James Wood was the first of several notable mathematicians to emerge from St John's in the late 18th and 19th centuries who left collections to the Library. He graduated in 1782 as senior wrangler and first Smith's prizeman, and become a Fellow, proceeding MA in 1785, BD in 1793, and DD in 1815. During his sixty years residence he played a central role in the life of the College, serving as President and Master, as well as being a notable benefactor. He was also ordained, and became Dean of Ely in 1820. He produced several successful academic textbooks for students of mathematics.
On his death Wood bequeathed to the College his extensive library, comprising almost 4,500 printed books on classics, history, mathematics, theology and travel, dating from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Highlights include a copy of Erasmus’s Novum instrumentum omne (1516), Calvin’s Harmonia ex Evangelistis tribus composita (1572) in a contemporary binding, and Shelley’s The necessity of atheism (1811).
The books from Wood's library bear a book label detailing his bequest. Translated it reads:
From the books, numbering 4,400, which, with wonderful devotion to the College, the Very Reverend James Wood DD, Master of the College and Dean of Ely, bequeathed by his will to this Library, in the year of our Lord 1839.