Trip report: Royal College of Physicians

There was no post on Friday because I was away from home, so here’s a post about where I went to make up for it. I was in London, and among other things I visited Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee at the Royal College of Physicians. It’s not open on weekends, so I had to take advantage of the school holiday to get down there.


Anyway, John Dee had a famously extensive library, and while he was away in Europe it got “borrowed” by various friends and colleagues. Part of it wound up in the collection of Henry Pierrepont, which then found its way into the collection of the Royal College of Physicians; some of those volumes are now on display, including books by Dee and works with annotations in his hand. There are some very cool examples of Renaissance scientific and mathematical books, including a lovely Trithemius Polygraphie with a rotating paper wheel or volvelle.

It’s not a huge exhibit, and if you’re an expert on Dee (which I am not) you probably won’t find anything you don’t already know, but it’s definitely cool to see Dee’s marginal notations and the little faces he drew. I also learned that those little pointy hands in Renaissance and medieval documents are called manicules (I think), which I either did not know or forgot.

So if you’re interested in the history of Renaissance science and occultism, and you happen to be around the Great Portland Street area on a weekday this spring or summer, check out the Dee exhibit. It’s fascinating and probably won’t take you more than about 45 minutes or so.

Trip report: Royal College of Physicians

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