Magdalene College, Cambridge is home to two distinct special collections libraries with a combined total of c. 16,500 items. The more famous of the two, the Pepys Library, is the personal library of Samuel Pepys, 17th-century diarist and Secretary to the Admiralty under Charles II and James II. The Pepys Library is open to the public six afternoons a week. The Old Library, distinct from the Pepys Library, is Magdalene’s collection of rare books and manuscripts which has developed throughout the history of the College. It is a less well known but larger collection of books compared to the Pepys Library and includes almost one thousand continental works published in the 16th century. The Pepys Library and Old Library have a collection of 42 incunabula, most of which are English but some are from the European centres of printing.
The Pepys Library
A private library, wrote Pepys, should comprehend ‘in fewest books and least room the greatest diversity of subjects, stiles and languages its owner’s reading will bear’. The contents of his own library, in fact, reflect a remarkably wide range of interests. Literature, history, science, music and the fine arts are strongly represented. One of the treasures of the library is the series of diaries Pepys kept from 1660-1669. Pepys was a scholar of Magdalene College, and by codicils added to his will directed that his library – the collection of a lifetime – should pass into its possession and be housed in this building after the death of his nephew and heir, John Jackson (1723). The 3,000 volumes (mostly bound especially for him) are to stand here, without addition or subtraction, ‘for the benefit of posterity’. They are kept as he left them – arranged ‘according to heighth’ in the book-presses which he had made for him in a naval dockyard.
The Old Library
The first known home of the Library was in the Chapel’s roof in the mid-seventeenth century. Luckily a more suitable home was found for the books in First Court in 1733, moving to its present position in the same court in 1847. The collection comprises mostly of bequests by past College Masters: Nevile, Goche, Duport, Waterland and notably Peter Peckard. Peckard’s sizeable collection of books contributes to the Old Library’s strength in 17th and 18th-century theological works. More recently, the Old Library received a portion of TS Eliot’s personal library, bequeathed by Valerie Eliot.