(Kilner, Joseph)

The account of Pythagoras’s School in Cambridge ; as in Mr. Grose’s Antiquities of England and Wales, and other notices.

(No publication details, but Oxford (?), for private distribution early 1790s).

Reference: 07832
Price: £695 [convert currency]

Full Description

Folio. v + (1) + pp 5-56 + (4) + pp 59-158, 9 engraved plates (of which 2 folding). Contemporary full calf, repaired and slightly cracking at joints, and bumped at outer corners, recent label on spine. Nineteenth century engraved armorial bookplates of Frances Mary Richardson Currer (1785-1861 : see Seymour de Ricci, English Collectors of Books and Manuscripts, pp.141-3) and of her heir Sir Mathew Wilson, Bart. (1802-1891). Later pencil inscription on verso of front free endpaper inaccurately identifying the author of the book as the Cambridgeshire antiquary Rev.William Cole (whose surname is here mis-spelled "Cale"). A good, clean, fresh copy internally.

A rare book devoted in part to “Pythagoras’s School” in Cambridge, a stone-built house of early mediaeval date which predates the earliest college and university buildings in the city, and in part to the early history of Merton College, Oxford, owner of this Cambridge property since the 1270s as part of the college’s endowment from its founder Walter de Merton. As the book carries no author’s name or publisher’s imprint, it has puzzled bibliographical scholars, but the question of its authorship at least is straightforward, for the internal evidence of its text shows that it was written by an individual associated with Merton College, Oxford, and that its primary intended purpose was for circulation among members of that college, and a contemporary inscription in a copy in Durham University Library, indicating that it was written by Rev.Joseph Kilner (c.1721-1793), one of two brothers who were Fellows of Merton in the second half of the eighteenth century, conforms with indications in older works of bibliographical works of reference that it was written by an individual named Kilner. As to its publishing history, what happened was that Kilner was asked around 1760 to prepare an explanatory text to accompany an engraving of “Pythagoras’s School” done at that time, but that his text was not then thought satisfactory. Nothing then happened until about 1783, when Kilner’s manuscript of 1760 was used, without Kilner’s knowledge or consent, to provide the explanatory text accompanying illustrations of the building in Francis Grose’s Antiquities of England and Wales. Kilner was not unnaturally displeased, and seems immediately to have set to work on an expanded and corrected version of his original text ; the first part of this, comprising a four-page preface, pp 5-52 and four further pages numbered 53-6 printed on a different paper, seems to have been set up in type and printed shortly after 1783, but it appears at that time only to have been distributed to a few of Kilner’s intimate friends, and it was not until shortly before Kilner’s death that the present full-length version was issued, with a revised preface, added plates and extensive additional text relating to Merton College and its founder (a copy offered for sale at Bloomsbury Auctions, 11 May 2007, lot 113, had a ownership inscription dated 1794, confirming that the book was published no later than that year). Although the place of the volume’s printing remains to be established, Oxford seems more likely than London, and Cambridge, an alternative suggestion, seems quite out of the question. A letter written to Richard Gough after Kilner’s death records that “Mr. Kilner was an accurate enquirer : and, being a cripple, had much time to use, which he employed chiefly as an antiquary”, and although Kilner’s prose style is quite deplorably obscure and it is to be hoped that he was never allowed to teach undergraduates, he had ready access to his college’s archives, and those prepared to struggle with his prose will find that he does in fact satisfactorily establish the status of “Pythagoras’s School”, the date of Merton College’s foundation and other useful facts about the early history of the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. BAL Cat 3742.

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