on exhibit November 13, 2002 through March 1, 2003


Reconstructing the contents of a writer's library often reveals source material behind famous works. Authorial inscriptions in books may tell us about personal relationships and document variations in handwriting or signatures. Annotations may also record reactions to the competition, reflect prejudices, or show an author being difficult or vulnerable - in short, human. Leon Edel, the biographer of Henry James, attached enormous importance to presentation and inscribed copies, and looked to them for clues about relationships, meetings and dates. At the Folger scholars have recently discovered books owned and annotated by Edmund Spenser and George Eliot, thrilling finds for the Library.

Dryden's signature on tittle page

Dryden's signature on title page of Wing B312 c. 2 ©

minature portrait of John Dryden
Miniature portrait of Dryden (Art Vault M14) ©

John Dryden (1631-1700)

Francis Bacon. Of the advancement and proficiencie of learning…London, for Thomas Williams, 1674.

Dryden's copy of the Advancement of Learning, signed and dated 1677, came to the Folger in 1939 as part of the Percy J. Dobell collection, perhaps the finest Dryden collections ever assembled. Dobell's manuscript catalog, "Books from Dryden's Library" (1939) shows the entry for Advancement of Learning and documents Dobell as a former owner of this famous work.

The miniature portrait of Dryden also came from Dobell. The drawing, by Jonathan Richardson (1665-1745) after a painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1697), depicts the former poet laureate without wig or finery, towards the end of his life.
John Donne (1572-1640)

Robert Moor. Diarium historicopoeticum. Oxford, Joseph Barnes, 1595.

Donne's books are easy to recognize because he made a practice of writing his name with a terminal flourish on the lower right corner of the title page and often added a motto at the top, Per Rachel ho seruito, & non per Lea, from Petrarch (Canz. Xix, 7.1). Such distinctive markings help to establish authorship of unsigned works and offer the evidence needed to confirm provenance.

Ben Jonson (1573?-1637) and John Selden (1584-1654)

John Selden. ...de dIs Syris Syntagmata II. London, William Stansby, 1617.

John Selden and Ben Jonson developed an early and lasting, if unlikely, friendship. Learned and industrious, Selden spent a lifetime combining legal and oriental studies. Along the way, he amassed an incomparable library of 8,000 volumes. The first of Selden's oriental studies, De diis Syris - a treatise that won him fame throughout Europe - is inscribed to the poet and playwright, Ben Jonson, presumably sometime after 1623, the year a fire destroyed Jonson's library. Jonson wrote his name, Sui Ben: Jonson Liber, and motto, Tanquam Explorator (from Seneca), on the title page. It was a common practice in the early modern period to add one's Latin motto to a favorite volume. Jonson, Donne, Robert Dudley, John Evelyn, Thomas Knyvett, and Sir Walter Raleigh were among those to display their learning in this way, leaving us evidence of ownership.

minature portrait of Ben Jonson
Miniature portrait of Jonson (Art Vault FPM 15) ©

Johnson's signature on title page
Jonson's signature on title page of STC 22167.2 ©

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)

John Marston. The Works…with notes…by J.O. Halliwell. London, John Russell Smith, 1856.

The Folger collection includes a number of volumes from the library of Anthony Trollope, all carefully book plated and annotated. Trollope read widely in early modern drama and his collection included the complete works of Beaumont and Fletcher, Thomas Dekker, John Ford, Robert Greene, Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe, among others. His habit was to tick off plays he'd read in the table of contents, then follow his readings with a cranky assessment. Trollope didn't comment; he passed judgment, and did so in the finality of ink. Of Marston's comedy, What You Will, he wrote:

Read Oct. 1867
"What you will" is a good comedy - with some few fun lines - & much
humour, but terribly confused, loaded with unnecessary characters, and almost unintelligible in its language… A.T.


Signed First Edition of Shakespeare in Harlem insribed acorss the cover by the author.

With thanks to Randall K. Burkett,
Special Collections, Emory University

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

Langston Hughes. Shakespeare in Harlem. New York, Alfred Knopf, 1942.

We just celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Langston Hughes, whose poetry stretched from the Harlem Renaissance to the civil rights movement. He's been called "a master of black American modernism," and Hughes was the first African-American to make a living as a creative writer through his plays, novels, short stories, essays, translations, journalism, children's books and opera librettos.

This signed first edition of Shakespeare in Harlem is inscribed by Hughes across the cover.

The wishbone is broken.
e dice have thrown a deuce.
The song's an old familiar tune:
What's the use?

Exhibition Highlights

| Collectors | Markings | Signatures | Henry VIII | Actors' Books | Ordinary Books Made Famous | Bindings | Manuscript Book Lists | Women Collectors | Inscriptions | 18th Century | Alexander Pope | Quiet Lives | Myne? |

Curator's Notes | Visiting the Folger

This page updated March 10, 2003