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The Burney collection of manuscripts in the British Library

Introduction Life and
character
Collection &
catalogue
'Membra
disiecta'
Illuminated
manuscripts
Further reading

Burney's purchases: the shape, strengths and sources of the Burney collection

Foundations: 1789-1813
Apogee: 1814-1815
Final years: 1816-1817
Former English owners


Let me explain a little of how our re-examination of the Burney manuscripts for the online Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts has cast new light on the sources, development and profile of Burney’s collection and with that a deeper understanding of many individual volumes. Some of this work builds upon research that I undertook several years ago in preparing the British Library Catalogue of Greek Manuscripts. At that point I was able to re-examine the entire Burney collection several times, identify many of Burney’s own copies of auction and bookseller’s catalogues within various parts of the British Library, and consult part of Burney’s extensive correspondence, much of which is now at Yale.

First, the online Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts identifies many more earlier owners than those cited in the 1840 Burney catalogue. It also clarifies the exact point at which Burney acquired just under half his manuscripts. Using this evidence it is possible to track to some extent the growth and development of the collection and compare it with other collections in the making around the same time. A more detailed account of this development will require further research into Burney’s direct purchases from London booksellers.

Foundations: 1789-1813    Top top

As far as I have been able to determine, Burney’s earliest purchases of manuscripts at open sale were made in March 1789 at the London auction of the library of the Venetian printer Maffeo Pinelli. The two volumes that Burney bought (Burney 78 and 213) contained Greek and Latin grammatical texts and cost a total of £4 6s. Yet, his purchasing of manuscripts at auction did not begin in earnest until twelve years later. At the 1801 sale of the renowned library of the bibliophile and translator Michael Wodhull, Burney bagged one Latin and six Greek manuscripts (Burney 45, 60, 63, 73, 80, 104, 280) at a total price of £7 19s 6d. From that date onwards Burney appears to have bought manuscripts at sale fairly steadily. Often he left a sale with four or five manuscripts, as at the Sebright, Brand, and Gough sales in 1807 and 1810. At these sales Burney continued in the main to expend relatively modest amounts, sometimes acquiring manuscripts for as little as a few shillings. Yet, for a couple of volumes he was now prepared to pay considerably higher prices. At Sebright’s sale, for example, he paid 6 guineas for the Bible of Robert de Bello (Burney 3); at Gough’s sale he spent no less than 17 guineas for a copy of Livy (Burney 198). In both cases he was paying for manuscripts that boasted significant illumination. At other sales he homed in on one particular lot in a sale, sometimes the only manuscript in an auction otherwise dedicated to printed books of which he was also an active collector. At yet other sales Burney seems to have been intent on acquiring as many lots as he could. In 1803 he bought no fewer than four Greek and seven Latin manuscripts at one sale at Christie’s (Burney 53, 79, 89, 98, [141?], 172, [187?], 191, 192, 194, 197, 225, [266?], 268). Among his purchases were four copies of the Satires of Juvenal. At the sale of the library of James Sims in 1809 Burney bought five rather cheap Greek manuscripts and five Latin manuscripts, most of which cost him no more than £2 each. At the third and final sale of the library of the renowned chevalier d’Éon in 1813 he succeeded in again purchasing five Greek and six Latin manuscripts, many of which bear his distinctive feminine ex-libris ‘De la Bibliothèque de la Chevalière d’Éon’.


PR 4 B 13, p. 44
Burney’s copy of Sir John Sebrights’s auction catalogue, 1807, with lots 1102, 1107, and 1108 marked up for purchase
PR 4 B 13, p. 44


Burney 213, f. 1
Pomponius Mela, and others, De chorographia, etc., Italy, N. E.? (Venice?), 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 15th century, 295 x 205 mm, Partial headpiece and decorated initial
Burney 213, f. 1


Burney 45, f. 4
Collected by Philotheos Kokkinos, Homilies on the Gospels for each Sunday of the ecclesiastical year, Italy, N. E. (Venice) or Eastern Mediterranean (Crete), 3rd quarter of the 16th century, 305 x 205 mm, Decorated headpiece and initial
Burney 45, f. 4


Burney 280, ff. 61v-62
Martinus Polonus, and others, Chronicon pontificum et imperatorum, etc., England, last quarter of the 13th or 1st quarter of the 14th century, 210 x 135 mm, Flourished initials
Burney 280, ff. 61v-62


Burney 3, f. 2
Bible of Robert de Bello, England, S. E. (Canterbury?), between c. 1240 and 1253, 273 x 205 mm, Historiated initial with Jerome, Damasus, and Ambrose
Burney 3, f. 2


