J.R.R. Tolkien, A letter from Father Christmas

J.R.R. Tolkien, A letter from Father Christmas

Father Christmas has moved house. His bungling assistant North Polar Bear ruined the old one by knocking the North Pole into it, soaking presents with melted snow. Tolkien describes this in the letter …

Rosa anglicana

Rosa anglicana

Gaddesden wrote this compilation of medical texts while studying at Oxford between 1307 and 1316. He has been suggested as a model for Chaucer’s ‘Doctour of phisik’, and is listed in the description o …

Celeberrimae Oxoniensis academiae … descriptio

Celeberrimae Oxoniensis academiae … descriptio

This is the oldest map of Oxford in the Bodleian’s collections, engraved by Augustine Ryther from a drawing by Ralph Agas (1578). Agas was a land surveyor who promoted estate maps as a useful alternat …

Handel’s Messiah

Handel’s Messiah

The notes on these pages show Handel hastily adapting an aria in his most famous oratorio. He conducted performances from this score, including the first (in Dublin, 13 April 1742). It was copied from …

A tropical forest

A tropical forest

This imagined forest brings together flora and fauna from several tropical  regions. It shows exotic nature recorded in a world before colour photography, from the drawings of Theodore Cantor to volum …

Shikshapatri

Shikshapatri

Swaminarayan, a reforming Hindu leader, wrote these moral and spiritual codes for everyday life in 1826. They were to be read, heard or venerated daily. He gave this copy to the Governor of Bombay, Si …

Hebrew prayer book

Hebrew prayer book

Asher ben Isaac copied and illuminated this siddur, or book of daily prayers, for the use of his family. Around half of all dated Hebrew manuscripts were produced by their user, but this example is un …

Letter to William Godwin

Letter to William Godwin

Mary Wollstonecraft was a philosopher and feminist, and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Her relationship with the radical philosopher William Godwin is brought to life through t …

Magna Carta

Magna Carta

King John issued the Great Charter in 1215. It was re-issued in 1217, after John’s death, in the name of his 10-year-old son, King Henry III. This original, guaranteed as such by the surviving seal of …

Mañjuśrīnāmasańgīti

Mañjuśrīnāmasańgīti

Mañjuśrī, the Bodhisattva of wisdom, is one of the figures adorning the wooden cover of these manuscript verses associated with his teaching. The text is a popular Buddhist work, and the manuscript wa …

The Wonderful American Hen

The Wonderful American Hen

This handbill occupies the cheap end of the market of printed images. Displays of unusually formed animals (and people) were especially popular in the 19th century, at shows and fairs throughout Engla …

Meinertzhagen’s diary

Meinertzhagen’s diary

These feathers marked with Morse code are from an enemy pigeon shot by Meinertzhagen in Egypt. Meinertzhagen was Chief Intelligence Officer to the Egyptian expeditionary force into Palestine, and his …

Opera

Opera

Print revived the voice of a medieval female dramatist and brought it to a new audience. This first edition of the 10th-century writer Hrotsvitha follows the rediscovery of a manuscript of her works i …

Birds of America

Birds of America

Audubon, the self-styled wild American woodsman, sought to draw birds as they are seen in nature. Combining years of observation in the field with careful arrangement of specimens on wires, he recreat …

The Selden Map of China

The Selden Map of China

This remarkable watercolour map came to the Bodleian in 1659 from the executors of John Selden, the London lawyer and historical and linguistic scholar. It has recently benefited from extensive conser …

Nāvanītaka

Nāvanītaka

A recipe for an oil to remove wrinkles and grey hair is one of many medical formulae in this Ayurvedic text. This leaf is part of a manuscript discovered in a mound near the caves of Min-Oi of Qum Tur …

Kelmscott Chaucer

Kelmscott Chaucer

Several of Chaucer’s pilgrims have an Oxford connection, including the Clerk, whose tale of Grisilde begins here. William Morris established the Kelmscott Press in 1891, and published this – its most …

Kenneth Grahame, ‘My dearest Mouse’

Kenneth Grahame, ‘My dearest Mouse’

The Wind in the Willows began life as a series of bedtime stories told by Kenneth Grahame to his son, Alastair. These tales of talking animals so obsessed the small boy that he was only persuaded to g …

Astronomiae instauratae mechanica

Astronomiae instauratae mechanica

More than any earlier astronomer, Tycho registered his results systematically, using instruments built to unprecedented specifications. He presented this lavish, hand-coloured copy of his book of astr …

Oxford Committee for Famine Relief

Oxford Committee for Famine Relief

The committee soon known as Oxfam met for the first time in the University Church on 5 October 1942. It was founded in response to starvation behind the Allied blockade in occupied countries during Wo …

Sermon in shorthand

Sermon in shorthand

So small that a mouse could carry it away? This was apparently the fear of Henry Octavius Coxe, Bodley’s Librarian in the 19th century, who kept this miniature manuscript fixed to a wooden rod with a …

‘Wandl’ ich in dem Wald des Abends’

