John Harvard

Benefactor

John Downame (1571-1652)
The Christian Warfare against the Devill
World and Flesh
, 4th ed.
(London, 1634)

For almost four centuries Harvard librarians have treasured this copy of The Christian Warfare, now the only surviving book from the library of John Harvard.  “A godly gentleman and a lover of learning,” the English-born Harvard lived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony for just over a year before dying from tuberculous in 1638.  He bequeathed half of his estate and about 400 volumes to the “Colledg at New Town,” renamed Harvard College in his memory.  This volume is identifiable as no. 78 “Downam Chris warfare” in a 17th-century inventory of Harvard’s books.

The book had many homes in Harvard Yard before finding its way to Houghton Library.  Initially Harvard’s library was kept in the Old College building, before moving into Harvard Hall in 1677.  When a disastrous fire destroyed this building in January 1764, all the books from Harvard’s bequest were lost apart from this single volume.  Within two years Harvard Hall was rebuilt with provisions for a larger library on its second floor.  The book remained there until 1841 when it was moved to Gore Hall, Harvard’s first purpose built circulation library, later demolished to make way for the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, named for a graduate of Harvard who perished on RMS Titanic.  On Commencement Day 1915, the University Librarian ceremoniously carried The Christian Warfare into the newly dedicated Widener Library, where it would reside in its Treasure Room until Houghton Library opened on 28 February 1942.

Today this most prized of Harvard University’s books is on permanent display in Houghton’s marble lobby, a reminder of the honored place of libraries and their benefactors in the foundation of the university, and an inspiration to all who visit this open house of learning.

STC 7137, Bequest of John Harvard, 1638