Burney 198, f. 4
Livy, Ab urbe condita, Italy N. E.? (Padua?), c. 1400, 350 x 235 mm, Scenes of Lucretia, and the Kings of Rome?, the border including heraldic arms of Cardinal Pietro Riario added between 1471 and 1474
Burney 198, f. 4


Burney 172, ff. 20v-21
Eutropius, and others, Breviarum ab urbe condita, etc., Italy, Central? (Nursia/Norcia?), 1460?, 220 x 120 mm, Flourished and coloured initials
Burney 172, ff. 20v-21


Burney 187, f. 2
Justinus, Epitome historiarum Pompeii Trogi, Italy, N. E.? (Ferrara?), 1st half of the 15th century (before 1469), 265 x 175 mm, Decorated initial, the border including heraldic arms of the Sacrati family of Ferrara added in the late 15th century
Burney 187, f. 2


Burney 194, f. 1
Juvenal, Satires, Italy, Central? (Florence?), 3rd quarter of the 15th century, 215 x 140 mm, Decorated initial
Burney 194, f. 1


Burney 266, f. 119v
Terence, Comedies, Italy, 2nd half of the 15th century, 220 x 145 mm, Inhabited initial with a Moor's head in profile
Burney 266, f. 119v

Apogee: 1814-1815    Top top

In the following year, 1814, a dramatic change took place in Burney’s pattern of collecting. At the sale of the manuscripts of John Towneley, Burney made not only his most famous purchase, the Townley Homer (Burney 86), but also began paying prices the like of which he had never approached before this date. Although limited to four purchases, Burney now spent a total of £764. As was much noted at the time, the renowned copy of Homer, on which Oxford had set its sights, cost Burney an impressive £620. This remarkable purchase earned him – under the pseudonym of Eustathius – a place within Dibdin’s classic account of contemporary English bibiophilia in the Bibliographical Decameron of 1817. Yet, the prices that he paid for the other Greek manuscripts he purchased at the sale (Burney 75, 109, 408), respectively £45, £55 and £44, were also vast by Burney’s previously modest standards.

Undoubtedly Burney’s changed personal circumstances accounted for this sudden change of gear. Two months before the Towneley sale the death of the elder Charles Burney brought the younger Charles both the prospect of substantial financial benefits and release from his father’s cautionary advice. In addition, Charles had acquired two very lucrative livings from the Church and had in view even more advantageous positions. As his sister Susanna put it, ‘He now waits for the Prebendary of Ely & the Living at Greenwich – two old Incumbents between them and his nobility away, he will have … more than £2000 a year preferment’.

In 1815 Burney continued his collecting of manuscripts at the high-spending levels of the Towneley sale. In April, at the sale of the personal library of the London bookseller James Edwards, Burney was represented by his brother-in-law, Thomas Payne the younger, himself another London bookseller. Through him Burney added to his collection not only a few more modest purchases of three Greek and two Latin manuscripts (Burney 61, 97, 110, 247 and 250), but also an extravagant copy of the Four Gospels written at Constantinople in 1366 (Burney 18). For this alone he paid £210. And as the prices paid by Burney rose, so the type of manuscript he acquired and the competitors he faced in the auction room also changed. At an anonymous London sale in May of the same year Burney again added to seven more modest purchases a particularly handsome humanistic copy of the comedies of Plautus (Burney 228) and a fine late thirteenth-century copy of Augustine’s commentary on the Pauline Epistles that came from Saint-Denis (Burney 38). For the Plautus he paid £52 10s. In June 1815, undaunted by his already extravagant expenditure, Burney attended the anonymous sale of the 3rd Duke of Grafton. Of the four humanistic manuscripts that he bought on this occasion, a fine copy of Aulus Gellius (Burney 174) cost £21.


Burney 86, f. 119
Homer, Iliad ('The Townley Homer'), Eastern Mediterranean (Constantinople), 1st half of the 11th century, 300 x 230 mm, Text page
Burney 86, f. 119


Burney 75, f. 170
Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and others, Letters, extracts, scholia, etc., Greece (Mistra) or Italy, Central (Rome), 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 15th century, 220 x 145 mm, Headpiece with zoomorphic and anthromorphic features
Burney 75, f. 170


Burney 97, f. 29
Philes, De natura animalium, France, Central (Paris), between c. 1550 and 1569, 235 x 160 mm, Spiders
Burney 97, f. 29


