History of ideas

David Hume Collection

Introduction and provenance: The David Hume Collection has its origins in the chance discovery by Professor Raymond Klibansky of Hume's own copy of the Olivetus edition of Cicero's works (Paris, 1740-1741) in a cupboard at the Faculty Club in 1946. (See: Raymond Klibansky, "Hidden Treasures at McGill", Fontanus vol. II (1989), 79.) Professor Klibansky also describes in this article some of the other books from Hume's library held by McGill and some of the manuscript letters in the Hume Collection (79-82). Following this discovery, Professor Klibansky with Professors J.W.A. Hickson and Charles W. Colby and in cooperation with the University Librarian, Richard Pennington, began to assemble a collection of 18th century editions of Hume's writings and related material and the foundations of the present collection were firmly laid.

In the 1980s and 1990s Professor David Fate Norton played an active part in the further development of the collection. In 1989 and 1990 funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada under the "Support to Specialized Collections Programme" and the "Fleeting Opportunities Program" made possible the acquisition of many significant titles. (See: Bruce Whiteman, "Recent Additions to the David Hume Collection", Fontanus vol. VI (1991), 181-183.) The collection continues to be developed and added to on a regular basis including both 18th century editions and selected modern editions.

The David Hume Collection is a major research collection. It aims to be as comprehensive as possible for 18th century editions of Hume's writings in English and in translation, and for contemporary comment and criticism, British and European. The collection also includes significant later editions and criticism. Particular attention has been paid to acquiring 18th century and early 19th century works referring to Hume or discussing his works. The collection further includes 19th and 20th century theses devoted to Hume and a complete run of the journal Hume Studies (1975-).

Extent and highlights: The principal manuscript in the David Hume Collection is the bound volume containing letters from David Hume to the Comtesse de Boufflers. There are also letters from Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others for a total of 59 letters. This volume was acquired 28 November 1950 at the sale of the library of Lucius Wilmerding at the Parke Bernet Galleries in New York City. This collection of letters was the basis for the anonymously edited Private Correspondence of David Hume with Several Distinguished Persons, Between the Years 1761 and 1776. Now First Published From the Originals. (London: Printed for Henry Colburn and Co., 1820.) One of the McGill copies of this book belonged to the Montreal lawyer and book collector Frederick Griffin (1798-1877). For a description of this volume of manuscript letters, see: Raymond Klibansky, "Hidden Treasures at McGill", Fontanus vol. II (1989), 79-82. In addition to this volume there are eight other Hume letters. Some of these have been published by Professor Klibansky and Ernest C. Mosser in New Letters of David Hume. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954).

Access to the collection: Records for the holdings are in the McGill Library catalogue.

For research notes by Dr. Mark Towsey, see: David Hume Research Directions.

Librarian: Ann Marie Holland, Liaison Librarian (e-mail: ann.holland [at] mcgill.ca, telephone: 514-398-4707)

Gregor Malantschuk Søren Kierkegaard Collection

Introduction: The collection was formed by the Danish Kierkegaard scholar Prof. Gregor Malantschuk and acquired in 1980.

Extent: The collection now numbers some 1,553 monographs and includes a complete set of first editions of Søren Kierkegaard's works and a reconstruction of a significant part of his private library. A copy of the sale catalogue of his library is also part of the collection. As well, there is a collection of books in contemporary editions that Kierkegaard is assumed to have read, although they were not in his library; and a collection of books by his contemporaries that he might have read. Modern critical works on Kierkegaard complement the original works by Kierkegaard.

Access to the collection: Records for the holdings are in the McGill Library catalogue.

Description: Catalogue of the Gregor Malantschuk Søren Kierkegaard Collection in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. Montreal: McGill University, 1984.

