The library now as Blickling Hall contains the accumulated books of generations of the Hobart Family, who have lived there since the earl seventeenth century.
Included within this library is another collection of books, which is quite different in character. This was brought together by Sir Richard Ellys of Nocton. Lincolnshire. in the first four decades of the eighteenth century and came to Blickling by inheritance, probably in the 1740s.
Ellys's library was that of a serious-minded scholar, who had a host of contacts in the international republic of letters of the early eighteenth century It was also the library of a wealthy and sophisticated collector, whose discriminating taste and determination in pursuit of books was acknowledged even by his rivals in what had recently become a fashionable and highly competitive field.
Marks in the margins of the Blickling copy of an early guide to rare books bv the bookseller John Hartley (1699).
To assemble such a collection required specialist knowledge and particular skills - which themselves had to be learned, with the help of a broad range of bibliographical reference books and a growing network of semi-professional book agents, go-betweens and librarians. In looking at the influences on Ellys as a collector, and at how his library was put together, this exhibition illustrates an historical phase in which English book-collecting reached maturity.
Sir Richard Ellys (1682 1742) was a bibliophile, book collector, and patron of scholars who was himself highly regarded as a classical scholar. His father was a rich baronet and an MP, while on his mother's side he was descended from the Civil War Parliamentarian leader John Hamden. Sir Richard Ellys followed his father into politics and was MP for Grantham from 1701 to 1705 and for Boston from 1719 to 1734, sharing also his family's strong Whig principles. One contemporary described him as ‘a gentleman of Learning & Piety. His learning mostly in the classical and critical way. His notions in Religion are strict Calvanisms. He greatly affects the books of the old Puritans.'
Initial letter from the Dictys Cretensis (Northern Netherlands, c 1450). manuscript acquired by Ellys at the auction of the library of the Dutch scholar Gosuinus Uilenbroek in 1729
At an early age Ellys travelled on the continent, to Holland and Italy, and probably attended lectures at the famous universities of Leiden and Padua, although he does not appear to have taken a degree. One of his tutors is thought to have been Ludolf Kuster, a German historian of languages and compiler of dictionaries, who later praised Ellys's command of classical Greek as equal to almost anyone else in Europe. This period of Ellys's life laid the foundations for his correspondence with a wide circle of scholars at home and abroad, as well as for the building of his library.
Sir Richard Ellys's library is the product or a formative period in the development of book collecting in England. One feature of this was the increasing influence of continental bibliophilic taste and bibliographical expertise - a consequence of the return of royalists from exile abroad,
French royal arms on Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum Bibliothecae Regiae (Paris, 1739), a catalogue of the manuscripts in the French royal library: the copy sent to Ellys by Louis XV
the influx of French Protestant refugees and closer commercial and political ties with Holland. Another change was the buying power of English collectors in the early decades of the eighteenth century, when many important European libraries came on the market. This was an heroic era of collectors such as Robert and Edward Harley (Earls of Oxford) and Charles Spencer (3rd Earl of Sunderland), and the wealthy physicians Sir Hans Sloane and Dr Richard Mead. Ellys's library was on a much smaller scale, but it contains material of comparable quality.
Map of the world according to the Ptolemaic system of geography. a Dutch edition of 1695 also purchased by Ellys at the Uilenbroek sale in 1729
Ellys owned an impressive selection of reference books to help him to identify what to buy, and to appreciate and understand what he had already bought: booksellers' and publishers' catalogues, guides to rare books, to the contents of libraries, to the early history of printing and to the book trade. He also took care to preserve auction catalogues annotated with the prices he paid - some of his more splendid trophies from the salerooms are displayed in the exhibition.
Not many libraries in this period had published catalogues but, where these were available, they were often used by collectors as general works of reference, as well as guides to their own contents. Ellys owned a fairly comprehensive collection of printed library catalogues, which helped him to select the most important works and the best scholarly editions for his own library.
Device of the 16th-century printer Jodocus Badius Ascensius, as illustrated in Michael Maittaire's history of early Parisian printing (London 1717)
Sir Richard Ellys also owned a large number of scholarly works on the origin and history of printing. It was in the late seventeenth century that interest in the technological evolution of printing - and also in establishing the date of different medieval scripts - led to closer study of
the material features of books and a greater appreciation of books as physical objects and as historical artefacts. Works of this sort incidentally provided convenient lists of important early printed books which collectors might then pursue.
Collecting on this scale demanded specialist personnel: Ellys depended on the services of semi-professional bookmen - scholarly advisers such as his friend Michael Maittaire (1668-1747) and, most of all, Ellys's librarian and secretary Dr John Mitchell (c.1682-1751). Little is known about his librarian. a Scot who graduated in medicine from Rheims and Leiden and had a varied career as tutor, tour leader and bookman. Mitchell's carefully annotations in the books at Blickling are one of the main sources of evidence for his activities.
Excerpt from the manuscript catalogue compiled by Mitchell showing some of the entries under the heading "Bibliotheca'- including this catalogue itself.
Mitchell's hand can be seen (literally) in much of the collection at Blickling, often noting the interest of a particular book or examining it for defects, and his work is most evident in the painstaking manuscript catalogue, in ten volumes.
It was Mitchell too who arranged auction bids dealt with booksellers and answered scholars' enquiries about Ellys's books. The collection should really be considered their Joint achievement.
Text by Gilec Mandelbrote
Design by Bob Farndon
All images © NTPL /John Hammond (excerpt cover detail from An Oxford book auction, 1747, reproduced courtesy of the Bodleian Library, Universitv of Oxford)
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