Burney 247, f. 4v
Sedulius, and others, Carmen paschale, etc., France, N.? (Marcoussis?), dated 1465 (prologue), 205 x 140 mm, Puzzle initial below a rubric with the date 1465 in medieval arabic numerals
Burney 247, f. 4v


Burney 250, f. 220v
Seneca or Pseudo-Seneca, Ten tragedies, Italy, Central (San Gimignano), dated 1387 (colophon), 225 x 150 mm, Flourished initials
Burney 250, f. 220v


Burney 18, f. 101
Gospels and Hebrews, Eastern Mediterranean (Constantinople, monastery of the Theotokos ton Hodegon), dated 1366 (colophon), 330 x 235 mm, Illuminated headpiece
Burney 18, f. 101


Burney 228, f. 1
Plautus, Comedies, Italy, S.? (Naples?), 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 15th century, 320 x 225 mm, White vine initials and borders, including overpainted heraldic arms
Burney 228, f. 1


Burney 38, f. 3
Florus of Lyons?, Commentary on the Pauline Epistles, France, Central (Paris?), last quarter of the 13th century, 405 x 290 mm, Pressmarks ‘A +’ and ‘xv.iiijc.xliij’ of Saint-Denis (detail)
Burney 38, f. 3


Burney 174, f. 3v
Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae, Italy, Central (Rome), 3rd quarter of the 15th century, 295 x 200 mm, White vine initial and borders, including heraldic arms of the Maffei of Volterra family
Burney 174, f. 3v

Final years: 1816-1817    Top top

After these two heady years Burney’s final two years, 1816 and 1817, seem to mark a diminution in the level of his collecting. Yet, although many of Burney’s purchases were made at relatively low prices, they continued to grow in number and some continued to cost him significant sums of money. At Charles Marsh’s sale in 1816 Burney acquired two Greek and eight Latin manuscripts and at an anonymous sale of manuscripts ‘imported from Sicily’ in April 1817 he purchased no fewer than fourteen manuscripts. Earlier, at the 1816 sale of the French aristocrat and familiar of Fanny Burney, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, Burney had also been prepared to spend just under £100 at one sale. For Talleyrand’s oversize copy of Ptolemy’s Geography (Burney 111) he paid £66 3s. From the great Paris sale of Count Justin de MacCarthy-Reagh in 1817 Burney bagged a superb manuscript, the early owners of which included two Popes, Jean duc de Berry and the chapter of Albi (Burney 275).


Burney 111, ff. 105v-106
Ptolemy, and others, Geographia, etc., Eastern Mediterranean, last quarter of the 14th or 1st quarter of the 15th century, 435 x 310 mm, Map of Europe and Asia
Burney 111, ff. 105v-106


Burney 275, f. 2v
Priscian, Cicero, Pseudo-Cicero, and others, Institutiones, De inventione, Rhetorica ad Herennium, etc., France, Central (Paris), between 1309 and 1316, 405 x 290 mm, Fore edge with the arms of Jean, duc de Berry (detail)
Burney 275, f. 2v

Former English owners    Top top

Within all these purchases by Burney were both ‘old’ and ‘new’ manuscripts. Of the ‘old’ manuscripts – those that had passed through other English collections – undoubtedly the most important were those once collected by the scholar-physician Anthony Askew (d. 1774) and dispersed at sale in 1785. Too young to acquire any manuscripts at Askew’s sale, Burney seems to have taken every opportunity in later life to purchase volumes that had been in Askew’s collection. By his acquisition of no fewer than forty Askew manuscripts he exceeded those acquired at the 1785 sale by Cambridge University, an achievement that probably brought Burney some considerable satisfaction. By the same means he also acquired a significant number of the block of manuscripts that Askew had purchased from the Maffei family. Among these are at least eleven volumes bearing the arms and/or ex-libris of Mario Maffei of Volterra, such as his humanistic copies of Ovid’s Fasti (Burney 221), the imperial biographies of Suetonius (Burney 259) and Orosius’s Historiarum adversum paganos (Burney 214). From the same source also come three fine Italian manuscripts of the works of Cicero bearing the arms of the Gonzaga family (Burney 153, 154 and 159). Similar in their single earlier source were the four Greek Towneley manuscripts (Burney 75 [see also above], 86, 109, 408), all of which were purchased in Rome by Charles Townley in 1773 and came from the library of the Salviati family. Other Italian manuscripts that had come to this country even earlier and passed through many English hands include two humanistic copies of the works of Cicero (Burney 138, 145), one of which (Burney 138) formed part of the collection of mainly Florentine manuscripts that Robert Flemming gave to Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1465.

