John Dryden: First Poet Laureate

John Dryden by Sir Godfrey Kneller

Three hundred and fifty years ago this year, Jonathan (John) Dryden (1631-1700), was appointed by Charles II as the first official holder of the position of Poet Laureate. Trinity College has educated two other Laureates since then: Laurence Eusden (1688-1730) and Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92).

Dryden was born in Aldwinkle and raised in Titchmarsh, both in Northamptonshire.  Later he was educated at Westminster School and then became an undergraduate here at Trinity between 1650 and 1654. In 1661 he became a Fellow of the College and in 1663, he presented a number of manuscripts to the College Library. These included a volume containing Bishop Robert Grosseteste’s sermons (R.8.16) and the beautiful album of Greek and Turkish Costumes (R.14.23) now known as the Dryden Album.

R.3.10, f.1r

Trinity also owns an early manuscript copy of Dryden’s The Indian Emperour (R.3.10) which was first performed in London at the Theatre Royal, Bridges Street in 1665 and brought him his first real success as a playwright. Trinity’s copy was owned by Elizabeth Newton Puckering in 1665 and donated to Trinity College in 1691 by her husband Sir Henry Puckering (formerly Newton). The play was first printed in 1667.

Plague closed the London theatres in late 1665 and Dryden moved to Wiltshire where he continued to produce new work including a play, Secret Love, the influential essay, Of Dramatick Poesie and the poem Annus Mirabilis which considered two events of 1666: the second Anglo Dutch war and the fire of London. The success of these works, especially Annus Mirabilis, may have been influential in his appointment as Poet Laureate. It became (and remains) the expectation that people appointed to this role write verses for significant national events and occasions. One of the best-known examples is Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade. Dryden became one of the major figures in Restoration culture but was dismissed as Laureate following the accession of William and Mary in 1689 because, as a convert to Catholicism, he refused to swear the Oath of Allegiance to them. He remains the only Poet Laureate ever to have been dismissed.

Poetry by Dryden, Eusden and Tennyson as well as many other poets associated with Trinity college is included in the anthology Trinity Poets, edited by Adrian Poole and Angela Leighton, published in 2017.

For other posts which refer to Dryden see A Turkish Souvenir: The Dryden Album and Anglo-Ottoman Contact and  Hail! Bright Cecilia!


Warden Abbey Manuscripts

Trinity College Library has the largest collection of manuscripts in the country from the Cistercian Abbey of Warden in Bedfordshire. These 14 volumes have recently been digitised and are freely available online via the James Catalogue of Western Manuscripts. They can be viewed by selecting Warden Abbey from the drop-down list of religious houses as a field specific catalogue search. Alternatively you can use the following links:

B.3.22, Augustine

B.4.8, Gregorius, Moralia, XII–XXIII

B.4.11, Origenes, Homiliae

B.4.12, Gregorius; Origenes; Beda

B.4.13, Cassiodorus in Psalmos LI–C

B.4.14, Cassiodorus in Psalmos CI–CL

B.4.15, Augustinus, De verbis domini

B.4.16, Iohannes Chrysostomus, Hom. in Hebr., in Matt

B.4.17, Hieronymus in Ieremiam et Danielem

B.4.31, Ambrosii tractatus

B.4.32, Beda in Genesim, etc

B.5.11, Hieronymus in Isaiam

B.15.26, Hieronymus, De sacramentis I.

O.2.25, Ricardus de S. Victore

At the start of one of the Warden volumes (B.4.15) there is a list of titles headed by the name R. Manley. Of the 32 titles listed, 16 are in the Wren Library contained within the Warden volumes. One other title owned by the Library (B.3.23) appears on Manley’s list but has not, to date, been verified as from Warden. Manley has not been identified with certainty but this list suggests that Warden manuscripts were in his ownership in the 16th century. These titles were later included in a list in the College Memoriale (R.17.8)  – a volume describing benefactors to Trinity – as ‘ad collegium pertinentes’, ie ‘belonging to the college’. The placing of the list in the volume implies that the donation was made between 1633 and 1637, but there is no indication of who gave them. Former Librarian, Philip Gaskell suggested that they may have been received by the college in payment of a debt.

