Treasures of Cambridge University Library

By Cambridge University Library

There are many items within the Library’s collections that are remarkable for their historical importance, uniqueness, beauty, fascinating content, or perhaps their personal associations.

Sumerian clay tablet (ca 2,200 BCE) by Ab-kid-kidCambridge University Library

This diminutive clay tablet was written by a Sumerian scribe in an administrative office around 2200 BCE.

The full translation of the laconic text runs as follows:
18 jars of pig fat – Balli.
4 jars of pig fat – Nimgir-ab-lah.
Fat dispensed (at ?) the city of Zabala.
Ab-kid-kid, the scribe.
4th year 10th month.

Inscriptions on bone: Oracle bones (1400-1200 BCE) by UnknownCambridge University Library

Over three thousand years old, the Chinese inscribed oracle bones in the Hopkins Collection are amongst the oldest written materials in Cambridge University Library.

Oracle bone texts are the oldest extant documents written in the Chinese language. Inscribed on ox shoulder-blades and the flat underside of turtle shells, they record questions to which answers were sought by divination at the court of the royal house of Shang 商, which ruled central China between the 16th and 11th centuries BCE.

The inscriptions on this bone refer to the ritual sacrifice of an ox to a royal ancestor.

Nash Papyrus (MS Or.233) Nash Papyrus (MS Or.233) (Middle of second century BCE)Cambridge University Library

The Nash Papyrus is a second-century BCE manuscript containing the text of the Ten Commandments followed by the principal Jewish prayer, the Šemaʿ.

Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls it was the oldest known manuscript containing a text from the Hebrew Bible.

Nash Papyrus (MS Or.233) Nash Papyrus (MS Or.233) (Middle of second century BCE)Cambridge University Library

Thought originally to be a fragment used for liturgical reading (due to the juxtaposition of the Ten Commandments and the Šemaʿ) , it has more recently been suggested that it could be from a phylactery (tefillin, the small boxes worn by observant Jews in daily prayer). Purchased from an Egyptian dealer in antiquities in 1902 by Dr Walter Llewellyn Nash and presented to the Library in 1903, the fragment was said to have come from the Fayyum, but its exact origins are unknown.

Nash Papyrus (MS Or.233) Nash Papyrus (MS Or.233) (Middle of second century BCE)Cambridge University Library

Multispectral photography can sometimes make the text clearer to read, or even reveal things hidden to the human eye.

Codex Bezae (MS Nn.2.41) Codex Bezae (MS Nn.2.41) (Late 4th/early 5th Century)Cambridge University Library

There are half-a-dozen ancient manuscripts which are the foundation of our understanding of the text of the New Testament writings. Codex Bezae is unique among them in being a bilingual manuscript - the Greek text and a Latin version on facing pages - providing a valuable insight into the reception of the Gospels and Acts in the western Christian tradition.

Codex Bezae (MS Nn.2.41) Codex Bezae (MS Nn.2.41, f. 40r) (Late 4th/early 5th Century)Cambridge University Library

The Latin version is one of a handful of witnesses to the development of a predecessor to Jerome's famous Vulgate of 382 CE. Secondly, The Greek text of Codex Bezae is strikingly different from that preserved in almost every other manuscript, and from the printed Greek text and the translations derived from it.

Codex Bezae (MS Nn.2.41) Codex Bezae (MS Nn.2.41, f. 39v) (Late 4th/early 5th Century)Cambridge University Library

The Codex Bezae also contains a story about Jesus found in no other manuscript (the story of the man working on the Sabbath, placed after Luke 6.4).

al-Qurʼān (MS Or.770) al-Qurʼān (MS Or.770) (Probably 3rd century AH / 9th century CE)Cambridge University Library

Fragments of an Abbasid Qurʼān, probably written in the third century A.H / ninth century C.E., containing verses from the suras: al-Dhārīyāt (سورة الذاريات), al-Ṭūr (سورة الطور), al-Najm (سورة النجم), al-Qamar (سورة القمر), and al-Raḥmān (سورة الرحمن).

