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Pepys Library OCTOBER 2015

An exploration of a fascinating library

The Pepys Library and the historic collection of Magdalene College, Cambridge form the beating heart of the college. As Dr Rowan Williams says in his preface to our new book, seventeenth-century antiquarians knew that their heritage was a fragile one, vulnerable to the wild swings of politics and religion; the Reformation and the Civil War were fresh in their minds, and the Great Fire of London had swallowed up much of the physical and intellectual geography of old, leaving ash in its wake. Samuel Pepys, the great diarist, wanted to safeguard the future of his library and to this end he left his library to his former college. In 1724, the collection found its permanent home in a striking new building. 
There it resides to this day: medieval manuscripts rest alongside early printed books by Caxton and Wynkyn de Worde; a naval collection reflects Pepys’s time as Secretary to the Admiralty; works by Pepys’s contemporaries and members of the Royal Society stand as invaluable building blocks of today’s literary and academic theory. Accompanying these works is a fascinating collection of letters, playbills and invitations; scraps from the past that add colour to our perception of the era. 
Some 3,000 items make up the Pepys collection while Magdalene’s collection has evolved organically, as benefactors leave their legacies to the college and fresh new scholarship pours in for the use of students and scholars. Through unique photographs and fascinating descriptions, The Pepys Library and the Historic Collections of Magdalene College Cambridge by M.E.J. Hughes celebrates the library’s long, proud history as well as its continuing importance to scholarly thought. As long as there are students in the world, the historic collection will be needed, and this new volume provides the ideal introduction.