Report on the Books of Isaac Norris Cataloging Project
By Cordelia Neitz, Catalog Librarian

In anticipation of the nation's bicentennial celebration next year, the administration of Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, decided that the time had come to call attention to a collection of rare books given to the college in 1784 by Mary Dickinson, wife of John Dickinson, for whom the college was named. The gift consisted of items collected by her father, Isaac Norris II, Philadelphia merchant and statesman. The collection is a typical colonial gentleman's library, covering the fields of philosophy, religion, classical literature, law, medicine, mathematics, science, and history. Mr. Norris acquired and read books in French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, and German, as well as in English, and his critical and bibliographical notes within the volumes are frequently in the language of the text.

The Norris collection, with imprints from the sixteenth to early eighteenth centuries, had been only partially cataloged about twenty years ago by a librarian hired on a very temporary basis. With the financial assistance of the Pennsylvania Bicentennial Commission it was possible to put the collection in order for the use of historians and bibliographers. My role in the project has been to catalog the collection which is to be published eventually in book form. The challenges for a cataloger were many, as some of the volumes arrived from England in poor condition and appear without title-pages, and, in some cases, minus a small portion of the text. A catalogue compiled by Mr. Norris, as well as his account books, correspondence and binding records, located at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, have been most helpful.

I started my project in the usual way by searching the National Union Catalog and the Library of Congress catalogs in order to establish entries, to identify editions, and to locate copies of our volumes lacking title-pages and/or partial contents. From there I went on to the obvious sources available at our library, such as the catalogs of the British Museum and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Quérard, Barbier, Brunet, Grässe, Pallard and Redgrave, Wing, Watt, Lowndes, and the available biographical dictionaries and encyclopedias in French, German, Italian, and English. I knew that I could not answer all my problems from the reference tools available at the Dickinson College Library, fine as the collection is. An additional grant was given to me by the College so that I might travel during the first half of 1974 to further check out editions in libraries of the United States and England.

I began my search at Columbia University, where I had worked for about twenty years and knew my way around the reference collection and stack of the Butler Library an could count on help from the staff members, some of whom were known to me personally. My search there was profitable, as I turned up ten books from their collection with the title-page information to fill our needs. I was able to establish authorship of them more books and to fill in bibliographic information for many more titles.

In New York I visited also the library of the Union Theological Seminary and the New York Public Library. At the former I identified four editions of the seven I perused, and at the New York Public Library I had positive results from two of the three volumes I examined.

After my New York visit, I traveled down to Philadelphia to inspect the account books, correspondence and binding records of Mr. Norris at the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

My next stop was in Washington, D.C. where I visited the Library of Congress and consulted that section of the National Union Catalog no yet published and the Library of Congress catalogs. While there I examined, with some success, four rare books for the purpose of comparing the contents with our own volumes. The librarian in charge of the rare books in the Law Library of the Library of Congress was very helpful in steering me to legal bibliographies after I had failed to identify a law book from a title in the collection there. (I have since identified it from a copy at the British Library.)

I went from there to the Boston and New Haven areas where I visited the libraries of Harvard University, the Boston Public Library, and the libraries of Yale University. At Harvard, I was able to establish authorship for ten anonymous works, and to identify one edition of the four volumes I examined there. The others turned out to be variants of our editions. The Boston Public Library had one volume I wished to see, but it turned out to be not the one I needed. At Yale University I checked the union catalog in the Sterling Library and examined four books, all of which were variants of our editions. Going on to the fine Beinecke Library, I examined six volumes, with negative results. On visiting the Law Library of Yale, I learned that the volume I wished to see was not available, but I have since seen it elsewhere and identified our edition.

Between each of these visits to libraries in the United States I returned to my home base at Dickinson in order to coordinate the material I had gathered, and by process of elimination, to gather together the remaining problems for my trip to England, where I expected to complete my project within a month's time.

More than a year before my anticipated visit to England I had contacted Mr. L. J. Taylor, Librarian and Information Officer of the Library Association in London, who was most helpful to me in setting up interviews with librarians at the British Museum and the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Mr. Taylor greeted me most cordially in London and offered his assistance and the resources of the Library Association Library wherever I might need them. He suggested that I make this library my home in England. At the same time, he advised me that I could probably find everything I needed at the British Museum, and he proved to be correct. I had an interesting and valuable conversation with Mr. Taylor which set the stage for a profitable and warm relationship with other British librarians.

