Rare 17th century Welsh provenance discovered in Special Collections

Dr Jennifer Smyth, of Goldsmiths, University of London, recently visited Special Collections to work on a selection of our early modern editions of Jacob Boehme, a 17th Century German mystic and theologian. Dr Smyth’s project focuses upon the English reception and translation of Boehme’s works, specifically by tracing readership through observation of ownership names and annotations.
During Dr Smyth’s visit, she looked at our copies of texts by a 17th C Welsh minister, Morgan Llwyd. Alongside his own composition of poetic and prose works on both secular and spiritual themes, Llwyd also translated several of Boehme’s works into English and Welsh.

Authorship inscription  Sp Coll Ferguson Ak-g.30

Authorship inscription
Sp Coll Ferguson Ak-g.30

Amongst the items Dr Smyth was studying, was an unassuming little book containing a copy of Llwyd’s translation of Boehme’s ‘A consideration upon the book of Esaias Stiefel. Of the threefold state of man, and his new birth‘. However, this small book held a secret. By comparison with a signature from one of Llwyd’s letters housed at the National Library of Wales, Dr Smyth was able to identify the ownership autograph found on the title page, as Morgan Llwyd’s own. She assures us that this has been the only copy of Boehme that her team has found where ownership can be definitively assigned to one of his British translators.

A similar letter depicting Llwyd’s handwriting can be found on the National Library of Wales’ online exhibition space.

Binding  Sp Coll Ferguson Ak-g.30

Sp Coll Ferguson Ak-g.30

There was some debate over whether another item bound within the same volume as ‘A consideration…’ had also belonged to Llwyd. Both the date of publication and the publisher are the same, perhaps indicative of a joint original ownership. Yet the presence of a later binding (potentially late 18th or early 19th C) along with the evidence of cropped marginal notes, may suggest that the two items were actually united post-Llwyd. Dr Smyth had also not found any other volumes that had combined these two works during her research. Combining this with the lack of ownership inscription for this second item, it was then concluded that the second item could not be positively identified as part of Llwyd’s personal collection.

Annotations Sp Coll Ferguson Ak-g.30

Sp Coll Ferguson Ak-g.30

Dr Smyth also examined the annotations throughout the volume in an attempt to discover if the annotations were potentially in Llwyd’s hand. After some consideration and comparison with the same set of manuscripts cited above, it was concluded that only the ownership inscription itself can confidently be identified as Llwyd’s.

Dr Smyth’s project is part of a larger project on Boehme funded by the Panacea Society, and centred at the Department of History, Goldsmiths, University of London. A link to the project’s website can be found below:


Categories: Special Collections

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