Librarian: Ann Marie Holland, Liaison Librarian (e-mail: ann.holland [at] mcgill.ca, telephone: 514-398-4707)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau Collection

Introduction: Philosopher and homme de lettres of Swiss origin, Rousseau was an original thinker, largely at odds with the prevailing opinions of the times. His works provoked debate across Europe and as a result, were readily printed. His ideas are still at the core of teaching curricula and used in classes and research papers. Noteworthy for its depth of contemporary editions and numerous editions of his collected works, the McGill collection is a comprehensive and carefully curated collection of fine editions making it a prime resource in North America.

Extent: There are more than 250 writings by Rousseau, some of which are first or early editions (including counterfeits), or variant states of any one edition. There are translations (predominantly into English), adaptations, and abridgments which afford further dimensions for study.

Types of material: Rousseau is noted for the rich diversity of his oeuvre: essays, fiction, political treatises, compendiums of botany, a dictionary of music and an opera, printed in books and collected sets of his works, while many pamphlets attest to his controversial ideas.

Date range: 18th century contemporary imprints and 19th century republications.

Language/s: Predominantly French and English, with many European language translations.

Geographic coverage: Europe

Provenance: Formed in the 1950s and developed substantially in the 1980s and 1990s.

Highlights: Rousseau first gained widespread attention with a prize essay on the arts and sciences published in June 1751 as Discours sur les Arts et les Sciences, followed by Discours sur l'origine et les fondemens de l'inégalité parmi les hommes (1755). The collection houses these pivotal works along with the numerous pamphlets and rejoinders which raged in print over decades. McGill also collects comprehensively on the most famous titles upon which Rousseau worked simultaneously: La Nouvelle Heloise (1761), Emile (1762), and the Contrat Social (1762). Rousseau had wide impact in Britain. Translations into English add significant scholarly reflection of his oeuvre. Many contemporary commentaries and criticisms on his works, such as the numerous rejoinders published in pamphlets and books in response to his Lettre a d’Alembert (1758), which ended in an irreparable discord among the encyclopédistes.

Rousseau’s Dictionnaire de musique (1764), and his lessons on botany are highly present and scarce, including Lettres elementaires sur la botanique (1771). He also shaped the autobiographical genre in interesting ways, and used it to explain and defend his own writings in the posthumously published Confessions and the Reveries d’un promeneur solitaire. Notable examples at McGill of Rousseau’s collected works included an early set published in Geneva in 1756, and the Oeuvres de Rousseau published in Amsterdam in 1770 by Rousseau’s exclusive publisher Marc-Michel Rey. Rousseau’s editions are the most embellished editions of all the subsequent editions of the philosophes in the 19th century, making them highly collectible.

In terms of manuscripts, there is also a contemporary manuscript copy of “Jean Jacques Rousseau… a Christophe de Beaumont,” dated 1763, representing Rousseau’s response to Archbishop Beaumont about the latter’s condemnation of Emile. In addition, there are examples of Rousseau apocrypha, such as the Letters of an Italian Nun.

Access to the collection: The totality of the collection is available through the McGill Library catalogue.

Related RBSC collections (bibliographic): McGill is a major destination for Enlightenment studies. The Rousseau collection is a fundamental part of McGill’s holdings specialized in the French Enlightenment. It is an interesting counterpoint to the J. Patrick Lee Voltaire Collection, and contributes to writings by the encyclopédistes and many French Enlightenment authors: Crébillion fils, Louis-Sebastien Mercier, and Retif de La Bretonne and female writers such as Madame de Graffigny. It also relates to scope of the library’s material on the French Revolution and on Napoleon. The collection has specific connections to British philosophy of the period, including that of Scottish philosopher David Hume, and has broader rapport with the extensive holdings in 18th century intellectual history.

