Discovering Newton

Roubiliac Bust of Isaac Newton

Earlier this week we welcomed members of the Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers to the Library. Their visit was part of a symposium to mark the 350th anniversary of Newton’s argument that the Earth’s gravity influenced the moon, counter-balancing its centrifugal force.

Among the items on display were personal effects which belonged to Newton including his compass and ruler, the page from the admissions book recording his entry to the college, his notebook and his own annotated copy of Principia Mathematica.


Trinity Lends Medieval Manuscripts


As part of its 200th birthday celebrations, the Fitzwilliam is staging one of the largest exhibitions of medieval illuminated manuscripts for several years. Colour: The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscipts combines a fantastic display of medieval artworks with the findings of a major scientific research project, The research project uses non-invasive techniques to analyse the chemical structure of the artists’ materials, shedding light on the processes and equipment required by a medieval illuminator.

Most of the 122 exhibits are drawn from the Fitzwilliam’s own collections, but three important manuscripts are on loan from Trinity College Library, all of which are available to view complete online as part of the Wren Digital Library:

The Trinity Apocalypse (R.16.2) is the most lavishly decorated English manuscript of the Book of Revelation, possibly made for king Henry III’s queen, Eleanor of Provence in the late 1250s. Bright colours are used to depict the heavenly Jerusalem.

R.16.2, f.25v
R.16.2, f.25v

Poems on the Praises of the Holy Cross by Hrabanus Maurus (B.16.3) is an extraordinary collection of poems written in grids of letters with superimposed patterns of crosses and other figures. Several of the poems are concerned with the significance of colours: the poem on display in the exhibition uses the colours hyacinth, purple, linen and scarlet to show Christ’s divinity, blood, chastity and love.

B.16.3, f18v-19r

One of the manuscripts most central to the theme of the exhibition is John de Foxton’s Book of Cosmography (R.15.21), a manuscript written in York at the start of the fifiteenth century. The elaborate images throughout this book include nude portraits of the four elements, showing the effect of the humours on the colour of their skin: red for the Sanguine man, white for the Phlegmatic man, black for the Melancholic man and yellow for the Choleric man.

The crucial differences between the four temperaments in this book are shown with a complex combination of base colours with mixtures of up to seven different pigments for the upper layers of painting. Painstaking analysis of this manuscript has revealed the use of materials sourced from many different countries.

The exhibition will be on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum until Friday 30 December 2016, admission free. See the Colour events programme online.





Photograph of the Month

Add P 86
Add P 86

This month’s photograph shows Andrew Sydenham Farrar Gow (1886–1978). A classical scholar, ASF Gow was elected a Fellow of Trinity College in 1911 but spent the years 1914 to 1925 as the Assistant Master of Eton College. Gow’s notable works include editions of Machon, Theocritus and the Greek Anthology.

The Gow collection at Trinity College Library consists of 323 books from Gow’s library, most of them published in the 20th century, on the subjects of  art, classics and literature (Gow 1-323). Gow was a friend and colleague of the poet and classicist A.E. Housman, who is best known for the series of poems called ‘A Shropshire lad’.  Housman also came to Trinity in 1911, taking the Kennedy Professorship in Latin.  The Gow collection contains 33 books by or about A.E. Housman, including one written by Housman’s sister Clemence and  illustrated by his brother Laurence Housman  (Gow 314).

Gow’s memorial is in Trinity College Chapel.

The Great Fire of London, 2 September 1666

Views of London before and after the fire, by John Dunstall, K.15.121[18C]

350 years ago today, on 2 September 1666, an unimaginable calamity befell London.

No sooner was the plague abated in London, that the inhabitants began to return to their habitations, than a most dreadful fire broke out in the city, and raged as if it had commission to devour every thing that was in its way (Gideon Harvey, The City Remembrancer: X.15.2, f. 1r)

Opinions vary as to how the fire started, though the focus was an accident at the bakery in Pudding Street. However some Protestants believed it was arson carried out by Catholics who threw fire-balls into buildings. One man who confessed was tried and executed but later found to be innocent, for he had only arrived in London on the second day of the fire.

The fire raged at such a temperature that the inhabitants had to flee from molten streams of lead near St Pauls. The City Remembrancer continues:

September the third the exchange was burnt, and in three days almost all the city within the walls: the people having none to conduct them right, could do nothing to resist it, but stand and see their houses burn without remedy; the engines being presently out of order and useless! (X.15.2, f. 7r)

There was suddenly and unexpectedly seen, a glorious city laid waste; the habitations turned into rubbish; estates destroyed; the produce and incomes of many years hard labour and careful industry all in a few moments swept away and consumed by devouring flames . . . To have seen dear relations, faithful servants, even yourselves and families, reduced from plentiful, affluent, comfortable trade and fortune, over-night, to the extremest misery next morning! (X.15.2, f. 18v).


William Sancroft, Lex Ignea (1666), one of several sermons on the subject of the Great Fire preserved in the Wren Library. K.15.121[18]

‘The severity of it will yet more appear from all the dreadful circumstances which attend and follow it. Could you suppose your selves in the midst of those cities which were consumed by Fire from heaven, when it seized upon their dwellings, O what cryes and lamentations, what yellings and shriekings might ye then have heard among them! (Edward Stillingfleet, A Sermon Preached before the Honourable House of Commons, 10 October 1666. I.8.43, ff. 12v-13r)

Sir Christopher Wren, who designed the new St Pauls Cathedral (as well as Trinity’s Wren Library) including many churches which had been destroyed in the fire, also proposed a new street plan for London.


A map or grovndplot of the Citty of London, and the suburbes thereof, that is to say, all that is within the Iurisdiction of the Lord Mayor or properly calld Londo[n] by which is exactly demonstrated the present condition thereof since the last sad accident of fire. The blanke space signifeing the burnt part & where the houses are exprest, those places yet standi[n]g. (1666) (K.15.121[18B])

The 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London is to be commemorated in a new exhibition at the Museum of London.