B.4.15, f.1v
R.17.8, f.115r








All of the Warden manuscripts date from the 12th/early 13th century which suggests that they were at the abbey soon after its foundation in 1135. The Abbey was surrendered to the Crown on 4th December 1537 and there is now nothing left of the original buildings. The photograph below shows only the remaining section of the 5-bedroom farmhouse built after the suppression by Robert Gostwick. The greater part of the farmhouse (often referred to as a mansion) was demolished c.1785 before the site was purchased by Samuel Whitbread.

Gostwick Mansion, south front © Margaret Roberts

Further Information can be found on the Medieval Libraries of Great Britain Database.

With thanks to Margaret Roberts.




An early Valentine?

Trinity manuscript R.2.70 is a parchment fragment which has a Middle English love lyric written onto one side.  While at some point in its history the parchment formed part of a binding, its original function is unclear. It is within the bounds of possibility, though, that this decorated poem was composed and copied out as a missive for delivery. It may thus constitute a very early example of a Valentine’s day message.

The verse is written in a late fifteenth-/early sixteenth-century hand and is addressed to a woman named ‘Susane’, asking for merciful treatment and offering compliments of a mostly conventional kind. Late medieval poems were sometimes addressed to named individuals and it is tempting to believe that ‘Susane’ was a real woman. Ballades such as this were often designed as lovers’ petitions with the envoy (the concluding lines) offering the opportunity for the lover to sign off in some way. The two couplets at the end of this lyric apparently identify the writer in the form of a cryptic puzzle: “By him that in forestes walkethe wyde/Where noone may passe with out his gyd/Nor kene may in dale nor doune/But that he is other blake or broune”. This may be a hidden message to the recipient hinting perhaps at the name Darkwood, Greenwood or Whitewood. This address to a named person and final cryptic signing off are still recognizable today as characteristic features of a Valentine.

Furthermore, the verse is carefully decorated and embellished with calligraphic initials, some containing profile faces.

At the bottom a bleeding heart is pierced crosswise by two arrows, above which is a small four-leafed clover that contains words which are now indecipherable but which may include ‘true’ and ‘ I love’.

In the late medieval period these symbols – the pierced heart and the quatrefoil – would have been familiar in devotional contexts, but also in secular ones. Occasional poems were written for St Valentine during the fifteenth century and although this poem does not explicitly refer to the saint, its allusions to frosty weather (line 9) and to summer as a season expected in the future (line 11) allow for the possibility that it was composed at the end of winter and conceived as a Valentine’s day gesture.

Medieval Valentine poems are now mostly preserved within longer works. However they were presumably also sometimes passed from person to person on single sheets of parchment or paper in a similar way to the exchange of other love tokens such as rings. It is tempting to suppose then that this carefully composed and decorated poem may have been sent to the woman who was its subject, in much the same way that Valentines are exchanged today.






Advent Calendar: 24 images from the Wren Digital Library




Day 1: B.11.4; Day 2: B.11.5; Day 3: B.10.24: Day 4: R.14.23; Day 5: R.14.9; Day 6: B.11.7; Day 7: Crewe_Athena; Day 8: O.7.46: Day 9: B.11.19; Day 10: Crewe_Kaladlit: Day 11 R.15.21; Day 12: B.11.11; Day 13: O.3.58: Day 14: R.17.22: Day 15: Crewe_1.4: Day 16: R.16.2: Day 17: B.11.31: Day 18: O.2.48: Day 19: B.10.2: Day 20: B.11.22: Day 21: R.15.18; Day 22: B.1.46; Day 23: B.11.32: Day 24: Sraffa

Hockney’s Bigger Book – and a smaller one.


This morning we took delivery of A Bigger Book, David Hockney’s retrospective collection of more than 450 works from throughout his career. Measuring 70 x 50 cm, it is a spectacular survey of more than 60 years of Hockney’s work, from his teenage days at the Bradford School of Art, Los Angeles swimming pools in the 1970s, and more recent portraits, iPad drawings and Yorkshire landscapes.

A Bigger Book comes with its own bookstand, designed by Marc Newson, and provides a colourful centrepiece to the Wren Library, where it will be on display next week, 9–13 Jan 2017 (the Library is open to the public Monday to Friday, 12–2).