The manuscript also contains fine examples of early geometrical ornamentation at the front and back.

Pārameśvaratantra (MS Add.1049.1) Pārameśvaratantra (MS Add.1049.1) (252 Aṃśuvarman/Mānadeva era / 828 CE.)Cambridge University Library

One of the oldest known dated Sanskrit manuscripts from South Asia, this specimen transmits a substantial portion of the Pārameśvaratantra.

Pārameśvaratantra (MS Add.1049.1) Pārameśvaratantra (MS Add.1049.1) (252 Aṃśuvarman/Mānadeva era / 828 CE.)Cambridge University Library

The Pārameśvaratantra is a scripture of the Śaiva Siddhānta, one of the Tantric theological schools that taught the worship of Śiva as "Supreme Lord" (the literal meaning of Parameśvara).

Cambridge Juvencus (MS Ff.4.42) (after c. 850 with glosses added between the latter half of the ninth century and the early eleventh century)Cambridge University Library

This manuscript is a rare survival, written in the ninth and tenth centuries in Wales. The main text is a Latin poetic retelling of the Gospel narrative by the fourth-century poet Juvencus but around it, in blank spaces and even between the lines, are numerous notes and shorter texts in Old Welsh and Old Irish as well as Latin.

In the top margin of this page and two others are some verses in Welsh which are believed to be the oldest surviving physical examples of poetry in Welsh.

Book of Deer (MS Ii.6.32) (850-1000 C.E.)Cambridge University Library

The Book of Deer is a small manuscript containing the text of the gospels in Latin which has been dated to the first half of the tenth century. While the manuscripts to which the Book of Deer is closest in character are all Irish, scholars have tended to argue for a Scottish origin, and it is widely regarded as the earliest manuscript produced in Scotland.

Short texts written in Gaelic were added to the manuscript in the twelfth century, relating to the monastery of Deer in Aberdeenshire, giving the book its name. At the start of each gospel text is a full-page illustration of a human figure or figures.

Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (MS Ff.1.24) (10th century)Cambridge University Library

This Greek manuscript, probably made in Constantinople in the tenth century, was brought to England in the thirteenth century at the instigation of the scholar and bishop Robert Grosseteste (c.1179-1253).

Pañcarakṣā (MS Add.1688) Pañcarakṣā (MS Add.1688) (14th regnal year of Nayapāla of Bengal (1054/1057))Cambridge University Library

The Pañcarakṣā corpus ("Five Protections") consists of the Mahāpratisarā, Mahāmāyūrī, Mahāsāhasrapramardanī, Mahāmantrānusāriṇī, and Mahāśītavatī.

Pañcarakṣā (MS Add.1688) Pañcarakṣā (MS Add.1688) (14th regnal year of Nayapāla of Bengal (1054/1057))Cambridge University Library

These scriptures include spells, enumerations of benefits and ritual instructions for use, that over time became deified and five related goddesses emerged.

This Bengalese manuscript, dated to the 11th century and commissioned by the queen Ḍaddākā (or Lāḍākā), is one of the oldest known examples of such a collection and is decorated with a series of thirty-six refined miniatures.

Life of St Edward the Confessor (MS Ee.3.59) (c.1250-1260) by Matthew Paris (d. 1259)Cambridge University Library

This is the only copy of an illustrated Anglo-Norman verse Life of St Edward the Confessor, written in England probably in the later 1230s or early 1240s and, as preserved in this manuscript, executed c. 1250-60.

It describes his visions and miracles, his patronage of Westminster Abbey and the manner of his death, before covering the downfall of his successor, Harold, and the eventual opening of the king's tomb.

It is considered a masterpiece of mid 13th century English illumination, telling how Edward was exiled as a boy during the Danish occupation and how his rule proved of benefit to the English people.

Here, we see Edward reporting a vision to his nobles in which the Danish King drowns.