‘Wandl’ ich in dem Wald des Abends’

‘When in the twilit grove I wander’: Fanny Hensel was a composer, choral director, scholar and celebrated pianist. Her fame was eclipsed by that of her brother, Felix Mendelssohn, and some of her four …

Procès-verbal from the Titanic

Procès-verbal from the Titanic

The Marconi Archives include a considerable quantity of documents relating to wireless communications during the Titanic disaster. Wireless telegraphy was still relatively new at this time and its use …

Tree of Hebrew learning

Tree of Hebrew learning

This handwritten guidebook is thought to have been presented to Elizabeth I on her first official visit to Oxford. The text by Thomas Neal imagines a verse dialogue in which the Chancellor (Robert Dud …

Shelley’s Poetical Essay

Shelley’s Poetical Essay

This poem against war and tyranny was thought lost (or even fictitious) for nearly 200 years. It was written by Shelley when he was an 18-year-old student at University College, Oxford, and published …

Shelley’s guitar

Shelley’s guitar

The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley bought this Pisan guitar for his final muse, Jane Williams, around April 1822. Inspired perhaps by the maker’s name, Ferdinando, he presented it with a poem alluding to S …

Cartoon of Winston Churchill

Cartoon of Winston Churchill

‘I threw this note to J. Pease during the Cabinet of 19.2.10 & he returned it with the drawing of Winston holding a pistol at the cabinet’, Lewis Harcourt wrote on the back of this envelope. Harco …

Portolan chart

Portolan chart

Portolan charts focus on coastlines, but the top half of this map provides inland locations for curiosities, including elephants, diamonds, and enormous snakes. It is probably too decorative to have b …

Charles II, Note to Lord Clarendon

Charles II, Note to Lord Clarendon

Many notes were passed between Charles and his Chancellor Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, during meetings of the Privy Council. Some show a personal angle on matters of state. Others, such as this …

Annals of Innisfallen

Annals of Innisfallen

The death of Úallach, ‘female poet of Ireland’, is listed here for the year 934 AD. We know of her only from this page, in an early chronicle of Irish history that records Viking invasions and deeds o …

Shāhnāma

Shāhnāma

Isfandyar fights a Simurgh on a journey to rescue his sisters, and the magician-king of Manzandaran changes into a rock to save himself from the warrior Rustam. They are two of many mythological, bibl …

Mabel FitzGerald’s Pikes Peak expedition

Mabel FitzGerald’s Pikes Peak expedition

‘Had a capital time up here’, FitzGerald wrote to her sister from Pikes Peak in the Rocky Mountains. She was there studying high altitude acclimatization with a group of male scientists. It was not co …

‘Travelling’ library of Charles I

‘Travelling’ library of Charles I

These 60 books were bound as a set for the eight-year-old Prince Charles. Printed in several European cities from 1568 to 1608, they include history, poetry and drama, by classical and contemporary au …

Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Marriage of Heaven and Hell

The visionary poet William Blake made his illuminated books by drawing with acid-resistant varnish on copperplates. The plates were then soaked in acid, leaving delicate lines of words and pictures ra …

Apocalypse

Apocalypse

The block-book was in some ways a precursor to Blake’s ‘infernal’ method of printing. Here, the white on the page corresponds with areas carved out from a block of wood, leaving a raised surface of wo …

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Lawrence worked with British Intelligence in the Middle East during World War I, where he fought alongside Arab forces against the Ottoman Turks. His daring exploits enshrined him in popular imaginati …

Arabic prayer book

Arabic prayer book

The satchel that holds this book, now missing a shoulder strap, allowed this devotional collection of prayers and excerpts from the Qur’an to be worn. In Islam, the Qur’an in Arabic is the word of God …

Astronomical photo plates

Astronomical photo plates

These glass plates capture the 1874 transit of Venus. From the early 18th century, astronomers saw the fundamental importance of the planet’s rare passing across the surface of the sun: it offered a m …

William Shakespeare, ‘The First Folio’

William Shakespeare, ‘The First Folio’

Without this book, the famous ‘First Folio’, eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays – including Julius Caesar and Macbeth – would probably be lost to us. They are preserved here, in the first printed edition …

Fontaine’s Le jeu des fables

Fontaine’s Le jeu des fables

Fables have long provided popular reading material for children, and those composed by Fontaine in the 17th century enjoyed lasting success. Wollstonecraft’s daughters read them when they were young, …

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

John le Carré is the pen name of David Cornwell, who began writing his novels of espionage and betrayal while working for the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. Eight books feature the master s …

Herbal

Herbal

The recipes on the left recommend powdered leaves or roots of dropwort, taken in wine, to ease coughs, urinary disorders, and stomach complaints. Herbals aid the identification of plants, as well as o …

W B Yeats, ‘All Souls’ Night’

W B Yeats, ‘All Souls’ Night’

Oxford provides the setting for Yeats’s poem on conjuring ghosts. He found the city conducive to the worlds of spirits and magic, and lived here with his wife George for nearly five years. For some of …