Humphrey Gower (1638-1711)

Humphrey Gower was born in Herefordshire and graduated from St John's in 1659. He then proceeded MA, BD, DD, and was elected to the Lady Margaret Professorship of Divinity. Over the course of his career he was also rector of a number of parishes in counties as far apart as Dorset and Norfolk, as well as prebendary of Ely. Peter Gunning made him Master of Jesus College in 1679, and later that year he became Master of St John's. During his Vice-Chancellorship Gower received Charles II at Newmarket, and later that year in St John's itself. When William III came to power he was indicted for not having ejected non-juring fellows, but the charges against him were rejected. As well as making important benefactions to the Library, Gower ensured the upkeep of the material of the College, arranging the building of a new bridge over the Cam.


Gower's bequest to the Library


By the terms of his will Gower bequeathed to St John's those of his books not already held in the College Library. The College allowed Gower's friend, Edmund Brome, to choose books to the value of £50 from those that remained, although he was in fact allowed the use of nearly 400. After this they were to be returned to the Library or sold to help poorer scholars, and today items from Gower's collection number over 1,000. These are predominantly 17th-century and cover a huge variety of topics. They include eight items of incunabula, among them a copy of the first printed bibliographical reference work (Johannes Trithemius's De scriptoribus ecclesiasticis, 1494), and a composite volume containing two works on pilgrimage, one on mnemonics, an illustrated herbal, and an edition of Marco Polo's account of his travels (1485). Among the 17th-century works are numerous volumes of interest, such as John Wilkin's A discovery of a new world, or, A discourse tending to prove, that 'tis probable there may be another habitable world in the moon (1684), Georg Horn's work on the origin of the native Americans (1652), and Cave Beck's attempt to develop a universal language based on numbers, Le charactere universel (1657). Others are more pragmatic such as Nathaniel Nye's illustrated Art of gunnery (1647), and a hand-coloured copy of John Seller's Atlas maritimus, or, A sea-atlas describing the sea-coasts in most of the known parts of the world (1682).


Provenance markings


The books given by Gower bear a book label detailing his bequest. Translated it reads:

From the gift of the very Reverand Humphrey Gower DD, for thirty years Master of this College, Lady Margaret Professor of Sacred Theology, Canon of Ely etc. Who, himself most learned, for he who lovingly cherished all literature and learning itself, beqeathed by his will a huge and most choice number of books to our library (in addition to other very large benefactions given to the College).