This copy, no. 2101 from the limited edition signed by the artist, was presented to the College by Nicholas Kessler, whose remarkable collection of livres d’artistes is one of the newer highlights of the Wren’s holdings. Another recent addition to the Kessler collection is a group of twenty Hockney posters from the collection of the late Jonathan Silver, the Bradford entrepreneur who established Salt’s Mill and 1853 Gallery in Saltaire, which is home to one of the largest collections of David Hockney’s art.


As well as Hockney’s Bigger Book, the Kessler collection includes what is probably Hockney’s smallest book, a miniature edition of Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm with 39 etchings by Hockney, printed by the Petersburg Press in 1970. This page shows Rapunzel letting down her hair.

Click here for a video interview with David Hockney on the making of A Bigger Book.


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.


Roubiliac in the Wren Library

Portrait of Roubiliac by A. Soldi
Roubiliac by A. Soldi
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Wren Library houses a magnificent series of portrait busts by Louis François Roubiliac, the leading sculptor in England in the mid-18th century.

By Wren’s time, there was a well-established tradition of furnishing libraries with painted and sculptural portraits. The subjects of these portraits would often be ancient and modern authors, great men worthy of emulation and providers of inspiration. This can be seen in the Wren in the series of plaster and wood busts placed on top of the bookcases on either side, one side ancient, one side modern. Together with representations of authors, portrait busts were also made of illustrious former members of College as a means of honouring them as well as helping to construct a sense of the College’s institutional history. It is in the series of busts which line either side of the Wren at floor level, each on a plinth, that we find the glorious workings of Roubiliac.

Wren Library interior
Interior of the Wren Library showing the busts at floor level on wooden plinths

While figurative sculpture for the interior of the Library had been envisaged by Wren, this was not realised to any scale until the middle of the eighteenth century when it became part of a wider project to ‘define and articulate Trinity’s intellectual affiliations and identity’ [1]. Enter Roubiliac.

By the 1750s he had established his reputation as one of the best sculptors in England. He was appreciated not only for his mimetic skills but also for his inventiveness, the latter which enabled him to stand out from rivals like John Michael Rysbrack and Peter Scheemakers. Probably the first thing that impresses as you gaze upon one of Roubiliac’s busts [in the Wren Library] is a delightful synesthesia conjured up in the immediacy of encountering the subject of the bust as if in person, a person who emerges from marble that, far from being cold and static, seems to flow around the contours of the face, hair and upper torso, and is suffused with warmth. There is a pleasing symmetry to the busts, from the head out to the shoulders and in again to the socle at the base. As Malcolm Baker expresses it in his invaluable chapter on the portrait sculpture in the Wren, they are created to be viewed as works of art in their own right and not merely as sculptures with a public function.

It is thus not surprising that it is to Roubiliac that the Master, Robert Smith, and Fellows of Trinity turned when they were embarking on a programme to develop the College’s iconography. This programme was guided by Smith’s own interests, particularly in the sciences, and was by no means confined only to the Library, or only to works of sculpture, but encompassed various forms of portraiture arranged throughout the College. There is no evidence to suggest a coherent plan, however. In the Library, the busts were either donated or commissioned by former members or friends of College, at the instigation of Smith; the combination of busts that resulted was down, in the end, to who he succeeded in persuading.

The busts in the Wren Library comprise:

10 by Roubiliac, the earliest being those of Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, Francis Willoughby or Willughby and John Ray. These are placed in pairs at either end of the Library. Later additions include Isaac Barrow, Richard Bentley, Baron Trevor, Lord Whitworth, Sir Robert Cotton and Sir Edward Coke. There are also two by Scheemakers and one by John Bacon.

Each bust is inscribed with the name of the sculptor, sitter and donor, and a date.

The final resting place of all 10 Roubiliac busts in the Wren Library was not established until into the 19th century. While we know that the busts of Newton, Bacon, Ray and Willoughby had been placed in the Library in the 1750s, and the bust of Cotes by the first decade of the following century, guidebooks and accounts do not mention the other busts until the 1830s, and so these had probably been placed elsewhere in College.

