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Senate House Library

De Morgan Library

The library of the mathematician and mathematical historian Augustus De Morgan (1806-1871 see ODNB). It is a comprehensive collection of almost 3,800 books and pamphlets on mathematics and its history, 1474-1870, often regarded as one of the best mathematical libraries of its time.

Arithmetic is a particular strength. Algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, logarithms, probability, annuities, functions, and astronomy are all present, as are mathematical biographies and bibliographies, philosophy where it impacts on mathematics, and some general works with sections on mathematics, such as two editions of Gregor Reisch’s Margarita Philosophica (1508 and 1515).

Mathematical and astronomical landmarks known widely, such as first editions of Copernicus and Newton, jostle with milestones publications which are less familiar beyond the field by Michael Stifel, Robert Record, John Napier, Henry Briggs and others, and with obscure titles. The collection includes multiple editions of popular or significant works, most notably Euclid’s Elements, but also Sacrobosco’s Sphaera Mundi and such textbooks as Cocker’s Arithmetick and Hodder’s Arithmetic. Several items are extremely rare, or even unique.

Victorian booksellers’ and auction catalogues of mathematical books provide a useful insight into the trade in De Morgan’s time. De Morgan was renowned for annotating his books with notes about their importance, intellectual value, authors, or his acquisition of them. Such annotations enhance many items.

Several books have distinguished former owners, contemporary with De Morgan (e.g. Francis Baily, Guglielmo Libri) or earlier, especially the German mathematician Christopher Clavius (1538-1612), the English poet Edmund Waller (1606-1687), and the French mathematician Jean Étienne Montucla (1725-1799). Inscribed nineteenth-century offprints indicate contemporary scientific networks. Manuscript drafts or interleaved copies of De Morgan’s own work in the archive complement the printed books.

Material is predominantly in English, with significant minorities in Latin and French (about fifteen per cent of the collection each) and a few books in other European languages.

Samuel Jones Loyd, Baron Overstone(Opens in new window) (see ODNB), a member of the University of London Senate, purchased the collection and gave it to the University in 1871. De Morgan’s son William subsequently added several of De Morgan’s own articles. A few books were destroyed by bomb damage in 1940.

Related materials

  • MS913A: De Morgan papers and correspondence
  • MS776: annotated, interleaved copies of some of De Morgan’s works
  • MS321: correspondence and mathematical notes
  • MS238-241: De Morgan’s mathematical notes and drafts
  • Mathematical material in the general special collections, Old Classification sequence
  • Mathematical textbooks in the Quick Memorial Library.

Further reading

  • Attar, Karen, 'Augustus De Morgan (1806-71), his Reading, and his Library', in The Edinburgh History of Reading: Modern Readers (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020), ed. by Mary Hammond, pp. 62-82.
  • Attar, K.E., ‘Victorian Readers and their Library Records Today’, in: Matthew Bradley and Juliet John (ed.), Reading and the Victorians (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015), pp. 99-110.
  • Attar, K.E., Adrian Rice and Christopher Stray (eds.), Augustus De Morgan, Polymath: A Reassessment at 150 (provisional title; forthcoming, 2023). Includes a section on the De Morgan archival material.
  • Merrington, Maxine, A List of Certain Letters Inserted in Books from the Library of Augustus De Morgan Now in the University of London Library ([London]: University of London Library, 1990)
  • Entries 5, 33 and 40 in Senate House Library, University of London, ed. by Christopher Pressler and Karen Attar (London: Scala, 2012).
  • De Morgan Library highlights.