Trilingual compendium of texts (MS Gg.1.1) Trilingual compendium of texts (MS Gg.1.1) (First half of 14th century, after 1307 C.E.)Cambridge University Library

This manuscript is a multilingual compendium of knowledge, containing over fifty texts of historical, geographical, cosmographical, literary and devotional interest.

Within the manuscript there are texts written in Latin, French (both Continental and Anglo-Norman varieties), and Middle English. It is a heavily decorated volume. This page is from a scientific treatise called L'Image du mode. As the illustrations show, this section deals with the roundness of the Earth and the force of gravity.

Trilingual compendium of texts (MS Gg.1.1) Diagram of the human brain (MS Gg.1.1, f. 490v) (First half of 14th century, after 1307 C.E.)Cambridge University Library

This short treatise on the brain draws on the works of Thomas Aquinas and the Arabic philosopher Avicenna.

The diagram of the human brain shows five cells or ventriculi representing the five 'powers' of thought (the common or imaging sense, imagination, estimation, cogitation and memory).

Breviary of Marie de Saint Pol (MS Dd.5.5) (Second quarter of the 14th century (probably c. 1330-1340))Cambridge University Library

This manuscript was owned, perhaps commissioned, by Marie de Saint Pol, Countess of Pembroke (c. 1304-1377). Marie has a particular connection with the history of the University of Cambridge, having founded a college here in 1347, that is now known as Pembroke College.

She was also responsible for the refounding of a priory near Waterbeach for the Franciscan Poor Clares, which subsequently became known as Denny Abbey, and where she was later buried.

Among the thirty-nine miniatures is one that shows Marie de Saint Pol in her heraldic mantle kneeling in veneration before St Cecilia.

In addition to thirty-nine illuminated column miniatures, the manuscript is heavily ornamented with decorated borders, marginal grotesques and bas-de-page scenes.

These have been identified as the work of a single artist, known as 'Mahiet', a professional illuminator who worked in Paris during the second quarter of the fourteenth century.

The Cambridge Mishnah (MS Add.470.1) (15th century)Cambridge University Library

The text of the Mishnah describes the first written account of the early Jewish oral tradition and the earliest significant work of Rabbinic Judaism.

The text dates from the period of the second century BCE at a time when persecution of the Jewish populations gave rise to the fear that the details of the oral traditions dating from the first five centuries BCE might be lost.

The Mishnah is divided into six orders (Shisha Sedarim) and over the next six centuries, along with further commentaries, came to form the Talmud.

This copy, made in the 15th century, is one of only three complete manuscripts of the Mishnah, and considered to be 'an outstanding witness of the western type of Mishnaic Hebrew'.

Kalpasūtra (MS Add.1765) (15th-16th century) by BhadrabāhuCambridge University Library

Traditionally attributed to Bhadrabāhu, the Kalpasūtra is a major canonical text of the ŚvetāmbaraJains, composed in Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit,

In a mixture of prose and verse, it contains the life-stories of the twenty-four Jinas, in particular Neminātha, Pārśvanātha and Mahāvīra.

Here, we see Mahāvīra in the Puṣpottara heaven. A representation of Mahāvīra’s previous birth as a god, before he is reborn for the last time as a human being who will become a Jina.

Gutenberg Bible (Inc.1.A.1.1[3761.1-2]) Gutenberg Bible (Inc.1.A.1.1[3761.1-2]) (ca. 1455)Cambridge University Library

The first Western European book to be printed using movable type was the Gutenberg Bible.

Around 180 copies of this Latin Bible were produced by Johann Gutenberg and Johannes Fust in Mainz in 1454–5.

Gutenberg’s technological innovations – the press itself, the metal type and the oil-based ink that adhered to it – revolutionised book production and were rapidly adopted by others across Europe.

Gutenberg Bible (Inc.1.A.1.1[3761.1-2]) Gutenberg Bible (Inc.1.A.1.1[3761.1-2]) (ca. 1455)Cambridge University Library

The printed sheets would be supplied and needed to be finished by hand at the point of supply. This meant purchasers could pay extra to further commission illuminated initials and borders, making their copy personal and unique, like those in this copy.