The Roubiliac busts










1. Baker, Malcolm. ‘The portrait sculpture’: in ‘The making of the Wren Library’, edited by D. McKitterick, p. 110.

Further reading:

Esdaile, K.A. Roubiliac’s work at Trinity College Cambridge.

Esdaile, K.A. The life and works of Louis Francois Roubiliac.

Bindman, David. Roubiliac and the eighteenth-century monument.

Trinity Admissions

At the start of term all freshers sign the Admission Book. This is a requirement set down in the college ordinances (regulations). At the same time students complete matriculation forms for the University. This is the formal process of enrolment.

No admission books of any kind survive before 1560 and records of admissions to the college only survive from 1635. The oldest extant book records the admission of Master, Fellows, Scholars, Officers and preachers for most of the period 1560-1759. This includes the admission of one of Trinity’s most famous alumnus, Isaac Newton in 1667. This year’s freshers have had the opportunity to see this signature when they have come into the Wren Library to sign the current Admission Book.


Portolan Chart of the Mediterranean

Manuscript R.4.50 is a spectacular example of a particular type of map which became common among mariners and sailors during the 13th century and remained in use up until the 18th century. Portolan charts were graphic representations of the advice, directions and instructions contained in portolani: these were manuscript sailing instructions, aimed at ensuring a safe navigation for all the ships crossing the seas at that time. R.4.50 is a portolan chart of the Mediterranean, the sea that is literally located “in the middle of the land”; the centre of the Medieval European world.

Section of the Chart
Section of the Chart

The chart, dating from 1584, was hand-drawn and coloured on vellum by Joan Martines, a Mallorcan cartographer. Martines lived and worked in Messina, Sicily from 1556-1587 before moving to the court of Philip II of Spain, in Naples, where he became Royal Cartographer in 1591. He was a famous and prolific cartographer and produced more than thirty charts and atlases between 1550 and 1591.

Joan Martines’ name, location and date of production of the chart.

Developed by mariners for mariners, with an emphasis on practicality and functionality, portolan charts were not only about getting from one place to another, but also about avoiding danger. To emphasize their intended use at sea, the coastal place names were written on the land side of the coast line and perpendicular to it, to avoid interfering with marking courses on the sea. Any point can be located using the combination of direction and distance from a known starting point. The names of lesser ports appeared in black ink, while the names of the more important ones were written in red. The chart shows the characteristic system of “rhumb lines” and compass roses, serving a dual purpose: first, the cartographer used them to construct the chart when drawing the coastlines; later, the sailor used them to plot his course.

Sardinia, and a compass (wind) rose. Rhumb lines are clearly visible.

The coast line can be read as a continuum, thus highlighting the connections between Mediterranean ports. The unifying power of the “sea between the lands” is evident from the co-existence of ports which were bastions of different religions and cultures. Flags drawn over ports, Christian symbols, Islamic features, and various references to the different political allegiances of the time can all be seen. There is no real sense of separation between Southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East; everything is connected by people, trades and ideas, from Gibraltar to the Black Sea.

Genoa, Italy. The flags over ports show their political allegiance.
Damietta, Egypt. The flags over ports show their political allegiance.










Further reading:

Pflederer, R. Finding their way at sea: the story of portolan charts, the cartographers who drew them and the mariners who sailed by them. H&DG, 2012

Roger of Salerno’s ‘Surgery’

Left, Damage to the Cerebral Membrane. Right, View of Dispensary. (f. 240r)
Fig. 1 – Left, Diagnosing damage to the Cerebral Membrane. Right, View of Dispensary. f. 240r

Trinity College Library’s Manuscript O.1.20 is one of the earliest and most important known collections of vernacular medical texts from the middle ages. It includes among its various treatises and receipts an illustrated Anglo-Norman translation of the Chirurgia Practica of Roger of Salerno.

Exploratory surgery. (f. 254r)
Fig. 2 – Exploratory surgery. f. 254r

Rogerius (before 1140 – c. 1195), also known as Roger of Salerno, brought academic respectability to the discipline of surgery through the hugely popular work on the subject that is attributed to him. Chirurgia Practica or The Practice of Surgery was actually compiled by his students from his lecture notes c.1180. Surgery brought about a renaissance in European medical writing and promoted innovations in antiseptic, anesthetic, diagnostic and surgical practices. It describes various activities of the medieval Dispensary, a place where remedies were prepared and applied, diagnoses made and surgeries performed by the doctor and his assistants.

