In with the old

Thursday 5 March 2015

Old books

Three historically important rare books have been added to the special collections of the University of St Andrews.

The acquisition, of the ‘absolute treasures’ of 17th century literature, was made in time for World Book Day today (Thursday 5 March 2015).

Old booksResearchers say the books, by Sir Thomas Malory, John Donne and George Herbert, will be ‘invaluable aids’ used to support teaching and learning at St Andrews in its seventh century and beyond.

They are Sir Thomas Malory’s The most ancient and famous history of the renowned Prince Arthur, King of Britaine (London, 1634), a first edition of George Herbert’s The Temple (Cambridge, 1633) and a second edition of John Donne’s Poems (London, 1635).

The purchase was made possible through the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Professor Andrew Murphy of the University’s School of English welcomed the acquisition, saying, “St Andrews has a wonderfully strong collection of rare books, not least because we enjoyed copyright deposit status for most of the eighteenth century, which meant that we were entitled to a copy of every book published in Britain.

“While our earlier holdings are also very good, it is absolutely fantastic that we have committed ourselves to a programme of building on our existing strengths.

“These new additions are absolute treasures for the University to possess and they will be invaluable aids for teaching and scholarship. At St Andrews, these books are not locked away, never to be seen again — they will be an active part of our scholarly resources.”

The University’s Head of Special Collections, Gabriel Sewell, added, “The books are of real significance to Special Collections, and strengthen our existing 17th century holdings.  We are thrilled to have been able to acquire these items and look forward to making them available for research by a wide range of users both within and outwith St Andrews, including present and future researchers in a number of Schools.

“We are extremely grateful to the support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York whose generosity has made it possible for us to acquire these books.”



[John Donne], Poems. By J.D. With elegies on the author’s death  (London, 1635)

Second edition, with the addition of 17 original poems by Donne not included in the first edition of 1633 and a frontispiece portrait of Donne at the age of 18.

Donne’s verse was in fact not widely known during his life. The poems were initially circulated in manuscript collections.  In the decades immediately following Donne’s death in 1631, his fame as a poet reached its height.  The first edition of his Poems in 1633 made them available to a wide readership, with the poems intended mainly for private reading and contemplation.  The printer’s address to the reader emphasized that already it was taken for granted by ‘the best judgements’ that Donne’s poetry was ‘the best in this kinde, that ever this Kingdome hath yet seene’.


George Herbert, The Temple (Cambridge, 1633) 

The most profound and lasting impression of George Herbert is to be found in his poetry, on which his high reputation to this present day is largely based. On his deathbed, he sent the manuscript of The Temple to Nicholas Ferrar, asking him to publish the poems only if he thought they might do good to “any dejected poor soul”.  The first edition was published in 1633 and met with enormous popular acclaim.  From the despair of the ‘Affliction’ poems through the intensity of a lyric such as ‘Longing’ to the joy celebrated in ‘Easter’ and ‘The Odour’, The Temple vividly encompasses the complete spectrum of devotional experience.


Thomas Malory, The most ancient and famous history of the renowned prince Arthur King of Britaine [Morte d’Arthur]  (London, 1634)

The London printer, Williams Stansby (1572-1638), produced this edition of Malory’s work based on the earlier editions by Wynken de Worde and William Caxton.  Stansby’s text appeared in 1634, just before the outbreak of the English Civil War. It remained the only available edition for nearly two hundred years until the revival of interest in Arthurian literature in the nineteenth century.



Images of the books are available from the Press Office – contacts below.

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews

Contact Gayle Cook, Senior Communications Manager on 01334 467227 or email [email protected]

Ref: New old books 050315

Category University news

Related topics

Share this story