Apocalypse blockbook (Inc.3[4245]) Apocalypse blockbook (Inc.3[4245]) (ca. 1470, impression ca. 1478-1480)Cambridge University Library

Blockbook printing, which in its purest form meant the production of books with text and pictures entirely printed from incised wood blocks, emerged in parallel to typographic printing with moveable type, around the middle of the fifteenth century.

The earliest such book to have survived completely intact is a blockbook Apocalypse printed in the Low Countries.

Apocalypse blockbook (Inc.3[4245]) Apocalypse blockbook (Inc.3[4245]) (ca. 1470, impression ca. 1478-1480)Cambridge University Library

The text and images of the blockbook Apocalypse were borrowed from the tradition of English illustrated Apocalypse manuscripts, in particular a small group of ‘picture book’ manuscripts in which the explanatory text was integrated into the pictures rather than being set out separately.

Ortus sanitatis (Inc.3.A.1.8[37]) Ortus sanitatis (Inc.3.A.1.8[37]) (1491) by Jacob MeydenbachCambridge University Library

This is the first natural history encyclopaedia. Today we consult such works to discover more about wonders of the world we live in, but readers at the end of the fifteenth century had more practical concerns.

They believed that the natural world had been created by God to be of use to humanity and that animals and plants were there to provide cures for diseases. So this encyclopaedia is entitled Hortus sanitatis, ‘The garden of health’.

Ortus sanitatis (Inc.3.A.1.8[37]) Ortus sanitatis (Inc.3.A.1.8[37]) (1491) by Jacob MeydenbachCambridge University Library

Hortus sanitatis describes familiar animals too, but adds details of which readers might be ignorant: bile from gall bladders, for example, could be used to treat infected wounds.

It also includes descriptions of exotic creatures which few, if any, of its readers could have seen. The crocodile was of interest because, perhaps paradoxically, ointments made from its body parts would cure wrinkled skin.

Even dragons appear amongst the descriptions, as does the unicorn, which is recommends as a fertility aid for those struggling to conceive.

[Horae: ad usum Romanum (Rome): (French and Latin)] (Inc.5.D.1.19[2530]) (1491) by Pierre Le Rouge, for Vincent ComminCambridge University Library

This Book of Hours, printed on vellum, is illustrated by 28 full-page wood or metal cuts, all of which have been illuminated.

This illustration shows the figure of Zodiac Man in which parts of the body or bodily systems were associated with particular astrological signs.

The artist who created the original set of images for this book in the late 1480s is known as the Master of the Apocalypse Rose, because he made cartoons for the rose window of the Apocalypse in the Sainte Chapelle in Paris.

Nuremberg Chronicle (Inc.0.A.7.2[888]) Nuremberg Chronicle (Inc.0.A.7.2[888]) (1493) by Schedel, Hartmann, 1440 1514; Alt, Georg, ca. 1450 1510Cambridge University Library

The Nuremberg Chronicle, printed in Nuremberg 1493, is one of the most important German incunables and the most extensively illustrated book of the 15th century.

The text is a universal history of the Christian world from the beginning of times to the early 1490s. It is profusely illustrated with images of biblical and historical events, and topographical views of towns and countries in Europe and the Middle East, including Jerusalem (and its destruction) and Byzantium.

This colourful illustration depicts the Universe and concludes a Summary of the Creation of the World.

Shāhnāmah (MS Add.269) Shāhnāmah (MS Add.269) (Not after 1019/1610 C.E.) by FirdawsīCambridge University Library

This richly illuminated and almost complete copy of the Shahnamah, was probably copied in the 16th/17th Century CE.

This colourful frontispiece depicts Sultan Sulayman enthroned and surrounded by all sorts of creatures.

The Shāhnāmah is an epic poem, mixing myth, legend and the real history of the Iranian kings from ancient times to the Arab conquest in the seventh century.

It was written in Persian at a time when Arabic had become the established literary language of the Iranian lands, and is credited with the revival of the Persian language. Its fifty thousand couplets make it the world’s longest poem written by a single author.

