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Rouse, Johnfree

  • R. Julian Roberts

John Rouse (1574–1652)

by unknown artist

© Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Rouse, John (1574–1652), librarian, was born in Somerset; the names of his parents are unknown. He entered Balliol College on 1 January 1596 as a scholar, though he was later classed as a servitor. He graduated BA on 31 January 1599, was elected a fellow of Oriel College on 20 September 1600, and proceeded MA on 27 March 1604. His lifelong residence at Oriel was interrupted only by a four-year absence from about 1609 to 1614 in which he is said to have visited Heidelberg and its palatine library (Craster, 130). The privy council renewed the permission of 'Russe' and John Camber to continue beyond the seas on 26 June 1614 'for their experience in the languadges' (APC, 1613–14, 475). Rouse subsequently held a number of college offices, including those of junior and senior treasurer, and dean. He did not marry, and not being ordained, was ineligible, unlike his predecessor as librarian, for sinecure livings.

Rouse was elected to the office of Bodley's librarian on 9 May 1620, at an annual salary of £33 6s. 8d. The printed alphabetical catalogue of that year appeared after his election, its title-page proclaiming it to be the work of the previous librarian, Thomas James. Rouse himself published the Appendix ad catalogum librorum in bibliotheca Bodleiana at Oxford in 1635. The selection of books for the library was the responsibility of the curators, but evidently Rouse had considerable discretion, and his regular visits to London on the business of the library involved the purchase of books. The enforcement of Sir Thomas Bodley's agreement with the Stationers' Company of London for the deposit of books printed by its members was also a frequent concern for Rouse, even after the agreement was reinforced by the Star Chamber decree of 1637. His librarianship was also marked by the accession of some major collections of manuscripts—those of the Barocci collection given by the earl of Pembroke in 1629, the manuscripts obtained by Sir Thomas Roe (1629), the collection of Sir Kenelm Digby in 1634, and Archbishop William Laud's gifts from 1635 to 1640.

That Rouse's concept of what was proper material for the library was far broader than those of both Bodley and Thomas James is evident in his selection in 1640 from the bequest of Robert Burton. Rouse chose about half of Burton's bequest of 'bookes the University library hath not' (Burton's will, TNA: PRO, PROB 10/602), and works in English, including plays by Beaumont and Fletcher, Jonson, and Shirley, appear among them. He also selected Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. Rouse's friendship with John Milton perhaps began in 1635, when Milton became a reader in the library. He knew the poet well enough to obtain from him a volume of his controversial pamphlets inscribed to 'Doctissimo viro, proboque Librorum Æstimatori Joanni Roüsio' ('To a most learned man and honest judge of books, John Rouse'), and a copy of Milton's Poems of 1645. The first copy of the latter went astray, and its replacement came on 23 January 1647 with an autograph Latin ode, 'Gemelle cultu simplici gaudens liber', flattering both to Rouse and to the library.

The civil war and the royalist occupation of Oxford brought physical dangers to the library and cut it off from most of its income. The presence of soldiery from both sides posed a threat; and Rouse received a request from King Charles for the loan of Agrippa d'Aubigné's Histoire universelle, a request which he declined, in conformity with the statutes of the library. The king gracefully accepted the refusal. Although his own sympathies may have been with the parliament, Rouse subscribed £50 in 1643 to maintain soldiers. In 1648 he was, with other fellows of Oriel, briefly but ineffectively expelled by the parliamentary visitors. Indeed, he remained in office to receive Cromwell and Fairfax in the library in the following year.

However, on 16 March 1652 Gerard Langbaine wrote to John Selden, 'Mr Rouse I fear, and so doe his Physicians, will not be longliv'd' (Bodl. Oxf., MS Smith 21, fol. 27). He died at the beginning of April, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the chapel of Oriel College. He left £50 to the college, and £20 to the Bodleian Library. In 1622 Rouse had inscribed Lucas Holsten's album amicorum 'Mentire nescio. Librum si malus est nequeo laudare' ('I cannot lie. I cannot praise a book if it is bad'). His judgement of himself was perhaps echoed by Milton's epithets of 'Doctissimus' and 'Probus aestimator librorum', and his best memorial is a greatly enriched library kept intact through a civil war.


  • E. Craster, ‘John Rous, Bodley's librarian, 1620–1652’, Bodleian Library Record, 5 (1954–6), 130–46
  • W. D. Macray, Annals of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, 2nd edn (1890)
  • I. Philip, The Bodleian Library in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (1983)
  • G. C. Richards and C. L. Shadwell, The provosts and fellows of Oriel College, Oxford (1922)
  • G. C. Richards and H. E. Salter, eds., The dean's register of Oriel, 1466–1661, OHS, 84 (1926)
  • G. Hampshire, ed., The Bodleian Library account book, 1613–1646 (1983)
  • N. K. Kiessling, The library of Robert Burton (1988)
  • APC, 1613–14, 475
  • W. R. Barker, Milton: a biography, 2 vols. (1968)


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