Bishop Thomas Burgess collection

Bishop Thomas Burgess (1756-1837) bequeathed to St David's College, Lampeter his personal library of some 9.000 volumes. Primarily a working collection gathered during a lifetime devoted to the study of classics, literature, history, antiquities, and theology, many of the works are annotated by Burgess and therefore offer an insight into his scholarly and theological preoccupations.

Burgess was a precocious classical scholar who maintained interest in classical literature throughout his lifetime. Symbolic of his particular interests are two volumes printed at Venice in the fifteenth century, Aristotle's Rhetorica, printed in 1481, and Theodore Beza's Introductivae grammaticis, printed some fourteen years later.




At Oxford University Burgess was taken up by the classicist and first scientific editor of Chaucer, Thomas Tyrwhitt. Such was the academic standing of Burgess that before leaving Oxford for Durham Cathedral, he saw through the press Tyrwhitt's emendation of the De Poetica, printed in 1794. Tyrwhitt bequeathed to Burgess a 1536 Aldine edition of De Poetica. The gift is recorded by Burgess in the book and dated December 7, 1797. This volume has the added attraction of a contemporary Italian binding, a vellum backing and boards covered with an embossed red paper of floral motifs and vases. The signature of a previous owner, W. Carte, is also present, and both the Latin and Greek texts have been annotated by various hands.

Several other interesting titles add distinction to Burgess's collection of Aristotle, including two folios of the Casaubon edition of 1605 stamped 'Westminster Abbey', and ten quarto volumes in Greek of the complete Frankfurt edition of 1577-87, characterised by fine decorative initials and occasional illustrations. Further Aristotelian tracts appear in such composite volumes as the Aldine Rhetores in hoc volumine, printed in 1508.

Gaza's Greek grammar is supplemented by the ten folio volumes of Stephanus's Thesaurus grecae linguae (London, 1816-1822) and several editions of Greek Anthology, notably the Leipzig edition of 1794-1814 by Brunck.

Burgess was sufficiently interested in the study of Homer to produce his own critical edition entitled Initia Homerica (1788). The Burgess copy contains frequent textual corrections and appropriate proof marks made by Burgess himself, perhaps indicating intended future editions.Other Homeric works include the three folio volumes of Eustathius's commentary on the Iliad and Odyssey published by Froben at Basel in 1559.

Further notable works in the collection include the twelve quarto volumes of Fabricius's Bibliotheca Graeca (1790), and the great folios: Tertullianus (Paris, 1675), Strabo (1807) in the fine Clarendon Press edition, Aristophanes (Leipzig, 1710), Diodorus Siculus (Amsterdam, 1746), Photius (Rouen, 1653), and Herodotus (Amsterdam, 1763).

One of Burgess's publishing interests was the editing of several Hebrew grammars and primers. He constantly stressed that the study of Hebrew had both intellectual and moral implications. It was certainly a focus for Scriptural studies. Browsing through the catalogue of his collection is a salutary reminder of Burgess's linguistic interests. Present are Richardson's Grammar of the Arabic language (1801) and Levi's Lingua sacra (1803), Moises' Persian Interpreter (1792) and Schaaf's Lexicon Syriacum (1717). The eight volume Onomasticon literarium of Christopher Saxe catches the eye, as do the two folio volumes of Edward Lye's Dictionarium Saxonico et Gothico-Latinum-Biblicum (1765).

Burgess does not seem to have been interested in the archaeology of the ancient world. He did however own Lechavalier's Description of the Plain of Troy (1791), a work critical of Wood's map of the plain, but this was a gift from the work's translator, Andrew Dalzel.

Burgess was active in contemporary religious debate. His library is a rich resource for the study of the numerous religious controversies of his day. One example must suffice. The criticism provoked by Gibbon's views on the growth of Christianity is reflected in Burgess's possession of five volumes, by Davis, Chilsum, Apthorp, Eyre, and Loftus, all published in 1778, two years after the publication of the first volume of the History. It was the year of Burgess's graduation at the age of twenty-two.

