Recent Additions to the Wren Digital Library (I)[1][2]_titlepage

Items added to the Wren Digital Library over the past few weeks include a French translation of St Augustine’s De Civitate Dei (R.17.23), a volume which probably belonged to Thomas Becket (B.3.12), an anthology containing marginal commentaries in decorative shapes (O.3.57) and two printed plays by Shakespeare from the Capell Collection (Capell *.19[1] and Capell *.22[2]).

R.17.23: Augustine, De Civitate Dei, Books 11-22

This manuscript is a French translation of Augustine’s City of God by Raoul de Praelles. It was begun in 1371 and completed in September 1375 (f.424v). It contains floral borders and several fine illuminations. St Augustine is depicted on f.1r and f.2v.


B.3.12: Glossed books of Joshua, Ruth, Judges and Chronicles

This volume was written in either Paris or Sens, probably for Thomas Becket during his exile in France between 1164 and 1170. It later came to Christ Church, Canterbury. It contains many fine ornamented initials including the one below, at the start of the Book of Ruth, which includes an ape blowing a horn and a naked man playing the fiddle.


O.3.57, Horace, Opera

Works by several classical authors including Horace are contained in this manuscript which may have been owned by Dr John Dee. It is notable for the elaborate shapes in which some of the marginal commentary on Horace’s work is contained (ff.21r-69r). These shapes include letters of the alphabet, vases and fish.


Capell.*.19[1], Shakespeare, Rape of Lucrece and Capell.*.22[2], Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis.

The Rape of Lucrece was printed in London by P(eter) S(hort) for John Harrison in 1598 and Venus and Adonis was printed by I. P. in London in 1620. There is only one other known copy of each of these editions. Pages from these volumes have been included in the Shakespeare Documented online exhibition.[1]_titlepage
Capell.*.19[1], titlepage

The Man Who Knew Infinity

RS73252_Add.Ms.a.94_7(001)-scrThis month sees the release of the film ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ based on the life of the mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920). Parts of the film were shot here at Trinity College. Some of his papers ( are deposited in the College Library and can be consulted online via the Wren Digital Library.

Ramanujan was born in Erode, India in 1887. He showed early mathematical ability which developed rapidly during his teenage years. He published his first paper in 1911 and encouraged by correspondence with G. H. Hardy at Trinity College, he obtained a research scholarship at the University of Madras. He came to England in 1914 to begin a productive collaboration with Hardy. Ramanujan was particularly prolific in the field of number theory. In 1918 he became a fellow of the Royal Society and was subsequently offered a fellowship at Trinity College. He was, however, beset by ill-health and returned to India in 1919. He died in 1920.

Box contains a number of manuscripts by Ramanujan together with some correspondence with him and later correspondence about his work. They were found amongst the papers of the mathematician G N Watson who had probably received the majority of the material from G H Hardy before the latter’s death in 1947 and were given to Trinity by Robert Rankin, Watson’s immediate successor in the Chair of Pure Mathematics at Birmingham, in December 1968.

The most significant item is probably the so-called lost-notebook (not  a notebook, nor strictly lost) which includes material from Ramanujan’s last year spent not in Cambridge but back home in India, in which he enters  much more exotic areas of mathematics than the more classical areas of number theory to which his earlier work had been more-or-less confined.

Add Ms a/94/15, page 1
The First Page of the So-called Lost Notebook,, page 1

In addition this small collection includes other important items such as his last letter to Hardy explaining ‘mock’ theta functions and papers on highly composite numbers, singular moduli, Rogers-Ramanujan identities and Mersenne numbers. Ramanujan is recognised as one of the most original contributors to the field of mathematics.

Reference: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


Photograph of the Month

A E Housman (1859-1936), Trinity College F.A I.135 [3]
A E Housman (1859-1936), Trinity College F.A I.135 [3]
The 80th anniversary of the death of the classical scholar and poet A. E. Housman is on the 30th of this month. Housman was the Kennedy Professor of Latin at Trinity from 1916 onwards. The Wren Library has an autograph copy of his best-known collection, A Shropshire Lad, given by Housman in 1926. Housman published the series of 63 poems at his own expense in 1896, but it has remained in print ever since. The manuscript has recently been added to the Wren Digital Library.