De discrimine adulatorio et amici (MS Add.6858) (c.1513) by Erasmus, Desiderius, d. 1536 (Plutarch)Cambridge University Library

This unassuming book that lacks illumination was a less than subtle hint to Henry VIII.

In 1513, while he was at Cambridge, the Dutch philosopher Erasmus dedicated to Henry VIII his translation from Greek into Latin of Plutarch's De discrimine adulatoris et amici (How to tell a flatterer from a friend).

Written by a professional scribe, this manuscript is almost certainly a presentation copy.

In the dedicatory letter Erasmus expressed his hope that the treatise would be useful to the King and it is likely he was trying to warn Henry against following the advice of flattering councillors who had advocated the war against France.

Giovanni Boccaccio, Il Decamerone (5000.c.73) Giovanni Boccaccio, Il Decamerone (5000.c.73) (1516) by Boccaccio, Giovanni 1313-1375Cambridge University Library

This is a beautiful humanist edition of Boccaccio’s most famous work and one of the earliest with illustrations. Although it is based on the 1492 Florentine edition, the text was corrected with reference to early manuscripts, including one that was probably transcribed from authorial originals.

As well as being important in its own right, this particular copy has remarkable annotations in English and Italian by the Elizabethan spy William Herle (d. 1588/9), who worked for William Cecil and Francis Walsingham in the Low Countries.

An inscription in his hand can be seen on the title page.

Benedictional of Robert de Clercq (MS Nn.4.1) Benedictional of Robert de Clercq (MS Nn.4.1) (1519-1529) by illuminated by Simon Bening (1483-1561)Cambridge University Library

A Benedictional contains blessings, prayers, and rites intended for the personal use of a bishop. This one was commissioned by Robert de Clercq, abbot of a Cistercian monastery near Bruges. His arms, initials, and motto Sperans gaudebo (‘In hope I will rejoice’) are found throughout the volume.

The manuscript was illuminated by Simon Bening (1483-1561), one of the foremost Flemish miniaturists of the sixteenth century.

This full page miniature illustrates the "Presentation of the Virgin in Temple".

Bening has included de Clercq's coat of arms amongst a border full of light hearted and charming details.

Kalāpustaka (MS Add.864) (Around the end of the 16th or beginning of the 17th century.)Cambridge University Library

This masterfully crafted 17th-century Nepalese accordion book, completely consisting of polychrome drawings, has a total of one-hundred and forty-four illuminated pages of an extremely vivid grace and an exuberant, expressionistic character.

The paintings represent stories of both sacred and secular nature, often narrated along multiple pages. It is likely that this manuscript was a royal commission, probably by king Jayajitāmitramalla around the year A.D. 1600.

This marvellous two-page maṇḍala-like representation illustrates the episode known as rāsalīlā, the joyful dance and amorous sport among Kṛṣṇa and the Gopīs that occured on the night of the full moon in the month of Kārttika (aka rāsapūrṇimā).

al-Qurʼān (Nn.3.75, fol. 3v) (before 1028 A.H./1618 C.E.)Cambridge University Library

This magnificent Illuminated Qurʾān has two decorated medallions (one shown here) and two magnificent headpieces containing the Fātiḥa. The text of the Qurʾān is followed by some prayers and a Fal-nāmah.
From the Library of Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore, seized by the British East India Company after he was killed during the siege of his palace in 1799. This manuscript was subsequently presented to the Library by the Company.

Titi Lucretii Cari De rerum natura libri sex (Montaigne.1.4.4) (1563) by Lucretius Carus, TitusCambridge University Library

This copy of Lucretius' poem De rerum natura (On the nature of things), printed in Paris in 1563, belonged to the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) and is covered with his notes and annotations.

It allows us a remarkable insight into the way that Montaigne read and understood Lucretius, from which
he quotes extensively in his Essais.

A mervaylous discourse vpon the lyfe, deedes, and behaviours of Katherine de Medicis: Queene mother … (Adv.e.8.1) (1575)Cambridge University Library

This translation of an anonymous European bestseller was published in London in 1575.

