James Logan (1674-1751), a Scottish Quaker, was a scholar, scientist, entrepreneur, and public servant. In 1699, Logan left England as an agent for William Penn and eventually settled in Philadelphia. Logan would eventually become mayor of Philadelphia, chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, lieutenant governor, and acting governor. He is perhaps best known, however, for being a bibliophile, confessing once that “Books are my disease” (Basbanes, 1995, p. 130). Some commentators consider Logan’s library to be the largest and best collection of classical writings in America (Wolf, 1955; Farren, 1976).
Logan would in time become known to Benjamin Franklin and his “Junto”, an influential group of friends that would meet weekly and discuss scholarly and political issues. Eventually, the Junto decided to establish a subscription library, a cooperative endeavor where members would pay a fee for use of the library (Sable, 1987). Franklin and the other members of the Junto considered Logan the “best Judge of Books in these parts” (Wolf, 1967, p. 33) and chose him to select the first 43 titles for the library (Sable, 1987, p. 32).
At the same time Logan was helping to build the collection for the Library Company of Philadelphia, he was adding to his own personal library which was considered substantial in number and breadth (Wolf, 1967, p. 33; Sable, 1987, p. 32). He planned on donating his library for public use after his death and to this end he had a building constructed on Sixth Street in Philadelphia (Sable, 1987, p. 32). Upon Logan’s death, and after a lengthy delay due to some confusion in his will, through an act of the Pennsylvania Assembly and the governor on Mar. 31, I792, the 3,953 volumes and other property of the Loganian Library were "vested in the Library Company of Philadelphia, their successors and assigns, for ever, in trust for the support and increase of the said Loganian Library." (Wolf, 1956, p. 349, fn. 32).
The Loganian Library, as he wished it to be called (Basbanes, 1995, p. 135), was diverse. The catalog of its final holdings is now lost but a partial inventory done in 1760 reveals a wide selection of books (Wolf, 1967, p. 35). The book distribution by date reveals nothing out of the ordinary. Most were from the seventeenth century with 57 percent. Next came those from the eighteenth century at 27 percent. Finally, there was a good number from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries at 16 percent. The collection was mostly British and northern European with 33 percent from Britain; the Netherlands, 24 percent; Germany, 17 percent; France, 13 percent; Switzerland, 9 percent; Italy, 2 percent; and others (Scandinavia, Spain, Poland, Russia, America) at 2 percent (Farren, 1976).
The distribution of the books by subject in the 1760 catalog is equally diverse with history, antiquities, geography, chronology, etc. at 22 percent. Religious subjects of divinity and ecclesiastical history constituted 15 percent. Scientific subjects such as “physick,” “mathematicks”, and natural history was at 16 percent. Literary subjects such as orators, poets, fables, romances, etc. at 14 percent with philology at 13 percent. Philosophy, surprisingly, was only 6 percent while arts, liberal and mechanical, “magick,” etc. was 3 percent. The remaining subjects were as follows: medicine, surgery, and “chymistry,” 2 percent; law, 2 percent; voyages and travels, 1 percent; philosophical history, 1 percent, and miscellaneous, 5 percent (Farren, 1976).
Logan’s library contained many 17th and 16th century classical works such as a 1615 edition of Archimedes’ works, the mathematical treatise of Pappus of Alexandria printed in 1660, an Aratus of Soles from 1672, Elzevir’s architecture publication of 1649 from Amsterdam, Johann Vossius’ De Quatuar Artibus Popularibus published in 1650, and a 1599 edition of astronomy edited by Barthelemy Pitiscus (Wolf, 1967, pp. 35-37). In one famous episode, Logan was reading a treatise on early astronomy by Johann Fabricius and read that the first printed edition of Greek astronomer Ptolemy’s Almagest was printed in Greek in1538. Logan was certain that it was released in an earlier Latin version, having sold it and his other books in Dublin before he left in 1699. Logan wrote Fabricius and politely explained his conviction. In reply, Fabricius reaffirmed his contention and sent his own 1538 copy as proof. Unconvinced, Logan wrote his agent in London, explaining that he had sold his library to a bookseller who lived on Castle Street and to see if he knew of the book’s location. His agent was successful in finding the book and sent to Logan where it was confirmed that it was a Latin edition of the Almagest published in 1515 (Basbanes, 1995, pp. 132-133). Such was the strength of Logan’s bibliographic mind as professed by Benjamin Franklin.
Basbanes, N. (1995). A gentle madness. New York: Henry Holt & Co.