Vortigern: A Shakespearean April Fool rediscovered after 220 years

The Wren Library was recently presented with a fascinating volume of documents of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, including the signed manuscript of his little-known play Vortigern. Only a handful of examples of Shakespeare’s handwriting are known to survive, and this new discovery plays a fascinating role in the history of Shakespearean authorship.

 Close-up of the title of Vortigern, with Shakepseare's signature (forgery by W H Ireland)

The manuscript is in fact one of the most notorious forgeries in English history, but this original copy of the fraudulent play has been completely unknown until now, and appears in a volume alongside a genuine document signed by Queen Elizabeth I.

W H Ireland Album of Shakespeare forgeries in the Wren Library, Trinity College Cambridge.jpg

Nowadays any new discovery of a Shakespearean manuscript will be welcomed with careful forensic analysis to ensure its authenticity, but it was not always so. The quest to discover the original texts of Shakespeare’s plays has been a perennial fascination, but reached fever pitch in the late eighteenth century. New scholarly editions of Shakespeare by Edward Capell and George Steevens had brought the question of exactly what Shakespeare originally wrote into public debate, and the search intensified for original documents. In 1795 the writer Samuel Ireland announced the magnificent discovery of a chest of papers including letters in Shakespeare’s hand and draft manuscripts of several of his plays. Many visitors paid to view the priceless relics at his house, some spending fourTitle-page of W H Ireland's published confession of his Shakespeare forgeries guineas on a luxurious printed volume of facsimiles. It was only several months later that the Shakespearean scholar Edmund Malone provided categorical proof that they were forgeries by Ireland’s son. William Henry Ireland became famous as ‘the Shakespeare forger’, later publishing his confessions in a combined attempt to salvage his reputation and to recover some of his costs.

The manuscript of Shakespeare’s ‘lost’ play Vortigern generated enormous interest when it was ‘discovered’, and it was quickly accepted by Sheridan for a production at Drury Lane. When the fraud was discovered, the company planned to move the first night to April Fools’ Day, but in the end it was performed on 2 April 1796, to universal derision. Ireland later published the play under his own name, but the original manuscript remained unknown.


The handsomely bound volume which has been presented to Trinity College seems to have been one of the forger’s most treasured possessions. It contains printed copies of his Shakespearean editions and confessions, interleaved with the original forgeries and artworks including engravings by Gillray and Hogarth and an original pastel portrait of his father by the Irish artist Hugh Douglas Hamilton. In 1812 he pawned the volume to the actor Charles Mathews for the princely sum of £25 in order to raise funds on being released from the debtors’ gaol in York Castle.


In his published confessions, Ireland explained how he had forged a letter from Queen Elizabeth I by copying her signature from an original document which his father owned. The newly-discovered volume includes the original document signed by the Queen, a commendation of the sergeant-at-law Nicholas Barham from 1577 which seems to be completely authentic and hitherto unknown.

Genuine Elizabeth I signature on a document of 1577, bound into the album of forgeries



Ireland invented a letter from the Queen Close-up of Elizabeth I forgery by W H Ireland.jpgcommending Shakespeare’s ‘prettye Verses’ and asking him to stage a play before her at Hampton Court. The letter makes it clear quite how bad a forger he was, as it lacks all the elegance of the royal hand.



The generally poor quality of the forgeries makes it all the more surprising that so many were taken in by them at the time. The choice of paper and ink, language and spelling are all too obviously anachronistic to the modern eye. Elizabeth I forgery by W H Ireland.jpgThe reappearance of this volume at the time of the Shakespeare quatercentenary allows a new assessment of this notorious forger’s motivations.


The newly discovered volume of Ireland’s forgeries is on display in the Wren Library as part of a small Shakespeare anniversary exhibition until 30 September 2016.