Ross King

Ex Libris

I am grateful to Dr. Bryan King for his assistance with matters alchemical and astronomical.

For Lynn

Me, poor man, my library

Was dukedom large enough…

– Shakespeare, The Tempest

I. The Library

Chapter One

Anyone wishing to purchase a book in London in the year 1660 had a choice of four areas. Ecclesiastical works could be bought from the booksellers in St. Paul's Churchyard, while the shops and stalls of Little Britain specialised in Greek and Latin volumes, and those on the western edge of Fleet Street stocked legal texts for the city's barristers and magistrates. The fourth place to look for a book-and by far the best-would have been on London Bridge.

In those days the gabled buildings on the ancient bridge housed a motley assortment of shops. Here were found two glovers, a swordmaker, two milliners, a tea merchant, a book binder, several shoemakers, as well as a manufacturer of silk parasols, an invention that had lately come into fashion. There was also, on the north end, the shop of a plummassier who sold brightly-coloured feathers for the crowns of beaver hats like that worn by the new king. Most of all, though, the bridge was home to fine booksellers-six of them in all by 1660. Because these shops were not stocked to suit the needs of vicars or lawyers, or anyone else in particular, they were more varied than those in the other three districts, so that almost everything ever scratched on to a parchment or printed and bound between covers could be found on their shelves. And the shop on London Bridge whose wares were the most varied of all stood halfway across, in Nonsuch House, where, above a green door and two sets of polished window-plates, hung a signboard whose weather-worn inscription read:

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