Many other ‘old’ manuscripts were ones of English origin that had passed through the collections of successive English antiquarians and bibliophiles. Of these some had formed part of the collections of English monastic houses. Both the Bible of Robert de Bello (Burney 3), mentioned earlier, and a thirteenth-century Bible bought from an Oxford stationer in 1473 (Burney 11) once belonged to St Augustine’s Canterbury. A copy of Ambrosiaster’s commentary on the Pauline Epistles, bearing the ex-libris of the sixteenth-century collector Sir John Prise (Burney 42) probably passed to him from a monastic house in the west of England. A Wycliffite Gospel of John (Burney 30) passed through the hands of two English antiquarians, including John Brand, at whose sale Burney bought it.

Most other Continental manuscripts came to Burney through London dealers, through the dispersal of English collections, or at best from English collections recently formed on the Continent. A thirteenth-century French Bible (Burney 2) and a copy of Hugo of Saint-Victor (Burney 308), for example, both formerly belonged to the celebrated library of Ralph Palmer of Little Chelsea in the middle of the eighteenth century. Other Continental manuscripts came to Burney from collections recently formed by anonymous gentlemen of taste during their tours of the Continent and sold at Christie’s in 1803, 1804, and 1815. Burney’s opportunity to purchase a cache of ‘new’ manuscripts, recently ‘imported from Sicily’ in 1817 is perhaps the only notable exception to this pattern.


Burney 221, f. 2
Ovid, Fasti, Italy, Central? (Rome?), c. 1450, 180 x 130 mm, Heraldic arms of the Maffei of Volterra family (detail)
Burney 221, f. 2


Burney 259, f. 1
Suetonius, De vita Caesarum, Italy (Ferrara, Rome, or Naples), 2nd quarter of the 15th century, 290 x 200 mm, White vine initial and partial border, and added heraldic arms of the Maffei of Volterra family
Burney 259, f. 1


Burney 214, f. 4
Orosius, Historiarum adversum paganos, dated 1434? (inscription), 295 x 210 mm, Ownership inscription of Mario Maffei (detail)
Burney 214, f. 4


Burney 153, f. 1
Cicero, De finibus, etc., Italy, N. E. (Veneto), 2nd quarter of the 15th century, 245 x 165 mm, Foliate initial and partial border, and heraldic arms of the Gonzaga family
Burney 153, f. 1


Burney 154, f. 1
Cicero, Philippica, Italy, Central? (Florence?), c. 1430, 250 x 165 mm, White vine initial, and heraldic arms of the Gonzaga family
Burney 154, f. 1


Burney 159, f. 1
Cicero or Pseudo-Cicero, Orationes, Italy, N. E. (Venice?), c. 1435, 260 x 145 mm, Zoomorphic initial with a partial border, including heraldic arms of the Gonzaga family
Burney 159, f. 1


Burney 138, f. 2
Cicero, De amicitia, etc., Italy, Central (Florence), c. 1450 - c. 1460, 195 x 130 mm, White vine initial and partial border
Burney 138, f. 2


Burney 145, f. 109
Cicero, Epistolae ad familiares, Italy, Central (Rome or Florence), c. 1450, 280 x 195 mm, White vine initials
Burney 145, f. 109


Burney 3, f. 5v
Bible of Robert de Bello, England, S. E. (Canterbury?), between c. 1240 and 1253, 273 x 205 mm, Historiated initial with scenes of Genesis
Burney 3, f. 5v


Burney 11, f. 57v
Bible with prologues and Interpretations of Hebrew names, England, Central (Oxford?), c. 1230, 130 x 90 mm, Decorated initial with zoomorphic features
Burney 11, f. 57v


Burney 42, f. 2
Ambrosiaster, Commentaria in Epistolas beati Pauli, England, W.?, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 12th century, 290 x 185 mm, Ownership inscription of Sir John Prise, d. 1555 (detail)
Burney 42, f. 2


Burney 30, f. 33v
Gospel of John, in the later Wycliffite version, etc., England, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 15th century, 130 x 90 mm, Decorated initial and catchword
Burney 30, f. 33v


Burney 2, f. 5
Bible with prologues and Interpretations of Hebrew names, France, Central (Paris), 2nd half of the 13th century, 290 x 190 mm, Historiated initial with the Creation and the Crucifixion
Burney 2, f. 5


Burney 308, f. 6v
Hugh of Saint Victor, Commentary on Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite's Celestial Hierarchy, France, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 12th century, 280 x 185 mm, Decorated initial
Burney 308, f. 6v


Introduction Life and
character
Collection &
catalogue
'Membra
disiecta'
Illuminated
manuscripts
Further reading
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