An English Bible

The book I want to talk about here is rather small and somewhat mysterious, described in the card catalogue (which dates from the 1950s) as: The Holy Bible. Ruled and interleaved with many learned notes.

An English Bible

It comes as no surprise that among the thousands of early printed books in Lincoln’s Senior Library there are more than a few bibles. These range from two magnificent multi-volume polyglot bibles, the Complutensian Polyglot (Alcala de Henares, 1514-1517) and Christopher Plantin’s Bible Regia (Antwerp, 1568-1573), to more modest works such as a 1668 translation of the New Testament into Malay. The book I want to talk about here is rather small and somewhat mysterious, described in the card catalogue (which dates from the 1950s) as: The Holy Bible. Ruled and interleaved with many learned notes. Original author unknown.  

This bible is in fact a 1634 edition of the Authorised Version, or King James Bible, in a small format (measuring 180x150mm). It is bound in a rather sombre black goatskin binding with heavy metal clasps, quite solid for such a small book. These clasps are needed because the printed text is interleaved with blank sheets that almost double its size; on these sheets are the “many learned notes” (in all honesty largely too learned for this particular reader) described in the card catalogue. The volume also has small paper tabs pasted to the fore-edge of many pages on which chapter and verse are written in a small, neat hand.

So who did this book belong to? The answer lies in the densely-packed handwritten notes (in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and even English) that cover the blank pages. This is the hand of Thomas Marshall (1621-1685), an Oxford philologist who lived in exile in the Netherlands (where he acted as chaplain to the Company of Merchant Adventurers) from 1648 until he returned as Rector of Lincoln in 1672.  The Senior Library contains over a thousand of Marshall’s books ranging from works in Hebrew and Arabic to a collection of Civil War pamphlets.

Given the many beautiful books in the Senior Library it might seem odd that this is the one I am most drawn to: it is inexpensively bound, stained, missing several pages and very well used. Yet Marshall’s notes, ranging from commentaries on the text of the bible to a diary of his own biblical studies, are precious evidence of one reader’s intense engagement with the printed word.  And this is exactly why this small English bible speaks so loudly to me.

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