Dr Luckett Bequest

The College has received an outstanding collection of 17th and 18th century books and manuscripts from the estate of Dr Richard Luckett (1945-2020), former Pepys Librarian.  These important volumes will be housed in the Old Library.

Dr Luckett was an avid collector and his bequest is a carefully selected part of his personal library.  He wished to donate to the college a group of books and manuscripts which focused primarily on music, lyric and theatre of the Restoration period.  This collection suitably represents some of Richard Luckett’s chief academic specialisms, and also complements the volumes donated three hundred years ago by Samuel Pepys, with whom Luckett shared a passion for musical and theatrical performance.

Dr Luckett was an authority on Henry Purcell, and the bequest is particularly strong in printed scores of Purcell’s compositions.  Thanks to Dr Luckett’s generosity, it is no exaggeration to say that the Old Library is now a leading repository of Purcell’s music printed in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.  The collection includes fifteen copies of Orpheus Britannicus in various editions, the collection of Purcell’s music compiled after the composer’s death by Henry Playford. Each copy of Orpheus Britannicus in the collection has its own unique history: before Richard Luckett’s ownership, one was owned by William Alfred Foyle, co-founder of Foyle’s bookshops, one by Cyril Rootham, English composer and Fellow of St John’s College, and one by Godfrey EP Arkwright, music bibliographer and musicologist.

Old Library H.21.13(1). Henry Purcell, Orpheus Britannicus (London: J. Heptinstall, 1697). A first edition with the engraved frontispiece portrait of Henry Purcell.

The bequest also contains the libretti to several semi-operas of the Restoration period – an important development in the history of opera.  Semi-operas were popularised in England in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and the genre is defined by the main characters having speaking roles, and the fantastical characters such as fairies and spirits having singing and dancing roles, thus creating a mix of the spoken word and music.  Semi-operas such as Circe by Charles Davenant, Psyche by Thomas Shadwell and, perhaps the most famous of the genre, The Fairy Queen for which Henry Purcell was the composer of the music, all feature in the Luckett bequest.  Magdalene is now the only library in Cambridge to hold this particular printing of The Fairy Queen, illustrated below.

Old Library H.21.76. The fairy-queen: an opera... (London: Jacob Tonson, 1692).

There are also many books concerning music theory in the collection.  A rare printing of William Holder’s A treatise of the natural grounds, and principles of harmony, printed by Heptinstall in 1694, has an interesting provenance.  It was owned formerly by John Aubrey, the author of ‘Brief Lives’.  In ‘Brief Lives’ Aubrey describes Holder as ‘very musicall, both theoretically and practically, and he had a sweet voice.  He hath writ an excellent treatise of musique’.[i]

The bequest also includes groups of 17th and 18th century books on more specialized areas of interest, such as music and other works in honour of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, sermons concerning music, and psalmody.  In the latter category, many of the printed psalm books in the collection have music copied out by hand on the endpapers.  In a copy of The whole book of Psalms from 1729, printed by William Pearson, there are several psalms copied out by hand by more than one scribe.  The first scribe has a particularly neat hand and amongst other psalms has copied out a setting of Thomas Campion’s ayres ‘As by the streams of Babylon’ and ‘Never weather-beaten sail’.  Upon further research, the hand is an exact match with that in the manuscript Add MS 50953, A Collection of Metrical Psalms, Hymns and Anthems, at the British Library.  The compilation of that manuscript has been attributed to John Guy of Gloucestershire by the British Library, and has been dated to the early 18th century.

Old Library H.21.199. John Playford, The whole booke of Psalms (London: W. Pearson, 1729) with MS additions by John Guy and unidentified scribes.

All of the printed books in the Luckett Bequest have now been catalogued on the idiscover catalogue.  There are also a small number of manuscripts in the bequest, and cataloguing of these is ongoing.  Any enquiries about the manuscripts or the books in the bequest are welcome.

An obituary of Richard Luckett by the current Pepys Librarian, Dr M E J Hughes, is printed in the 2020-21 issue of Magdalene College Magazine, at pages 19 to 28.

By Catherine Sutherland

Deputy Librarian, Pepys Library and Special Collections

With thanks to Helen Luckett for the information concerning Holder and Aubrey.


[i] Aubrey, John, Clark, Andrew (ed), ‘Brief Lives,’ chiefly of contemporaries, set down by John Aubrey, between the years 1669 & 1696.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898.  P. 404.

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