the Kenelm Digby Library. Treatises on kindred
subjects often followed straight upon each other onthe same parchment,
and sometimes as many as twenty composed a single manuscript,
included under a list of titles numbered as one. In some cases
the treatise is described as a fragment. Once he writes "the
second tract is cut out and to be answered for."
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