Queens’ Old Library’s outstanding collection of early printed books comprises numerous donations of varying size and significance from former Fellows as well as purchases made by the College during the course of its history.
Thomas Smith Collection
Sir Thomas Smith (1513-1577) was an Elizabethan politician who rose from humble beginnings in a farming family to become Secretary of State and England’s Ambassador to France. Upon his death in 1577 he bequeathed his Greek and Latin books, numbering around seventy, to the College where he had been student and fellow. Sixty-five books remain, many of them filled with marginalia from annotations and translations to doodles and portraits. Smith received a humanist education at Queens’ and remained a humanist scholar throughout his life, and accordingly many of his books are early modern printed editions of classical texts. In addition, the Old Library houses Smith’s own hand-made globe, believed to be the oldest celestial globe in England. Smith was the subject of a recent exhibition in Queens’ Old Library.
Humphrey Tindall Collection
Tindall (1549-1614) - sometimes spelled Tyndall - was President of the College between 1579 and 1614. He produced the first comprehensive Old Library inventory, and oversaw a major remodel of the room itself. The Library now possesses ‘all his folios which the library had not’ (fifty-eight books, though his personal library was much larger). It is possible that many more of his books are dispersed throughout the Library, having been used to enrich the collection or replace cheaper copies during his time in office. More information about the fascinating connection between Tindall and William Cecil can be found in these posts on the Old Library blog.
Henry Hastings (1586-1643) was the fifth Earl of Huntingdon, and an eminent literary patron and book collector. In celebration of Humphrey Tindall’s remodelling of the Old Library in 1612-13 Huntingdon donated £100 to his alma mater, with which sum 102 books were purchased and bound with his armorial stamp and motto, “honorantes me honorabo”. Despite his patronage of English dramatists Hastings was a devoted Puritan, and perhaps in recognition of this the collection mainly consists of key Reformation texts and the works of the Church Fathers. His portrait hangs in the College.
John Smith Collection
John Smith (1618-1652) was a Fellow of Mathematics, and a founding member of the circle known as the Cambridge Platonists, theologians who called for a reunification of the doctrines of Christianity and Platonic philosophy. Smith died of tuberculosis aged thirty-four, and bequeathed his personal library of around six hundred books to the College; they cover subjects including history, geography, medicine, theology (particularly rabbinical writings), mathematics and astronomy. Smith himself was described by a friend as ‘a living library’, and the success and popularity of his posthumous Select Discourses suggests that had he lived longer he would have become an influential philosopher.
David Hughes Collection
Hughes (1727-1777) was Fellow and Vice-President of Queens’ College. A major donor to the Library, he left around 2,000 works to Queens’. The majority of these are pamphlets, mostly contemporary to Hughes but some from as early as the sixteenth century. They cover a wide range of subjects, most commonly theology and politics. Hughes is buried in the crypt below what once was the College’s chapel and is now the War Memorial Library (student library).
Isaac Milner Collection
Isaac Milner (1750-1820) was Queens’ President from 1788 to 1820, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics and Dean of Carlisle. He began working life as an apprentice weaver in Leeds, but through his brother’s patronage and his own formidable intellect matriculated at Queens’, and in quick succession was made Fellow in Mathematics, ordained to St Botoph’s Church and given a Fellowship of the Royal Society. His evangelical faith fuelled his enthusiasm for Newtonian classical mechanics, and he was appointed the inaugural Jacksonian Professor of Natural Philosophy. Strengths in his collection of around 3,000 pamphlets and books include Anglicanism and Methodism in the 18th and early 19th centuries, key works of the Protestant Reformation, 18th-century European mathematics, and the abolition of slavery (Milner was an abolitionist, and a close friend of William Wilberforce). Milner was also a chemist, and conducted experiments in the President’s Lodge; known as a ‘great dabbler in air-pumps’, he is believed to be the original owner of the air pump now residing in the Old Library.
Kennett Memorial Library
Also known as the Oriental or FAMES Collection, this sizeable collection was transferred to the Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies on permanent loan in 1972, and returned to the College in 2015. The collection is now known as the Robert Hatch Kennett Memorial Library, as R.H. Kennett (Regius Professor of Hebrew from 1903-1932) was the donor of a significant proportion, but it contains works collected by other Queens’ scholars of Asia and the Middle East, predominantly William Wright (1830-1889), A. A. Bevan (1859-1923) and Samuel Lee (1783-1852). It contains publications on the language, literature, history and archaeology of the ancient Near East, particularly Biblical studies, medieval Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac and Arabic language and literature. Most of the books are written in European languages, but there are a significant number of publications in Hebrew, and a small number in Syriac, Arabic, Coptic, Persian and Sanskrit. The collection also contains several hundred Bibles translated into European and Asian languages. The Kennett Memorial Library is searchable on iDiscover. More details can be found on the Old Library blog.