Burgess possessed two magnificent Vulgate Bibles, one manuscript, one printed. Scribal labours of more than three years went into the making of the manuscript Vulgate, completed in 1279 by Geoffrey of Fécamp, and probably financed by James, abbot of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives, near Liseaux, Calvados. Although having a varied provenance, the manuscript probably reached England through Carthusian channels in the 15th or 16th century. The beautiful miniatures and script of this 13th century Norman Vulgate are matched by the immaculate printing in rotunda face and classic margins of Nicholas Jenson’s 1476 Venetian Bible with its ownership inscription of ‘Collegij Paris. Societ. Jesu.’. Burgess owned one other notable incunable, the de Worde Golden Legend of 1498.

Nevertheless, possession of several outstanding printed Greek New Testaments was perhaps the hallmark of the collection as a whole. He owned the New Testament volume of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible prepared by Cardinal Ximenes at Alcala, which possessed the finest Greek type ever designed. Matching the Spanish grace of the Complutensian was the 3rd edition (1522) of Erasmus’s Greek New Testament printed in Basel by Froben, with its heavier but majestic decorative surrounds designed by Urs Graf. That printed by Simon de Colines (Paris, 1534) has the famous ‘Tempus’ device and rich-gauffered edges, while a folio New Testament printed in Frankfurt (1601) has the Stephanus text. Complementing these are several 18th century Testaments, notably a magnificent folio of 1710.

Syriac New Testaments also caught Burgess’s attention. He owned the 3rd edition of Guy Lefèvre de la Boderie (Paris, 1584) in Hebrew characters with inter-linear Latin translation in smaller font. The binding of this two-volume work is reminiscent of the great Roger Payne’s earlier Eton work, but Burgess appears not to have been drawn into this sphere of the book arts. A Syriac New Testament edited by Adler (Hafniae, 1789) has etched special plates of manuscript codices.

Burgess owned a fine collection of the great folios of the early Church fathers: the four volumes of Origen (Paris, 1733-1759); the thirteen volumes of Chrysostom edited by Montfaucon (Paris, 1718-1738) with its manuscript ascription to ‘Bibliotheca Bellorepariensis’; the six volumes of Cyril (Paris, 1638); the three volumes of Cyprian (Amsterdam, 1700). There are also Eusebius’s Thesaurus Temporum, edited by Scaliger (Amsterdam, 1658), and Photius’s Bibliotheca Librorum (Rothomagi, 1653), a summary review of 280 works read by Photius, many of which are now lost.

Ecclesiastical history is represented by equally great works and commentators: Hooker’s Laws (1666); the fine Cambridge edition of Bede (1722); Laud’s Relation (1639); Spelman’s Concilia (1639); the contentious De Doctrina Christiana of Milton, whose authorship Burgess never failed to refute; the voluminous labours of Dupin in Parisian, London, and Dublin editions. There are also Morland’s History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piemont (1658), and Basnage de Beauval’s Histoire des Juifs (1716) and Bower’s History of the Popes (1748-66).

The purely philosophical fields held little interest for Burgess. The only Locke he possessed was the Reasonableness of Christianity (1748); and Shaftesbury’s Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (1727) is one of the few works of note. It is possible otherwise only to note such general surveys as Gesner’s Primae Lineae Isagoges in Erudition Universalem (Lipsae, 1774-75) which includes a bold scribbled note in his hand proclaiming that ‘An introduction to Universal Erudition should begin with the History of Learning for the same reason that an introduction to philosophy should begin with a History of Philosophy‘.

Newton’s Opera (1779-85) was edited by Samuel Horsley, Burgess’s predecessor as Bishop of St David’s, and it is this connection which probably best explains its presence in the collection. Among the earliest of the volumes of science is Proclus’s commentary on Euclid (1560); among the latest is the inaugural address of Oxford’s first reader in geology, William Buckland. Also present is Buckland’s Reliquae Diluvia … attesting the action of an universal deluge (1823), a gift to Burgess from the author. Buckland and Burgess were Wykehamists and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Buckland went on to become Dean of Westminster and President of the Geological Society, paralleling Burgess’s prelacy and Presidency of the Royal Society for Literature.

The few works of natural history in the collection are those of an interested layman. Gilbert White’s Naturalist’s Calendar (1795) is present, possibly bought as an act of piety towards a fellow Hampshire man (Burgess was born in Odiham), and so too is Thomas Martyn’s Flora Rustica (1792) with attractive hand-coloured etched plates. Also in the collection are two medical works, Benjamin Hutchinson’s Biographia Medica (1799), and the first great concordance to the works of Hippocrates, the Oeconomia (Frankfurt, 1588), probably bought for linguistic reasons.