- One of oldest libraries in Europe.
- Oxford University’s first library began around 1320.
- First opened to students in 1412.
- Duke Humfrey’s collection became the predominate portion of the library in 1488
- Duke Humfrey’s library only lasted 60 years when Christ’s Church destroyed most of the collection to purge Catholic influence–feel free to gasp here. I did!
- Sir Thomas Bodley-who carried out diplomatic missions for Elizabeth I-came to rescue!
(More on this below)
- First opened to scholars in 1602
- Oscar Wilde’s trial was held here in 1870
Years ago, a friend asked me to make a bucket list. I tend to live rather freely without setting lofty goals, but it is always fun to dream. On my list I placed only two items:
- To see the Aurora Borealis
- To visit the Bodleian Library in Oxford
Well, the second is officially marked off! And what an adventure it was. I squirmed in my seat becoming more and more anxious as drew ever closer to Oxford. Walking the streets of Oxford, I instantly felt a calm fall over me. It was lovelier than I imagined! Oxford is nothing like London. Yes, it’s got a bit of a touristy element to it, but it still has this gorgeous small town feeling to it that permeates through you with every step. Our tour began with a lovely guide breaking down the history of library to us. Most of which I laid out in the interesting facts, bit, but there were a few things that stood out to me.
First, Thomas Bodley–the hero of the Bodleian and it’s namesake!
As a champion for Elizabeth the First, he was a prominent man. When our guide explained why he took an interest in the library she said, “He wanted a project, really. He wasn’t ready for pipe and slippers.” Bodley’s library opened in 1602 with 2000 books. Clever Bodley didn’t stop there, however! He set up an agreement that still rings true today for the Bodleian–a copy of every book published in England is brought to the Bodleian making it the second largest in England–falling just behind the British Library!
My second favorite–though really quite horrifying–story deals with The Bard himself, unsurprisingly.
So the only types of books our hero Bodley did not like were plays. He found them frivolous. This meant that when the Bodleian acquired a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio they left it relatively untouched. When the Third Folio came along, however, they decided they didn’t need two so they chucked the first one! 200 years on an undergrad comes into the library with the Folio tucked under his arm and asks the librarian about getting it rebound. The librarian identified it as their missing Folio and a fundraiser ensued to ensure that it was returned to the library.
I am quite certain my heart stopped momentarily upon hearing this news! Nevertheless, the library now takes great care of their Shakespeare collection. There was a gorgeous exhibit in honor of the Bard on the theme of death in his plays.
After exploring Oxford post-Bodleian tour, we had another tour of Merton College–a constituent of Oxford University.
Founded in 1263 by William de Merton, it is comparably steeped in history. It is one of the oldest libraries in England, and is the oldest academic library still in continual use. One of my favorite portions: within its collection there was a gorgeous astrolabe once owned by Geoffrey Chaucer (!)
As with all libraries in England at the moment, Merton had a lovely Shakespearean display. While they do not have a first folio, they do have a 2nd!
A rather well-known connection to Merton College, J.R.R. Tolkien was the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature from 1945 until 1959. Our delightful tour guide pointed out his room to us:
(It’s the top right corner window)
Ended the trip with a drink at The Eagle and Child whilst brushing up on one of my favorite literary friendships because obviously that’s the smartest plan 🙂
Oxford, you’ve stolen my heart 🙂
For more information on the Bodleian