Tag Archives: John Dee

Robert Cotton & John Dee’s diaries

In Cotton’s Library, I referred to a legend about Sir Robert Cotton buying up a field in which John Dee was reputed to have buried manuscripts of his work, with the intent of prospecting for them. The story seems to have originated in Brief Lives by John Aubrey. I included it as an illustration of Cotton’s eagerness in collecting, though I suggested it was “almost certainly apocryphal” based on the assertions of every other source I consulted.

Then, in October, I came across Jessica Jenkins’ Encyclopedia of the Exquisite. This repeated the same story, and gave The Diaries of John Dee edited by Edward Fenton as a source. Interesting, but I would have to check it out. Which was complicated by the fact that Fenton’s book is not exactly ubiquitous (and I wasn’t going to buy a copy just to re-check one footnote from a book I published a year ago).

However, I was planning to visit two substantial university libraries in December, as part of research for another book currently in progress. So, last week, after a few hours in the University of Iowa Library’s special collections department, I made a quick foray into the stacks and… there it was. And inside…

Excerpt from Introduction of The Diaries of John Dee, Edward Fenton Ed.

See page ix

Naturally, this just points to something else, though for now I’m going to trust that the salient text is reproduced accurately by Fenton. I do wonder whether Casaubon had more to say, as the quote above doesn’t seem like it confirms Aubrey’s story exactly… But, ultimately, this was 400 years ago and I have my doubts about how completely a story like this can be confirmed or disproved, now. Still, for what it’s worth, we can probably upgrade the anecdote from “almost certainly apocryphal” to “very possibly genuine.”

And now you know something about what it was like to research Cotton’s Library.