An Occult and Alchemical Library

Unique at Penn

RainsfordPR1When acquiring early manuscripts these days libraries mostly get them one at a time. A 15th century medical compendium here, a cache of Mexican inquisition proceedings there. It was with excitement then that my colleagues and I read the catalog for the sale of some of the 12th Duke of Northumberland’s collection this past July. Amongst the treasures was a somewhat unassuming lot consisting of nearly 60 manuscript volumes from a single 18th century collector. These manuscripts had been left to the 2nd Duke of Northumberland by his friend Charles Rainsford (1728-1809).

Alnwick Alnwick Castle, Northumberland. Photo by Fiona James (CC-BY 2.0). Flickr.

Since 1809 they had sat on the shelves at Alnwick Castle, seeing only sporadic use. Rainsford was not only a British general and sometime governor of Gibraltar but an avid alchemist and occultist, fascinated by everything from the philosopher’s stone to Tarot to Rosicrucianism. The manuscript library…

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