Long loan allows free ranging

June 20, 1997

A book borrowed from the library at Harvard University and believed lost has been returned to the stacks - 233 years overdue.

The thick, calfskin-covered volume appears to have crossed the Atlantic at least twice since around 1764, when it was taken by an unknown borrower who failed to return it. But there are few further clues to its adventures.

"No one knows who had the book or where it was across the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries," said Mark Kishlansky, a Harvard historian who found it in an antiquarian bookstore and recognised a Latin notation on the flyleaf identifying it as Harvard property.

Volume three of The Complete History of England with the Lives of All the Kings and Queens Thereof was one of 404 survivors of a 1764 fire that destroyed the rest of the school's 5,000-volume collection.

Two hundred and sixty one were in storage at the time while the lost book was out on loan along with 143 others, including one from the original bequest of John Harvard, after whom the university was named. That book, The Christian Warfare Against the Devil World and Flesh, by John Downame, was returned by an undergraduate who was profusely thanked and then expelled for having borrowed it without permission.

About 80 of the other missing volumes were eventually returned, and the rest thought lost. The university replaced The History of England with a later edition.

"It's remarkable that it has come back," said Roger Stoddard, curator of rare books in the Harvard College Library.

The book is a relatively undistinguished volume written by Bishop White Kennett, printed in London in 1706 and given to Harvard by Thomas Bannister, a Boston minister, in 1709.

"It's not even a complete work. It's not like getting a classic work that everybody's heard of," said Mr Stoddard. "What's unusual is that it has been returned to us."

Dr Kishlansky said the incident underscores the shortfall in the amount of money available to university libraries to purchase books. Even wealthy Harvard spent three weeks looking for a patron who would buy it on the university's behalf; neither the donor nor the price has been identified.

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