My contact at the British Library, located presently in the British Museum, was Mr. Howard Nixon, Deputy-Keeper of the Department of Printed Books. We had had correspondence prior to my visit, and I knew that he would be deeply involved in an exhibition of English restoration book-bindings about the time of my arrival in London in mid-May. I left my hotel in Russell Square, walked through the lovely park opposite, and come to the British Museum, where I was greeted by two guards examining the contents of all brief-cases and handbags. It was my first experience with examination on the way into a library, but I submitted meekly to a most affable guard, who came to know me better in the days that followed, but continued to examine as usual. As Mr. Nixon explained to me later: "They examine you for bombs on the way in and for books on the way out." For approximately thirty days, sometimes three times a day, the process was repeated. I was pleased not to be arriving by car, as every hood had to be raised on the way into the parking lot. I found Mr. Nixon, as anticipated, preoccupied with his beautiful exhibit. The British charm was in evidence again, as Mr. Nixon left his work and graciously cleared the way for my application for a "Reader's ticket." There was no problem, of course, with his sponsorship, and I received my ticket without delay and with the reassuring news that it is good for life. I would no longer have to pry kind librarians from their appointed tasks. My work at the British Library was exciting; and I was impressed with the efficiency of the organization there. I have occasionally heard criticism of the British Library because of the long delay at times for books requested. My own experience was quite the opposite. Replies came back in good time, and everything appeared to be in its place, although I sometimes had to come back the following day to examine a book. Twice my requests came back with the note: "Destroyed by bombing in the war." At least the report came back as to the exact disposal of the book, and I wondered how many of us could be quite that precise in the reporting books we could not locate. About half of the books I examined at the British Library were identical with ours, and I was able to supply the necessary information.

One of my purposes in going to London was to seek information on former owners of the Norris books. Most of the collection had come from England and contain signatures of famous Englishmen, such as "Ben Jonson", "William Cecil" and "Robert Cecil." I wished to check out their names, and although I had been told that it was an impossible task, things had gone along so rapidly in London, that I had enough time to try the impossible. I checked the baptismal, marriage, and death registers of Westminster Abbey, the Index of Wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, various county records, and other reference works in the British Library with some success. When I spent weekends on tours of England I found myself examining tombs instead of stained-glass windows, as my search continued. This work opened up a whole new genealogical world which I hope to pursue further in the coming years.

While in England, I visited other libraries not directly connected with my project, and I gained information from them which may be described at some later date. In the Bodleian Library at Oxford, Mr. Harvey, in charge of binding, and his staff gave me a fine demonstration and conducted tour of back-stage operations. Mr. Ian Michael, in charge of cataloging at the Hertford County Library System, spent a whole day introducing me to the intricacies of the system there, and at the Blackwell's in London, I had a cordial reception from Joyce Ferguson.

When I returned from England in June of 1974, I continued my work of cataloging the collection and have been sending cards to the National Union Catalog and to the Union Catalog of Pennsylvania. As the project nears completion, a number of interesting items have come to light. For instance, there are some rarities which appear to be unique in this country, as shown below:

1) Valla, Lorenzo. Laurentz Valle, poete, drateur romain sur la donation de Constantin empereur. (1520?)
This work was written in 1440 under the title: Declamatio de falso credita et ementita donatione Constantini (Ms. Codex Vaticanus 5314). First printed edition is that of Ulrich von Hutton, dated 1517, under the title: De falso credita et ementita Constantin denatione declamatio, according to C.B. Coleman in his English text of the work, dated 1922.i This work appears to be a real rarity, as a French edition published in Paris in 1879 purports to be the first one translated in French. This one, also in French, appeared more than three centuries earlier. Mr. Coleman had found no copy of Valla's works in the United States and very few of his separate writings here in 1922. I did not find this edition in the United States, but I saw it in the British Museum in London.


2) Arrivabene, Lodovico. Dialogo delle cose piv illvstri di Terra Santa...1592.
This book is part 2 of Adrichem, Christiaan. Breue descrittione delle citta di Gierusalemme. I did not find this edition in the United States, but found one at the British Library with the same pagination, except that the final page was incorrectly numbered 106 instead of 104.


