Although born in London, Phillips was a Radnorshire man. He became a surgeon employed by the East India Company, accumulating a substantial fortune after many years' service in India. Retiring to London in 1817, he devoted the rest of his life to furthering education in Wales.
In India, Phillips had already begun to establish small libraries with the aim of enhancing the minds and moral character of serving soldiers. After retiring to Brunswick Square, he started to make substantial gifts of money, books and curiosities to many individuals and institutions in London, the Welsh Borders and South Wales. St David's College, Lampeter was one of these beneficiaries. In the early 1830s, Phillips visited the new college, met the librarian, Professor Rice Rees, and saw that the library was very small. His first consignment of 444 volumes arrived in March 1834. It included early 16th century editions of Pliny and Tertullian and first editions of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (London, 1776) and John Gay’s Poems on Several Occasions (London, 1720). Between 1834 and 1851 Phillips dispatched 22,500 volumes to the library in fifty-nine consignments, as well as endowing scholarships and a Chair of Natural Science. His donations covered books of all kinds: cheap school text books, ‘polite’ literature in English and French, books of hand-coloured illustrations, travel books, atlases and cosmographies, works of natural history, philosophy volumes, plus sermons and polemical theology. Although it seems likely that some of these books had belonged to his own personal collection, most had been acquired in London sale-rooms and book shops for despatch to Lampeter. Few books came from single collections, although a considerable number arrived in 1847 from the library of the antiquarian, Henry Hatcher of Salisbury. After 1833 and the sixteen Heber sales, there seems to have been a glut of old books available, meaning prices were depressed. Phillips was able to purchase incunables and other rarities at little cost. It seems likely they were shipped to Carmarthen and then brought the 23 miles to Lampeter overland by cart.
Among the volumes given by Phillips were six medieval manuscripts and about fifty incunables. The earliest of these, dating from around 1200, is part of a large book of distinctiones. Many items contain provenance evidence and annotations of former owners, including some notable collectors of the eighteenth century. Phillips’ donations included John Locke’s copy of Antonii van Dale, Dissertationes de origine ac progressu idolatriae (Amsterdam, 1696) and Thomas Cranmer’s copy of Hugonis Cardinalis Divina expositio in altos quattuor Euangeliorum apices (Paris, 1508).
Most of the incunables at Lampeter were gifts from Phillips, almost entirely from German and Italian presses. Lampeter’s earliest printed work is thought to be the Epistolae of St Jerome, edited by Johannes Andreae and published in Rome in 1470. Also from Rome came Plutarch’s Vitae (1470-71), printed by the Bavarian Ulrich Hahn. Thirty-five of Phillips’ incunables originated from the great Renaissance printing houses of Venice. Particular highlights include Boccaccio’s Genealogia deorum, printed by one of the Spira brothers in 1472. Many pages are decorated with hand-painted genealogical trees, outlining the descent of the classical gods. Other Venetian printings include Cicero’s Epistolae ad familiares (1491), Horace’s Opera (1490) and Ovid’s Metamorphoses (1497).
Phillips was a traveller and geography books have a strong place in his collection. In Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (London, 1606), he gave the library a copy of the first great European atlas. This contains the earliest printed map of Wales by Humphrey Llwyd of Denbigh; an engraved note above the River Teifi reads ‘Hic fluvius solus in Britannia castores habet’ (this is the only British river with beavers). Phillips added Mercator’s more scientific Atlas (Amsterdam, 1636). Classical works include Ptolemy’s La geografia (Venice, 1561) and Strabo’s Geographica (Basle, 1571). Predictably, the silver age of travel is well represented; travel narratives include the works of Alexander Dalrymple, James Cook, Sir George Staunton, John Ross and George Vancouver.
As Phillips was a member of the East India Company and spent much of his life in India, the orient is well represented. Another surgeon, John Borthwick Gilchrist, is represented through A dictionary, English and Hindoostanee (Calcutta, 1787-90) and A grammar of the Hindoostanee language (Calcutta, 1796). Thomas Pennant’s The view of Hindoostan (London, 1798) is a peculiar amalgamation of imagination and documentation. William Hodges’ Travels in India, during the years 1780, 1781, 1782 & 1783 (London, 1793) was illustrated with fifteen plates from Hodges’ drawings. Alexander von Humboldt was to say that the sight of Hodges’ views of India was one of the triggers that led him to travel.
Natural history books are well represented, perhaps also a reflection of Phillips’ travels. The earliest herbal is Macer Floridus’ De Viribus Herbarum, probably printed at Geneva shortly before 1498. The other herbals are mainly 18th century, including Sheldrake’s Botanicum medicinale (London, 1759), Jan Commelin’s Horti medici Amstelodamensis rariorum (Amsterdam, 1697-1701) and Giorgio Bonelli’s Hortus Romanus (Rome 1772-86). In the first two volumes of Eleazar Albin’s Natural history of birds (London 1731-34), we have the earliest work on birds to use coloured plates. There are copies of both the beautiful first edition of Thomas Pennant’s British Zoology (London, 1766) and of the more successful and smaller second edition (London, 1768-70). Pennant’s work with its ecological commentary has been described as a model modern editors would do well to emulate.
Price, D.T.W. (1997). Thomas Phillips of Brunswick Square. In: Marx, W. (ed.) The Founders’ Library University of Wales, Lampeter, bibliographical and contextual studies: essays in memory of Robin Rider. Lampeter: Trivium Publications
Walters, G. (1998). Books from the ‘Nabob’: the benefactions of Thomas Phillips at Lampeter and Llandovery. Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 5, 38-61. Available from: https://journals.library.wales/view/1386666/1425397/37#?cv=37&m=101&h=thomas phillips AND nabob&c=0&s=0&xywh=-2240%2C-1%2C6978%2C3505 [Accessed 17 January 2018]
The library also includes 169 volumes of pamphlets from the donation of Thomas Phillips (1760-1851).
Pamphlet volumes of Phillips' provenance:
Tract volumes 93, 172, 179, 186, 188, 235, 277, 311, 315, 357, 376, 419-420, 451, 488, 529-534, 536-537, 545, 552, 560-564, 566-575, 577, 581-582, 586-599, 601, 604-616, 618, 620-621, 624-625, 680-681, 683-688, 692-703, 705-710, 715-718, 722-728, 730, 732-737, 739, 741, 744-746, 748-751, 755-757, 764-766, 769, 771, 773, 775-776, 778-781, 783-784, 790, 792, 784, 797, 799, 803, 807-813, 815, 817, 819-820, 822-823, 825-828.
Bibliography / Further reading
James, B. Ll. (comp.) (1975). A Catalogue of the Tract Collection of Saint David’s University College, Lampeter. London: Mansell