The Poetics of the Foley Catalogue, 1688.

Library catalogues as a literary form? In his most recent discussion of our historic catalogues, as part of his provenance research into the Arabic collection, Torsten Wollina dignifies (and theorizes about) cataloguing in terms of ‘poetics’.

Almost two decades after Trinity Library’s first catalogue was produced, Samuel Foley completed the first alphabetical catalogue for the manuscript collection in 1688, adding additional manuscripts that had entered the Library in the meantime. This catalogue survives in a draft (MS 7/3) and a clean copy (MS 7/1) and was published in 1702 when, however, most of the useful cross references were taken out.

Here, I will focus on the version we find in MS 7/1. It is longer than the 1670 catalogue, with 86 folios. The alphabetical catalogue ends earlier, however, and is followed by number of appendices. One of those lists all the the hagiographies (vitae) in the collection and another informs us of several manuscripts which had not yet been included in the catalogue. To those, we will return later on.

On the surface, we find a similar page layout in this and the 1670 catalogue: under a header, the page is arranged in four columns, two for shelf marks and two for manuscript descriptions. This layout is, however, used for a very different purpose. The header is used to guide through the alphabetical order of the book. Because of the alphabetical order, there is no consecutive order to the shelf marks in the columns. But the changes are more refined, as we will shortly see, and one could call them almost poetic.*

Not all the liber in the catalogue (MS 7/1, fols. 53v-54r)

Perhaps the change most evident is that the Foley Catalogue employs a different system of shelf marks. The 1670 catalogue relied on a system which used one letter followed by two numerals (e.g. A.1.14 for MS 183). The Foley Catalogue only uses one letter and one numeral (e.g. G 44 for MS 1527). Since this system refers to a library which has not been in use since the 1740s (to be dealt with in a further post on the Lyons Catalogue), I cannot really say how it was reflected in a rearrangement of the library space. For provenance research, however, it is very useful as such shelf marks exclusively refer to the Foley Catalogue. So, if you find this kind of shelf mark you can be certain that the item was part of Trinity Library by 1688!

As mentioned in the the previous post, the earlier 1670 catalogue shows signs that a sort-of concordance was made between it and the Foley Catalogue by way of adding the letter under which a manuscript would be entered in the latter. We might thus assume that, at least to some degree, those catalogues were used conjointly. It also speaks of the process of transition from one catalogue and shelving system to another. If, for instance, a 17th-century patron of Trinity Library was familiar with the 1670 catalogue, those letters would allow him to find the entry in the alphabetical Foley Catalogue and thereby identify a manuscript’s new shelf mark and location.

In the Foley Catalogue, we find 22 entries for Arabic manuscripts, ten more than in the 1670 catalogue. This higher number might be expected because a donatio of ten Arabic and several other ‘Oriental’ manuscripts was made in 1683 by Robert Huntingdon. Huntingdon’s ten manuscripts would almost cover the difference in the number of manuscripts listed in the 1670 catalogue; his collection is discussed elsewhere

You might have guessed it: the answer is not so simple. In fact, only one of Huntingdon’s manuscript had been catalogued at all: the above-mentioned MS TCD 1527 / G 44 is listed under ‘Ephemerides Arabicus – Et Tractatus Abul Phadhail de Almocantariis, Arabice’. Another nine of his manuscripts can be found in the appendices and the final one not even there (MS TCD 1523).

On the left, the end of the catalogue proper; on the right, the index for vitae; the letters after the title refer to language – Ar. For Arabic, L for Latin, etc.(MS 7/1, fols. 83v-84r)

The answer to this conundrum lies in the alphabetical structure of the Foley Catalogue. Because of its structure, it does not refer to physical manuscripts but to the texts within them. As the description of G 44 demonstrates, it contains two different texts. In the case of other manuscripts, those texts each received their own entry. Indeed, aside from the appendices, I could identify only ten distinct Arabic manuscripts from the catalogue. In one case, this can be attributed to a possible rebinding. The remaining entries, however, all refer to the same manuscript (MS TCD 1531). What does this manuscript contain? Mostly hagiographies all of which are listed in one of the appendices, copied from a Latin table of contents inscribed, perhaps by Ambrose Ussher, in the beginning of the book.

I misunderstood it initially but the Foley Catalogue does use a uniform system of cross references for indicating when an entry  refers to a discrete object and when it does not. For once, only the titular entry is assigned a shelfmark. In the other cases, this space in the column left of the description is left blank. Second, all further titles to be found in a book are cross-referenced to the titular entry. This reference is indicated through a + symbol ( for MS TCD 1531: ‘+Paraphrasis Arabica in historia Josephi Patriarcha’). Following the catalogue’s alphabetical order, the manuscript can thus be located.

Dr. Torsten Wollina

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Cofund Fellow

Trinity Long Room Hub Arts & Humanities Research Institute 


* The title of this post is borrowed from Celeste Gianni’s PhD thesis which offers a post-modernist analysis of Late Ottoman Library Catalogues; cf. Gianni, Celeste. “Poetics of the Catalogue: Library Catalogues in the Arab Provinces During the Late Ottoman Period” (SOAS, University of London: doctoral thesis, 2017).