3) Camerarius, Joachim. In hoc libro haec insunt. Hippocomicus quae est desputatio de curandis equis. Xenophontis liber de re equestri latinus factus...1556.
This work contains a manuscript note on the fly-leaf with the statement that "the author's works are scarce, because men of judgment 'purchase' them as soon as ever they meet them."


4) Nemesius, bp. of Emesa. Nemesii episcopi et philosophi De natvra hominis...1565.
This book, in Latin and Greek, is a first edition.


5) Kimhi, David. Commentarivm in Amos prophetam...1531.
A work in Hebrew, with Latin prefaces.

Many of the books are interesting, also, for their contents. One such is Vives, Juan Luis. …De disciplinis libri...1636.

According to the editor of our 1913 edition in English, this work compares favorably with that of Erasmus, his teacher, on the subject of education. Vives was much admired by Erasmus and Sir Thomas More. His views are quite modern by today's standards. He believed in teaching languages in the vernacular and with a minimum of grammar instruction. He suggested keeping notebooks to jot down, in the language being studied, daily observations and difficult words and phrases, with another notebook to translate and re-translate the language. This practice was an innovation after years of oral instruction. He relied on experience and observation and believed in the importance of nature-study. He used the inductive method.ii

Others, of a controversial nature, make interesting reading. Many of the works, especially those directed against the Church of Rome, or others of an heretical nature or politically inflammatory, were written pseudonymously and printed surreptitiously. The collection contains at least a dozen works printed by Pierre Marteau of Cologne, a fictitious printer established in Holland. Some writers under fire in the collection are:

1) John Bastwick (1593-1654) For his Flagellvm pontificis et episcoporum latialium, of which we have the second edition, dated 1635, the author was brought before the High Court of Commission, convicted of libel and fined 1000 pounds and costs and imprisioned in the Gatehouse until he would recant. Bastwick did not recant and continued to write. For a later book he lost his ears in the pillory, was fined 5000 pounds and imprisoned for life. He was later released and his fines returned, but was again imprisoned and released during the years of 1642 and 1643, a man not easily silenced.iii

2) Robert Parsons (1546-1610) a Jesuit missionary did not publish under his real name. His Elizabethæ, Angliæ reginæ, hæresin Calvinianam propvgnantis, 1592, appeared under the name "Andreus Philapetrus." He was out of favor with Queen Elizabeth because he wanted to restore England to the Roman Church, promoted the wars with Spain, befriended Mary Queen of Scots, and, it is said, plotted to assassinate the Queen. Small wonder that his inflammatory writings brought him exile and a miracle that he died a natural death.iv

3) Pierre de Belloy, a lawyer, wrote anonymously, and the printer, too, in his Examen dv discovrs pvblié contre la maison royalle de France...1587 is not mentioned. Although he wrote impartially and in moderation, he was considered a heretic and an atheist by some, and was sent to the Bastile for two years. He was an advocate of Henry IV's right to the throne in spite of his Protestantism. (Belloy was a Catholic.)v

4) Roger Widdrington's real name was Thomas Preston. His Apologia Cardinalis Bellarmini pro ivre princeipvm, 1611, was written under his pseudonym. He was a Benedictine monk who spent most of his life in prison, or the "Clink" as it was called, and was released periodically because of ill health, although he eventually died in prison. His crime was that he took the "oath of allegiance" against the Pope's deposing power.vi

Artistically, the Norris books are worthy of recognition. The printers' devices, ornamental initials, head- and tail- pieces are interesting, as well as some fine bindings, a few with coats-of-arms. Bookplates of former owners, as well as the one of Norris himself, are handsome. These aspects of the collection will be portrayed in the projected illustrated catalog.

Not the least significant of the byproducts of the bicentennial celebration is this contribution to the world of scholars, a collection of rarities too long overlooked.


i       Lorenzo Valla, The Treatise of Lorenzo Valla on the Donation of Constantine; text and translation into English by Christopher B. Coleman. (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1922).
ii     Juan Luis Vives. Vives: On Education... with an introduction by Foster Watson. (Cambridge Eng. Cambridge University Press, 1913).
iii   Dictionary of National Biography 1: 1309-10.
iv   Ibid: 15: 411-8.
v     Hoefer. Nouvelle biographie universelle 5: 287.
vi   Dictionary of National Biography 21: 180-2.