Narcissus Marsh was a member of the Irish Parliament that ordered the burning of Christianity not Mysterious (1696) by the public hangman in Dublin on 11 September 1697. Nonetheless, he retained a copy which still survives in the library he founded. Marsh has underlined the last four words of Toland’s assertion that “This I stand by still, and may add, I hope, that I have clearly prov’d it too” and noted waspishly in the margin:
‘You have often said it indeed, but yet proved nothing, unless saying a thing is so be proving it to be so’.
This annotation was not enough for him; Marsh was the one who commissioned Peter Browne to write a response, published as a A letter in answer to a book entitled, Christianity not mysterious as also, to all those who set up for reason and evidence in opposition to revelation & mysteries published in 1697.
This book, Collegii Salmanticensis … theologicus Angelici Doctoris Diui Thomae complectens published in Madrid in 1637, is a collection of commentaries on the theology of the “Angelic Doctor”, Thomas Aquinas. It was originally owned by Narcissus Marsh and is now part of the Marsh’s Library collection. The first Irish Colleges were set up with the support of Irish Jesuit priest James Archer in Salamanca (where this book was written) and Madrid (where it was printed) during the late 16th century.
The current exhibition in Marsh’s Library (ends 30th June 2013) displays science books from their collection. Given that “science” as a term only replaced “natural philosophy” in the mid 19th century, there are many books by philosophers included. So as well as treatises by Johannes and Elisabetha Hevelius, Galileo, Kepler, Tycho, and a 14th century Irish translation of an astronomical treatise based on Arab works, there are also books of Aristotle (translated and with a commentary from Averroes), Lucretius’ Epicurean poetry, Pascal, Descartes and Gassendi. Robert Boyle’s complete works can been seen, as well as William Molyneaux’s (1690) Treatise on Dioptricks, dedicated in the author’s handwriting to Narcissus Marsh himself.
Marsh’s Library was the first public library in Ireland. Marsh had long contemplated a library for “publick use, where all might have free access seeing they cannot have it in [Trinity] College”. The library (the tour guide informed us) was open to all, regardless of religion.
Marsh donated his entire collection of over 10,000 volumes, including the collection of Bishop Edward Stillingfleet which he had bought for £2,500, to the public library. The first librarian, Dr. Elias Bouhereau, a Huguenot refugee who fled France in 1695, was the first librarian, and also donated his library. An additional bequest was made in 1745 by John Sterne Bishop of Clogher.
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