Librarian: Ann Marie Holland, Liaison Librarian (e-mail: ann.holland [at] mcgill.ca, telephone: 514-398-4707)

Voltaire Collection

Librarian: Ann Marie Holland, Liaison Librarian (e-mail: ann.holland [at] mcgill.ca, telephone: 514-398-4707)

Raymond Klibansky Collection

Introduction: The Raymond Klibansky Collection was the personal library of Klibansky (1905-2005), a historian of philosophy at once celebrated for his erudition and his role as an engaged witness of his time.  A student of philosophy in the German Weimar Republic in the 1920s, Klibansky’s mentors included philosopher Ernst Cassirer, art historian and cultural theorist Aby Warburg, and literary scholar Friedrich Gundolf.  Fleeing Nazi persecution in 1933, Klibansky was among the refugee scholars who contributed to the British war effort during World War II, and in 1946 joined those who enriched North America’s intellectual life, becoming Frothingham Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at McGill University.  For the next three decades Klibansky taught at McGill and lectured at l’Université  de Montreal, remaining active on the international stage through societies such as the Institut international de philosophie (IIP), based in Paris, of which he was president from 1966-1969.

In addition to giving his own library to McGill, Klibansky was at the origin of McGill’s David Hume Collection, which dates from his early discovery of titles from Hume’s own library in McGill collections.    

Klibansky is recognized for pioneering work in medieval thought, the Platonic tradition, and the history of ideas more generally, (as exemplified in Saturn and Melancholy, co-authored with Erwin Panofsky and Fritz Saxl).  His contributions to critical Latin editions of medieval and renaissance thinkers include a central role in establishing the Heidelberg edition of Nicholas of Cusa’s Opera Omnia, a monumental task begun in 1932 and which only reached completion in 2006, and his initiation and editorship of the Corpus Platonicum medii aevi series published from 1940-1962 (four volumes of the Plato Latinus were completed, as well as three volumes of the Plato Arabus). He played a leading role, from the 1950s through the 1970s, in promoting the ideals of tolerance and liberty, and in disseminating contemporary philosophical work globally, most visibly through the IIP.

Extent: The Raymond Klibansky Collection numbers over 7,000 titles and includes books printed from the 15th to the 21st century.

Language/s: Texts are primarily in English, German, French, Italian, Latin and Greek.

Highlights: The collection reflects all of Klibansky’s main research interests, and provides a support for the kind of interdisciplinary approach he adopted to understanding philosophical texts. Approximately half of the texts deal with topics in western philosophy and religion, both ancient and modern. This group includes several historically significant texts in the history of philosophy, for example the first complete printing of Nicholas of Cusa’s works in Paris, 1514 or the  1578 bilingual Latin-Greek text of Plato’s complete works established by Jean de Serres and Henri Estienne, likely printed in Geneva. This Plato edition remained the authoritative text for the next two centuries and established the page references still used today. In addition, the collection offers hundreds of titles in 19th and early 20th century German scholarship, most particularly in ancient and modern philosophy and Greek literature, as well as over a hundred titles in the early 20th century German literature. A group of contemporary publications in areas including history, political science and economics reflects Klibansky’s lived social and political experience of the early decades of his century, and several hundred inscriptions, mostly from authors, bear witness to the range of his networks and to his participation in key intellectual circles throughout his lifetime. 

Access to the collection:

Description: Leroux, Georges, ed. Raymond Klibansky, 1905-2005: la bibliothèque d’un philosophe. Montréal: Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, 2013.

Tomm, Jillian and Georges Leroux. "La collection Raymond Klibansky conservée à l’Université McGill: présentation de la bibliothèque d’un humaniste montréalais." Mémoires du livre/Studies in Book Culture 5, no. 1 (Fall 2013). 

 Tomm, Jillian. The Imprint of the Scholar: An analysis of the printed books of McGill University’s Raymond Klibansky Collection. PhD diss., McGill University, 2012. 

Librarian: Ann Marie Holland, Liaison Librarian (e-mail: ann.holland [at] mcgill.ca, telephone: 514-398-4707)

Questions? Ask us!  Chat • Email • Text • Call            Send feedback    Report a problem

Back to top