Farren, D. (1976). The library of James Logan of Philadelphia, 1674-1751 by Edwin Wolf [book review]. The library quarterly, 46:65-69.
Sable, M. H. (1987). The Library Company of Philadelphia: Historical survey, bibliography, chronology. International library review, 18:29-46.
Wolf, E. (1955). The early buying policy of the Library Company of Philadelphia. Wilson library quarterly, 55: 316-318.
Wolf, E. (1956). The romance of James Logan's Books. The William and Mary quarterly, 3: 342-353.
Wolf, E. (1967). James Logan, Bookman Extraordinary. Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 79:33-46
With the rapid spread of the printing press, printed books began to replace tediously hand-copied texts (Harrison and Laslett, 1965). This proliferation gave rise to the Golden Age of Libraries (Murray, 2009, pp. 116-118). Both private and institutional libraries grew as a result of increased trading revenues and spoils of war (Murray, 2009, pp.116-118).
Harkening back to the days of the Roman libraries, private libraries were seen as a status symbol. Men such as Medici, Montefeltro, Richard de Bury, and Lord Spencer amassed huge collections, some of which would become the genesis for national libraries (Murray, 2009, pp. 69, 74-75). Not all libraries, however, served such purposes. As books became cheaper and more attainable, scholars began to create personal libraries for their own personal use (Harrison and Laslett, 1965, p.1).
The personal libraries of John Locke and Isaac Newton were not ornamental but utilitarian. Their books were not for pleasure but for use (Harrison, 1978, p. 1). Neither library would be considered grand. Locke had 3,641 and Newton had around 2,100 (Harrison and Laslett, 1965, p. 1; Harrison, 1978, pp. 11-12). Though small compared to the likes of Huber, de Bury, and Lord Spencer, nobody could argue that they did more with less.
These two polymaths had the one main ingredient to building a library: income. By no means wealthy, Newton did have a considerable income which allowed him to purchase books (Harrison, 1978, p. 7). He liked to purchase books for a discount and even noted such occasions in the book itself with pleasure (Harrison, 1978, p. 4). Newton would also get his books as gifts, presentations from other authors due to his scientific eminence (Harrison, 1978, p.12). Even though Newton rarely ventured far from Trinity College at Cambridge, Newton never cataloged his library. Surprisingly, for a man who helped organize the universe and how it operates, Newton’s library was in a “regulated state of apparent disorder” (Harrison, 1978, p. 1). Newton died without a will and his library was subsequently bought by the Warden of the Fleet Prison for next to nothing (Harrison and Laslett, 1965, p.13).
Locke, on the other hand, was meticulous in his record keeping, consistent with his training as a physician (Harrison and Laslett, 1965, p. 13). In fact it is possible to see the growth of his library from his first year of school at Christ Church in 1652 to the year of his death in 1704 (Harrison, 1965, p. 13-14). Unlike Newton, however, Locke never had the whole of his library with him until the last years of his life (Harrison and Laslett, 1965 p. 18). This was because he spent a considerable amount of time overseas in political exile due to the religious wars that were ravaging the country. In fact, Locke witnessed the last general burning of books in England before fleeing to Rotterdam (Harrison and Laslett, 1965, p.3).
As Locke travelled, he spent his money freely on books. Before his exile, Locke travelled extensively in France, collecting books along the way. Eventually he ran out of room and was forced to send some home. Like the philosopher, his books did a great deal of travelling as they were often spread throughout England (Harrison and Laslett, 1965, pp. 2-3). Locke never stayed at the family estate he inherited, and thus, never had a permanent place for his books until the last fourteen years of his life. When he was forced into exile, his books at Oxford were barely rescued by his friend James Tyrell (Harrison and Laslett, 1965, p.3). Like his friend Newton, Locke’s library was built by purchases and gifts as presentations. Others made his way to his library as either defenses or criticisms of his works (Harrison and Laslett, 1965, p.5). During the last years of his life, he continued to increase his holdings, becoming more of a bibliophile than a philosopher in need of books. When he died, he had no children. He divided his books between his cousin and the young boy of his patrons (Harrison and Laslett, 1965, p. 8-9).
In conclusion, these are two examples of private libraries assembled for a specific purpose. No thought was given during their creation for bestowing them to a university as a seed for a larger library or having them live on as part of an institution. As utilitarian creations, their existence ceased when their creators died, having served their purpose for their masters and, in a larger sense, humanity.
Harrison, J. (1978). The library of Isaac Newton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Harrison, J., & Laslett, P. (1965). The library of John Locke. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Murray, S.A.P., (2009). The library: An illustrated history. Chicago: Sky Horse Publishing.