Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring general knowledge

Margarita Philosophica

Margarita Philosophica

At its opening in 1877 the University of London Library owned two copies of this 1504 edition of Gregor Reisch’s Margarita Philosophica, or ‘Philosophic Pearl’, one from each of the University Library’s founding collections. Unfortunately Augustus De Morgan’s copy had been lost by 1908. (The 1508 and 1515 editions remain in the De Morgan collection.) The copy shown here belonged to George Grote, who served on the University of London’s Senate and subsequently as its Vice-Chancellor (1861-1871). It is the oldest book but one from his library.

            The work is an encyclopaedic handbook in the form of a dialogue between a pupil (discipulus) and a teacher (magister) which essentially covers the curriculum of the arts faculty. The first edition appeared in 1503. The second addition adds woodcuts – among them the one shown – and also more poems praising the work and its author. These latter demonstrate Reisch’s close contacts with well-known humanists and also include one of the earliest recorded uses of the word ‘cyclopaedia’ or ‘encyclopaedia’.

            This copy is a significant text bears extra interest through hand-coloured illustrations, a few annotations in a sixteenth-century hand, and a roughly contemporary binding, the decoration of which is attributable to the ‘Blütenrolle’ workshop which was active in Würzburg until approximately 1527.

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