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30 Oct

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: GPA Bolton Library

Bolton Library

Is the sun setting on GPA Bolton Library?
© IrishPhilosophy (CC BY 2.0)

One of Ireland’s most visited sites, the Rock of Cashel, was in use up to the mid-Eighteenth century. To replace the cathedral there, a new one was built (1749-1784) on the site of a medieval church. The Church of Ireland Cathedral of St John the Baptist now stands next next to an unassuming chapterhouse, which houses the Bolton book collection, which the International Dictionary of Library Histories calls “one of the great treasures of the Church of Ireland” and “probably one of the finest collections of antiquarian books in Ireland outside Dublin.” The Directory of Rare Books and Special Collections (London 1997) says that, “The [Bolton] collection contains many items of great rarity, at least fifty not recorded elsewhere in the world, and some 800 not recorded elsewhere in Ireland.”

The Collection

Photography is not permitted in the library, but the Heritage Council report on the Library contains images of the interior and of many of the books mentioned below.

The collection includes 11,000-12,000 items. These include fragments of papyrus, 15 manuscripts predating 1701, 45 books printed before 1501 (incunabulas), letters, maps and 200 pamphlets. The oldest manuscript, on vellum, dates from the 12th century and includes an early example of the use of zero. The finest Irish manuscript comes from the hand of Dermot O’Connor of Limerick in 1716, and includes translation of French heraldric rules into Irish. The most notable of the incunabulas is probably an uncoloured copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1483).
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17 Jan

Rude Enlightenment

Admittedly, Swift was not an easy man with whom to get on with, aggravating his church superior, Archbishop William King of Dublin, himself a truculent steward prone to picking fights.

Arbuckle was an equally thorny character who made enemies easily. He found it necessary to leave the University of Glasgow in a hurry when, as a student, he was involved in an altercation concerning the election of the rector. He retreated to Dublin, where he fell into favor with Robert, Viscount Molesworth of Swords—himself described by one acquaintance as “waspish” and prone to anticlerical outbursts.

These traits helped Molesworth to remain close to that most volatile and barbed of personalities, the freethinker John Toland. He promulgated a kind of literary subterfuge that Swift mocked in a series of texts, notably An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, in which he mentioned Toland by name.

A selection of personality clashes in Enlightenment Dublin.

Quote from Michael Brown (2012) “The Biter Bitten: Ireland and the Rude Enlightenment” in Eighteenth-Century Studies, Volume 45, Number 3 (JSTOR)

To see just how rude it could get, see the post on James Arbuckle.

31 May

On the Origin of Evil

Portrait of William King (1650-1729) Monasticon Hibernicum (1867) Wikimedia, Public Domain

Portrait of William King (1650-1729) Monasticon Hibernicum (1867)
Wikimedia, Public Domain

Some books (like Hume’s Treatise) fall “stillborn from the press”, as Hume put it. A small number of those (eg. Hume’s Treatise) are rescued from oblivion by later readers. Other books have the opposite fate – they are widely read and discussed only to fall into obscurity. One such is De Origine Mali (1702), by William King, Archbishop of Dublin, later translated by Edmund Law as Essay on the Origin of Evil (1731).

“The most rigorous effort to construct a rational theodicy in this period appears in the closely related work of Leibniz and William King”(Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World, p. 84) Both philosophers were answering Pierre Bayle, who had come to the conclusion that no solution was possible which reconciled the evil of the world and the existence of a perfectly good and all-powerful God (SEP). Their works were highly influential.

Both King and Leibniz argue that evil is privation, an absence of something rather than a positive force in itself.That, however, does not mean that suffering is merely apparent. The cosmos as a whole is imperfect (metaphysical evil), and natural evils (such as disease or natural disasters) and moral evils (sinful acts of humans) cause real suffering. They follow Descartes in claiming that this is a natural result of a cosmos that is not identical with God (the only entity that can be perfect.)
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