William Hunter’s Library: the Ks

With 87 entries, the ‘K’ section of William Hunter’s Trustees Catalogue (MR 3 as it is now) forms a relatively small proportion of the whole. But, as with the other sections of the catalogue, some themes and books emerge that can act as highlights.

Kaempfer, Kemys, and Keith: Reporting on New Worlds

Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716) was a German physician and explorer who travelled across Eurasia and the Middle East before joining the Dutch East India Company as a surgeon. He then travelled along the coast of India along the way to Batavia and Japan. He spent two years in Japan before returning to Europe in 1695. He published Amoenitatum exoticarum politico-physico-medicarum fasciculi V in his home town of Lemgo in 1712 (Sp Coll Hunterian H.6.11). This described the exotic plants he had seen while travelling, including Japanese plants. The great collector Hans Sloane acquired Kaempfer’s collections and manuscripts after his death and brought them to London. Sloane had Kaempfer’s ‘History of Japan’ translated and published it at his own expense. [1] The history of Japan: giving an account of the antient and present state and government of that empire … Together with a description of the kingdom of Siam appeared in 1728 (Sp Coll Hunterian Av.1.4-5). This important publication became the main source of information in the West about Japan for centuries.

Lawrence Keymis (1564/5-1618) was an English adventurer and supporter of Sir Walter Ralegh who undertook exploratory missions to Guiana with the hope of finding gold. He accompanied Ralegh on his expeditions to the New World in 1595, 1596, and 1616. Hunter had his account of the second mission, A relation of the second voyage to Guiana. Perfourmed and written in the yeare 1596 published in London in 1596 (Sp Coll Hunterian K.6.1). Kemys met a dramatic end. He instigated an attack on Spanish settlers during the third Guiana expedition. Ralegh’s son was killed while leading the assault and the party’s search for gold was unsuccessful. Kemys reported the failed attack and search to Ralegh who had forbidden any interaction with the Spanish since he knew that King James would not support him or the expedition if they threatened international relations with Spain. Kemys, distraught at Raleigh’s dismissal, left Ralegh’s ship saying that he knew what to do. He returned to his own ship and a shot rang out minutes later. His self-inflicted shot failed to kill him and he then stabbed himself through the heart with a long knife.[2]

Sir William Keith  (c. 1669-1749) also had an interesting career in the New World. Born in Aberdeenshire, the sometime Jacobite on his return to Britain from the exiled court at St Germain sought a customs post in North America. He took up a post in Virginia but soon moved to Philadelphia where he schemed to replace the deputy governor there. With the support of William Penn and his agents, Keith obtained the role he craved. At first a successful politician, he soon began to abuse his power and he lost the support of the Penn family and then his post. He returned to England and tried to gain the favour of the government with the hope of obtaining another colonial post. He was unsuccessful and by the 1730s was in prison for debt. When his political ambitions failed, he turned to journalism, publishing a weekly paper, pamphlets, and a history of Virginia.[3]

Hunter owned Keith’s history of Virginia,  The history of the British plantations in America, … With a chronological account of the most remarkable things, which happen’d to the first Adventurers in their several discoveries of that new world. Part I. Containing The history of Virginia; with remarks on the trade and commerce of that Colony (Sp Coll Hunterian Db.1.21).

Kepler: Other Worlds

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), meanwhile, discovered some of the mathematical laws that enabled travel to worlds beyond our own. Hunter had Kepler’s works on optics and astronomy in his library, a few examples follow here. Kepler’s cosmological theories provided the evidence for the heliocentric world that Copernicus described. Kepler also determined that planetary orbits are elliptical and have different speeds. His Astronomia nova aitiologetos, seu physica coelestis (1609) (Sp Coll Hunterian Aw.1.12) set out his planetary laws of motion. Hunter’s copy is bound with Tabulae Rudolphinae (Sp Coll Hunterian Aw.1.12), the astronomical tables started by Tycho Brahe and completed by Kepler who acted as Brahe’s assistant and continued his observations after his death.  Kepler’s Harmonices mundi libri V (1619) (Sp Coll Hunterian R.3.6) expanded the themes introduced in Astronomia nova aitiologetos. Harmonices mundi libri V was bound with Prodromus dissertationum cosmographicarum, continens mysterium cosmographicum de admirabili proportione orbium coelestium (1621) in Hunter’s library.

Closer to home, Kepler investigated optics [Ad Vitellionem paralipomena, quibus astronomiae pars optica traditur (Sp Coll Hunterian R.6.13)] and defended the use of John Napier’s recently introduced logarithms as a valuable tool in mathematical research [Chilias logarithmorum ad totidem numeros rotundos, praemissa Demonstratione legitima ortus logarithmorum eorumque usus… (Sp Coll Hunterian L.5.24)].

Benjamin Kennicott and the Hebrew Old Testament

On 2 February 1773, Benjamin Kennicott wrote to Hunter enclosing two of his works and thanking Hunter for his patronage as one of ‘the Learned and the Illustrions’ who supported his work. Kennicott was a biblical scholar whose project was to use Hebrew manuscripts to produce a definitive version of the text of the Old Testament. He issued regular updates about his work, many of which Hunter had in his library, including his enclosures. Hunter also had the completed work, Vetus Testamentum Hebraicum, cum variis lectionibus. Edidit Benjaminus Kennicott published in Oxford in two volumes in 1776 and 1780.  (Sp Coll Hunterian Dk.1.6-7). In MR 3 this is listed with other bibles so appears in the ‘B’ section of the catalogue. Now that the initial transcription of MR 3 is complete, we can more easily check for books listed anywhere in the list.


[1] Arthur MacGregor, ‘Sloane, Sir Hans, baronet (1660–1753)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/25730, accessed 19 July 2017].

[2]  Anita McConnell, ‘Keymis , Lawrence (1564/5–1618)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/15341, accessed 19 July 2017].

[3] W. A. Speck, ‘Keith, Sir William, fourth baronet (c.1669–1749)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2010 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/68696, accessed 19 July 2017].

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  1. William Hunter’s Library: the Ks – Karen Baston

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