John Newcome (1684?-1765)
Born in Grantham, John Newcome gained his MA from St John's in 1708, his BD in 1715 and his DD in 1725. He was a Fellow of the College from 1707 to 1728, and Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity from 1727 to 1765. He served as Master of St John's for thirty years (1735-65), and although his Whiggish sympathies initially put him at odds with the prevailing Toryism at St John's, his period of tenure was one of consolidation rather than dramatic incident. Discipline was improved and the Master showed special concern for the Library: it was re-arranged and re-catalogued, and several major acquisitions were made. In 1758 he became ill with "the hickups" and this sparked a rather unseemly political struggle among his prospective successors, but he recovered and lived for another seven years. On his death he left an endowment for the first College prize for moral philosophy, and to the Library sixty volumes from his collection.
Newcome's bequest, and other books belonging to him
The sixty volumes Newcome left in his bequest are mainly early printed editions of classical texts, the majority of them incunabula. Some of these are attractively illuminated, and others have striking provenances. Many of them appear to have been bought from the sale of the Harleian Library, and bear the distinctive red morroco binding, with central gold-tooled, diamond-shaped ornament. Among the more interesting items are:
- an illuminated 1469 edition of the works of Julius Caesar.
- an illuminated 1472 edition of Ovid's works owned by Lorenzo de Medici.
- an illuminated copy of the first Venetian Vulgate to be printed.
- an early printed edition of Virgil's Aeneid, owned by Philip the Fair of Burgundy.
- a copy of Caxton's 1481 English translation of Cicero's De senectute, the oldest English printed book held in the Library.
- the lavishly illustrated allegorical tale Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499),a major inspiration for ideas on Renaissance buildings and gardens.
In addition to these there are at least forty other volumes bearing Newcome's inscription. Some of these are classical editions, but many are mathematical. Examples include the second, extended, Latin edition of Newton's Optics (1706), and Mersenne's work on music theory, Harmonie universelle (1636-7), with its illustrations of musical instruments.
Newcome's books bear a simple, dated signature at the front of each volume. There is however a plaque commemorating his bequest over the large, locked case in class Ii of the Upper Library.