Illustration of the Dispensary, accompanying a receipt for an ointment to treat fistula. f.272r.
Fig. 3 – Illustration of the Dispensary accompanying a receipt for an ointment to treat fistula. The doctor holds a bundle of herbs and instructs his assistants. f. 272r.

Trinity’s copy of Surgery was produced in the early 13th century. The French translation in this volume is likely based on a continental model, though was copied in England, as evidenced by the use of vernacular English names such as ‘henbane’ and ‘cockle’ throughout the text. With texts such as this that were transmitted through copying, scholars can make comparisons between editions and can learn quite a lot about their production, including peculiarities of individual scribes and artists working on a manuscript.

A surgeon pulls an arrow from a man's head. f. 248r
Fig. 4 – Extracting an arrowhead from a man’s shaven head by enlarging the exit wound with a trephine. (f. 248r)

Trinity’s copy of Surgery is illustrated throughout with scenes of medical preparations from a medieval dispensary as well as rather hair-raising scenes of surgical procedures. They are wonderfully executed not only in style and composition but in the details of facial expressions and body language that “imparts a sympathetic humanity to medical scenes which elsewhere can often seem brutal, callous or indifferent” (Hunt 1992). Another striking aspect of these illustrations is the relative accuracy with which the surgical instruments and procedures are portrayed.

Treatment of nasal polyps. f. 259v.
Fig. 5 – Treatment of nasal polyps. (f. 259v)

However, the unknown artist was limited by the text from which he was working. The original Latin text of Surgery clearly included a description of cauterising the wound after removing nasal polyps. “The Anglo-Norman translator, however, through eyeskip (i.e. inadvertently copying from a later occurrence of the same word or phrase) which is characteristic of him, has omitted the detail of the hot iron used for searing.” (Hunt 1992) The artist, who was basing his images on the Anglo-Norman text and not the Latin exemplar, did not show a bellows and hot iron in Fig. 5 although he included them with other procedures involving the tools for cauterisation. He seems not to have read the text too carefully when producing Fig. 1, however. One symptom of trauma to the dura mater is a blackened tongue, hence the doctor instructing the patient to stick out his tongue. The artist, however, inexplicably painted the patient’s protruding tongue red.

An assistant holds the patient while the doctor removes a facial tumor. f. 260r.
Fig. 6 – An assistant holds the patient still while the doctor removes a facial tumor. (f. 260r)

This blog has already dealt with some aspects of medieval medical scholarship, including the Zodiac Man figures featured in various medieval manuscripts and based on information like this, readers may have formulated a particular idea of medieval medicine that fits in with popular portrayals of the middle ages. It would be an injustice, however, to characterise medieval medicine as superstitious and backward. Medieval doctors worked with the knowledge they had and in many cases made ingenious advancements in treatment and diagnosis.

For example, it is believed that Roger of Salerno may have originated a technique for detecting a tear in the dura or cerebral membrane in skull fractures. Now known as the Valsalva maneuver, the doctor would have his patient hold their breath, introducing pressure into the skull, and the doctor would watch for air bubbles or cerebrospinal fluid leaking from the skull. Additionally, Roger was a pioneer in the treatment of nerve damage, advocating reanastomosis – the realignment of damaged tissue by surgical means – to repair severed nerves. By modern standards medieval medicine may seem unhygienic, agonizing, even barbaric. However, many of the surgeries and interventions performed were potentially life-saving procedures based on the knowledge available at the time as well as a fair amount of experimentation and innovation.

Further reading

Greenblatt, S. H., Dagi, T. F., & Epstein, M. H. (1997). A history of neurosurgery: in its scientific and professional contexts. Park Ridge, Ill., American Association of Neurological Surgeons.

Hunt (1992) The Medieval Surgery. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press.

Treating cranial fissures. (f. 243v)
Fig. 7 – Treating cranial fissures. (f. 243v)