The copious marginal notes in this diminutive volume are evidence of an extraordinarily intensive reading of the volume by the Cambridge scholar and bibliophile Gabriel Harvey (1552/3–1631).

They offers us a unique record of an English analysis of contemporary French history and broadens our knowledge of one of the most conspicuous and fascinating early modern annotators.

Mathew Holmes lute book (MS Dd.2.11) (c. 1588-1595) by Mathew HolmesCambridge University Library

This large volume containing lute music was copied by Matthew Holmes, Precentor and Singingman of Christ Church in Oxford probably between 1588 and 1595. The collection of lute manuscripts copied by Holmes and now in the collection of Cambridge University Library are the most extensive and important source of English lute music to survive in the world, totalling over 650 separate items.

The Holmes manuscripts are the major source of the music of all the great English renaissance lute composers and preserve a complete cross-section of the repertoire in common use in England for the period 1580 to 1615.

The theatre of the empire of Great Britaine (Atlas.2.61.1) (1603-1611)Cambridge University Library

One of five known sets of proof maps prepared for John Speed's 'The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine', which was published in 1611/12.

The set includes a map of "Britain at the time of the Saxon Heptarchy" and a map of Great Britain & Ireland (shown here), followed by individual country and county maps that all feature additional elements such as illustrations of major towns or cites, scenes of local interest and the coats of arms of local nobles.

The maps were printed from copper plates which had been engraved. Maps printed from the plates - proofs - would have been sent back to England for checking. The maps in this set of proofs are in a late state of preparation, but many were altered before being published.

Harmonia macrocosmica (Atlas.3.66.1) (1661) by Andreas CellariusCambridge University Library

This spectacular rainbow-coloured illustration is from a seventeenth-century celestial atlas and shows the sizes of the heavenly bodies relative to that of the Earth.

Andreas Cellarius’ Harmonia macrocosmica was published in Amsterdam in 1660 and this second issue (1661) is one of the great treasures of Cambridge University Library’s extraordinary collection of early printed books.

Newton's Waste Book (MS Add.4004) Newton's Waste Book (MS Add.4004) (c. 1612-c. 1690) by Newton, Isaac, Sir, 1642-1727Cambridge University Library

In 1665, the University of Cambridge temporarily closed due to an outbreak of plague, meaning the young Isaac Newton had to work from home.

It was in this aptly named notebook that Newton recorded his work during this period, in which he began to develop his theories of calculus and gravity.

Shakespeare First Folio (SSS.10.6) (1623) by Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616Cambridge University Library

The First Folio is the first collected edition of William Shakespeare's plays. It was collated and published in 1623, seven years after his death, by two of his friends.

Only 17 of his plays had been printed during his lifetime, meaning the First Folio played a key role in the survival of the texts.

Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu (FH.910.83-98) Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu (FH.910.83-98) (1633)Cambridge University Library

This is the earliest Chinese book printed by the technique of polychrome xylography known as douban invented and perfected by Hu Zhengyan 胡正言 (1584-1674). The method involves the use of multiple printing blocks which successively apply different coloured inks to the paper to reproduce the effect of watercolour painting.

Created as a manual of calligraphy and painting, most of the images are also followed by an accompanying text, in most cases a poem.

Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu (FH.910.83-98) Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu (FH.910.83-98) (1633)Cambridge University Library

Great skill is required to achieve a convincing result, but the beautiful gradations of colour in this work have led to its reputation as "perhaps the most beautiful set of prints ever made".

Yet it was so fragile that it was previously forbidden to be opened until its recent digitisation. Perhaps this is why it has now been identified as the finest and only extant complete copy in the original binding.

Trinity College Notebook (MS Add.3996) Trinity College Notebook (MS Add.3996), Newton, Isaac, Sir, 1642-1727, c. 1661 - c. 1665, From the collection of: Cambridge University Library
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This notebook was used by Isaac Newton as a young student when he was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, on 5 June 1661.

