Classification in private library catalogues of the English Renaissance, 1500-1640
Library inventories are widely acknowledged for their importance in intellectual history, but there are few detailed studies of library classification in this context. The discussion centres on the inventories of 36 English private libraries from 1521 to 1640, with a view to understanding what could have prompted a compiler to adopt one system of arrangement instead of another. Nine of the inventories are transcribed from unpublished manuscripts, including lists of the books of William Paget, 4th Baron Paget (1617), William Somner (1639), and a previously unidentified catalogue of the books of the physician William Rant (1595). The classification of books was a matter of some concern at the time: the problems raised by library classification were beginning to attract the attention of writers on the subject, and a compiler's approach was not always as haphazard as it may seem at first. On the whole, however, the classification of books was more spontaneous than deliberate, and it is for this reason that it was often finely attuned to the professional concerns and personal interests of owners, as well as to the cultural climate of the time (religious controversies, interest in languages other than Latin). The medieval trivium was losing its momentum in the classifications of the period, and mathematics, for centuries associated with the quadrivium in classifications, was viewed in a new light under the influence of Neo-Platonism. New trends in library classification appeared side by side with age-long practices, thereby underscoring the deeply transitional nature of the period.