Arabic Manuscripts in Trinity: The Huntingdon collection (part 1)

In numbers and quality, the center piece of the Arabic manuscripts collection at Trinity College is that of the English clergyman Robert Huntingdon (1637–1701). This post will look more closely at the donations he made to Trinity College in 1682. The second post will provide manuscript descriptions.

First of all, most of the contextual information I offer here is taken from Andrew Lake’s PhD Thesis “The First Protestants in the Arab World: the Contribution to Christian mission of the English Aleppo chaplains (1597-1782). He calls Huntingdon “the Great Collector”, and that name is well deserved.{1}

In a way, Huntingdon anticipated the 19th-century Prussian consul and collector Johann Gottfried Wetzstein (1815-1905) who would extract hundreds of manuscripts from Damascus to German libraries.{2} Huntingdon’s collecting efforts are certainly comparable. Overall, around 700 manuscripts in Arabic, Hebrew, Coptic, Syriac, Samaritan, Persian, and Turkish in British libraries can be traced back to him.

In contrast to Wetzstein, Huntingdon’s base of operation in the region was Aleppo, where he served ten years as chaplain to the English Levant Company (1671-1681). From there, he also “visited Palestine, including Jerusalem, Syria, Baalbek, Palmyra, Sinai, Constantinople, Egypt and Cyprus”,{3} partially to add new items to his collection.

It is perhaps impossible to separate his intellectual curiosity from his commercial interest in acquiring manuscripts, particularly with regard to those which did not play a role in contemporary inter-confessional rivalry.{4} He also purchased books for customers in Great Britain,{5}  at others he bequeathed them to educational institutions without apparent compensation: Merton College received 14 manuscripts, Bodleian Library 35.

Before the Bodleian Library acquired the largest part of Huntingdon’s collection in 1693, Trinity College Dublin was the beneficiary of a donation of ten manuscripts. All of them can be identified by a uniform bequeathment note, dated 1682 and always to be found on the first recto of each volume. This donation neatly coincides with Huntingdon’s appointment as provost of Trinity College the following year.

Trinity College Dublin, MS 1518, fol. 1a: Bequeathment note by Robert Huntington

His Arabic manuscripts constitute a solid cluster in the Abbott Catalogue (1900). Their call numbers reach from MS 1518 through 1528 (with only the exception of MS 1526). His Syriac, Persian, and Coptic manuscripts received call numbers in the respective sections of the catalogue.

Following the construction of a new library building in the mid-18th century, Huntingdon’s Arabic manuscripts were also clustered physically within the library. The Lyon catalogue of 1745 used shelfmarks which allow an identification of their placement{6}. Huntington manuscripts made up ten of the 18 Arabic manuscripts that stood on three shelves (2, 4, 5) of the B section. As the table below indicates, Abbott was aware the collection these manuscripts constituted and entered them (see in bold with H standing for Huntingdon) in an almost uninterrupted sequence in his catalogue.

Lyon catalogue Abbott catalogue
B.2.14 1518 H
B.2.15 1519 H
B.4.6 1517
B.4.7 1530
B.4.8 1520 H
B.4.9 1521 H
B.4.10 1522 H
B.4.11 1523 H
B.4.12 1524 H
B.4.13 1525 H
B.5.8 1526
B.5.13 183
B.5.20 1527 H
B.5.21 1528 H
B.5.22 1678 H
B.5.24 1529
B.5.25 1531
B.5.29 221

The Huntingdon manuscripts stand out among the early acquisitions in that their original provenance can be pinned down to some degree; they must have circulated somewhere between Istanbul and Cairo before 1681 when Huntington resigned from the Levant Company.

In my next post I will give a short description of those ten manuscripts will be provided. This will give an indication of the breadth of Huntington’s interests and his reach as a collector.

Cite this article as: Torsten Wollina, "Arabic Manuscripts in Trinity: The Huntingdon collection (part 1)", in Damascus Anecdotes, March 8, 2020,
  1. PhD Thesis, Australian College of Theology, 2015, pp. 63-68. []
  2. See e.g. the recent Manuscripts, Politics and Oriental Studies: Life and Collections of Johann Gottfried Wetzstein [1815-1905] in Context. Edited by Boris Liebrenz and Christoph Rauch. Leiden: Brill, 2019 []
  3. Lake, “First Protestants”, p. 67. []
  4. Lake, “First Protestants”, pp. 65-66. []
  5. e.g. to Thomas Marshall and Narcissus Marsh; Lake, “First Protestants”, p.65. []
  6. TCD Library, MUN/LIB/1/53 []

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