Upon his death, Newton's family asked his colleague Thomas Pellet to examine his papers. This notebook was subsequently deemed "not fit to be printed" as we see here.

Trinity College Notebook (MS Add.3996) Trinity College Notebook (MS Add.3996), Newton, Isaac, Sir, 1642-1727, c. 1661 - c. 1665, From the collection of: Cambridge University Library
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The notebook bears witness to Newton’s first steps in the Aristotelian curriculum of the early modern university. As well as books he was recommended to read for his studies, it also shows him starting to read for himself and comment not only on classical sources, but also contemporary natural philosophical writing.

Trinity College Notebook (MS Add.3996) Trinity College Notebook (MS Add.3996) (c. 1661 - c. 1665) by Newton, Isaac, Sir, 1642-1727Cambridge University Library

In addition to his reading notes, we also see Newton explore natural philosophy through experimentation.

Laboratory Notebook (MS Add.3975) (c.1669-c.1693) by Newton, Isaac, Sir, 1642-1727Cambridge University Library

Isaac Newton's later Laboratory Notebook, which he used c. 1669-c.1693, we even see him experimenting upon himself!

Here he famously describes how he "tooke a bodkin & put it betwixt my eye & the bone as neare to the Backside of my eye as I could". He was interested in the visual stimulus and the physiological process by which we see.

Philosophiæ naturalis principia mathematica (Adv.b.39.1) (1687) by Newton, Isaac, Sir, 1642-1727Cambridge University Library

Newton published his work on the mathematical principles of natural philosophy (which included his work on gravity) or "Philosophiæ naturalis principia mathematica", more commonly referred to as the "Principia", in 1687.

Seen as one of the most important books in the history of science, Newton quickly began work on an improved second edition. This copy of the first edition is Newton’s own, heavily annotated throughout by him with changes to be introduced into that second edition.

Suehirogari (FJ.1000.23) Suehirogari (FJ.1000.23) (around Kanbun 寛文 period (1661-1673))Cambridge University Library

This exquisite Japanese scroll contains a story which describes the origin of the folding fan.

The story itself dates to the Muromachi 室町 period (1393-1573), with this scroll likely to date to the latter half of the 17th Century and the illustrations done by artists of the Tosa School of Painting (土佐派).

Nature printing (MS Add.10141) Nature printing (MS Add.10141), Darwin, Charles, 1758-1778; Darwin, Erasmus, 1731-1802, c.1770, From the collection of: Cambridge University Library
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This small volume of ‘nature printed’ leaves and flowers offers an intriguing insight into late eighteenth-century botany. It belonged to Charles Darwin (1758-1778), the eldest son of Dr Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) and uncle to the Charles Darwin of the ‘theory of evolution’ fame.

Nature printing (MS Add.10141) Nature printing (MS Add.10141) (c.1770) by Darwin, Charles, 1758-1778; Darwin, Erasmus, 1731-1802Cambridge University Library

Nature printing was a technique for making an impression directly from a plant by inking a flattened specimen and pressing the inked side onto paper.

Sketchbook III (MS Add 7983) (1833-1834) by Martens, Conrad, 1801-1878Cambridge University Library

In 1831, the young Charles Darwin set off on a survey expedition with Captain FitzRoy aboard HMS Beagle. The voyage was supposed to be for two years but in the end it lasted for almost five years!

As well as the naturalist Darwin, the expedition crew also included an artist. One of these, Conrad Martens, recorded his journey in a series of sketchbooks.

In this evocative watercolour sketch, we are given a view of Mount Sarmiento (in Chilean Tierra del Fuego) from an opposite shore, and can also catch a glimpse of the HMS Beagle itself to the left.

Sketchbook I (MS Add 7984) (1834-1835) by Martens, Conrad, 1801-1878Cambridge University Library

In addition to the wide variety of natural features experienced on the voyage, Conrad Martens also records the people and places they encounter along the way.

This detailed architectural pencil sketch shows a view of houses in the Chilean city of Valparaíso with a seated figure, perhaps having a nap, and some distant ships in the harbour.

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