Mainwaring Science Fiction
Collection 617 works of science fiction from the mid-twentieth century constitute this science fiction collection, donated by alumnus Simon Mainwaring (undergraduate 1961-4). These books are particularly notable for their vivid cover art, and for the theme that unites many of them: the threat of greater intelligences, either alien or man-made. With the University a major contributor to scientific development, it is unsurprising that Cambridge’s own connections with science fiction are represented in the collection. Tom Shippey, who studied at Queens’ during the 1960s and 1970s, is not only a scholar of Old English literature and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, but also a science fiction author. Physicists, lecturers in ancient literature and astronomers who studied and worked within the University of Cambridge wrote many of the books that feature in the collection. For more details, see the blog post written by Fellow Librarian Dr Tim Eggington.
The reserve collection is housed in a purpose-built storage room at Owlstone Croft. These books are mainly 19th- and early 20th-century works that once formed part of the student library collection. The Library hopes to undertake a cataloguing project here so that all books are listed on iDiscover.
The theatre collection of Queens’ College is also stored at Owlstone Croft. It contains hundreds of biographies, non-fiction books and novels concerning the theatre, as well as printed editions of plays, particularly those by British playwrights. In addition it also contains theatre memorabilia including scripts, programmes, tickets and photographs. This collection is not yet searchable on iDiscover; please direct any queries to the Fellow Librarian.
Records relating to the College’s history and estates prior to 1800 are kept in the Archives Department of Cambridge University Library (brief details are listed on their website). The collection is of considerable historical value, not only for the charters and other documents relating to the history of Queens', since many items pre-date the College's foundation (also included, for example, are a long series of accounts and other records relating to the medieval abbey of Crowland). Pre-1800 archival material can be viewed by appointment in the University Library Manuscript Reading Room.
The personal papers of several former Queens' members are kept in the College and will eventually be added to Janus, the online database for University of Cambridge archives (the only materials listed thus far are the personal papers of George Cornelius Gorham (1787-1857)).
Requests for information about post-1800 Queens' archive material should be addressed to the Fellow Archivist: Dr David Butterfield, email: email@example.com.
J.M. Cohen Collection
John Cohen (1903-1989), alumnus of Queens’, was an influential translator of European literature and the editor of several seminal literary anthologies. Cohen is credited as a major contributor to the “Latin American boom” of the 1960s, and he translated and promoted the works of authors including Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes and Jorge Luis Borges. Cohen built his book collection from gifts from authors and purchases made during visits to Spain and Argentina in the 1950s, and to Mexico and Cuba in the 1960s and 1970s. It includes signed copies of works by writers of the first Cuban revolutionary generation, works by female authors previously unrecorded in the West, an extensive collection of Soviet Russian literature, and studies on literary criticism and poetry, the pre-Columbian American past and Nahuatl literature. In addition, the collection contains correspondence between Cohen and several of the authors whose work he translated.
Peter Redgrove Collection
Peter Redgrove (1932-2003) was a British poet, novelist and playwright. It was during his education at Queens’, where he read natural sciences, that he established and edited the literary magazine Delta and joined the circle of poets known as the Group whose members included Philip Hobsbaum and Ted Hughes. Leaving Queens’ in 1954 without a degree, Redgrove went on to publish almost fifty celebrated collections of verse and dozens of plays and works of prose. His collection contains many of his published works, including volumes of poetry, novels and editions of Delta.
T.H. White Collection
Terence Hanbury White (1906-1964) is most famous for his tetralogy of Arthurian novels, The Once and Future King. An alumnus of Queens’, it was here that he studied Malory’s Morte d’Arthur¸ to which his novels were intended to be prequels, and began his lifelong interaction with Arthurian legend. White’s novels have had an immeasurable impact on literature, and served as one of the primary sources of inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. The T.H. White archive consists of his deeply personal diaries, notebooks, photographs and correspondence.
Works by current and former members and fellows of the College are collected in the members’ archive. Alumni who would like their works to be added to this catalogue are invited to send bibliographic details to the Fellow Librarian.
The manuscripts were catalogued first at the end of Volume 2 (pp. 997-9) of Thomas Hartwell Horne's Catalogue of the Library of St. Margaret and St. Bernard, commonly called Queens' College in the University of Cambridge (London, 1827). The early Western Manuscripts were subsequently also described in M.R. James, A descriptive catalogue of the Western manuscripts in the library of Queen's college, Cambridge (Cambridge, 1905).
During research in early 2007, three illuminated manuscript miniatures were identified as the work of the eminent 14th-century Florentine artist, Pacino di Bonaguida. The story of their discovery is described in an article, by Karen Begg, on the Cambridge Centre for Material Texts website, and a full description of the miniatures can be found in an article by Dr Stella Panayotova in Queens College Record (2009). Queens' College manuscript collection comprises c. 30 Western medieval manuscripts, 4 in 12th century bindings, 13 Islamic manuscripts, and many 17th-century commonplace books. Highlights include a gloss on the Psalms (MSS 18,19) dating from the 12th century, bound in contemporary sealskin, and a rare early 15th-century copy of Wycliffe’s treatise, De veritate sanctae scripturae (MS 27).