The owner's tastes and pursuits point, of course, to a large representation among his books, of works in philosophy, alchemy, astrology and medicine, with a substantial proportion dealing with metallurgy, geometry, optics, physics, Ptolomaic and Copernican astronomy, and every branch of science already known in a crude form to Dee's famous predecessors. There are also historical chronicles; works of devotion and ethics; with a fair sprinkling of authors upon poetry, music, and the gentler arts.
Taking first the classics: Dee names the Meno, Phaedo and Timaeus of Plato; writings of Aristotle, Socrates and Hippocrates, of Cicero, Cato and Archimedes. A copy of Pliny's Mundi Historia, Lib. ii., Frankfort, 1543, now in the British Museum, bears Dee's signature, Louvain, January, 1550, and many of his notes. Of Euclid he had many copies, and Augustine was his guide and confessor. A vast number of Arabic and Persian writers were comprehended in the list. He was particularly rich in manuscripts of the early and mediaeval writers upon alchemy and the philosopher's stone: Hermes Trismegistus, Geber, Albertus Magnus, John Sacrobosco, Raymond Lully, Philip Alstade, and Arnold de Villa Nova. Other sciences are represented by Guido Bonatus, Anselmus de Boot (Boetius), Alhazen, John of Saxony, Jacob Alkind, and Petrus Peregrinus and a score of learned writers. Dee's own perfect and clean copy of the rare printed Epistle of Peregrinus, upon the Magnet (Augsburg, 1558), is now in the British Museum. It bears his name, "Joannes Dee, 1564," in faded ink, with many and copious notes written by its owner mostly in his large copy-book hand, with a few in the scribbling writing which he used for speed, and some marginal sketches.
Several of the manuscripts named in Dee's list are to be found among the Cotton MSS. at the Museum; in Trinity College, Dublin; and at Oxford and Cambridge.
Of English authors, who are very numerous in the list, the most eagerly sought after, judging by the number of works included by one author, were Roger Bacon and Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln. Bacon's writings were owned by Dee in fragments. Some had been already collected and printed in Nuremburg and Paris. The only other writer as often repeated in the catalogue is Boethius, whose Consolation of Philosophy had tempted King Alfred into literary translation some seven hundred years before. Dee notes that he gave a manuscript of it in Greek to the Library of Cracow, on July 27, 1584. Some of the ethical and philosophical works of St. Isidore, the canonised Bishop of Seville, were duplicated. Thomas Aquinas; Duns Scotus; Richard of Wallingford, Abbot of St. Albans; Robert of Holcot, the Bible Commentator; Robert of Gloucester; William of Woodford, the Franciscan opponent of Wycliffe; Richard Rolle (de Hampole), the hermit and ethical writer, are among his other English authors. A finely illuminated history of the last years of King Richard II., by a French gentleman who was in his suite, once the property of Dee, is now in the Lambeth Library. His manuscript Life of Edward the Confessor, by Ethelred, Abbot of Rievaulx, is another treasure that has survived the wreck of time. It is now among the Harleian MSS. at the British Museum, with his name and the date 1575 inscribed.
Of the three or four thousand printed volumes even Dee's industry has left no catalogue. Many of them he mentions in his diaries, as Holinshed's and Stow's Chronicles; the Arabic book that was lost; the collection of writings upon demonology and witchcraft, which were to be so useful to his Lancashire neighbours in after life. The books of the alchemist of Louvain, Cornelius Agrippa, he once speaks of as lying open in the window of his study, and therefore in constant use in the "actions," whether theurgic or alchemistic.
He refers no doubt to Agrippa's de Occulta Philosophia (Cologne? 1533), a work enormously read in all countries inthe sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and translated into many languages. Another book by the alchemist of Queen Margaret of the Netherlands had an even greater popularity in England, France, Germany and Italy. This was On the Nobility and Excellence of the Female Sex (de nobilitate et proecellentia foeminei sexus) which in the translation by Henry Care in 1670 becomes magnified into Female Pre-eminence; or, the Dignity and Excellency of that Sex above the Male. It is dedicated to Queen Catharine of Braganza.
These are a very few of the authors and writings contained in
the manuscript catalogue. Such as they are, however, they give
us a faint glimpse into that realm of learning and romance wherein
Dee, shut into his library at Mortlake, roamed a free citizen
of the world and dwelled where he would.
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