Cambridgeshire

Duchess donates 'extraordinary' book trove to college

Lord Byron Image copyright Graham CopeKoga/Trinity College, Cambridge
Image caption 'Treasures and rarities' such as this book inscribed by Lord Byron had lain untouched for decades

The aunt of TV quizmaster Bamber Gascoigne has bequeathed an "extraordinary" collection of books to a Cambridge University college.

Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe, left more than 7,000 books - including first editions by Wordsworth, Shelley and Byron, to Trinity College's library.

The duchess, who died in 2014 aged 99, kept some of the rarest, undiscovered works in an old blue suitcase.

Mr Gascoigne said it was "a delight" to see the books in their new home.

'Bizarre curiosities'

The former University Challenge presenter, who inherited the duchess's former home, said the collection had contained "treasures and rarities unknown to anyone" since the death of his aunt's father in 1945.

It was "thrilling", he said, "that they will from now on be available to everyone".

The duchess's bequest included previously unknown manuscripts by Napoleon Bonaparte, George Washington, Florence Nightingale and Charles Dickens.

Trinity College's librarian Dr Nicolas Bell described the find as "an extraordinary library - one of the most important private collections in Britain, which offers untold discoveries".

Image copyright Trinity College, Cambridge
Image caption Trinity College's librarian Dr Nicolas Bell with a blue suitcase in which he found 'some exceptionally rare first editions'
Image copyright Graham CopeKoga/Trinity College, Cambridge
Image caption This manuscript found among the collection was penned by US president George Washington

He said they found what the duchess called 'the holy of holies' in an old blue suitcase stored in a bedroom cupboard.

"Opening the suitcase was an exciting moment," said Dr Bell. "It contained some exceptionally rare first editions of Shelley's poems, books inscribed by William Beckford and Oscar Wilde, a pristine first edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and some bizarre curiosities such as a fragment of Voltaire's dressing gown."

The duchess's father, Robert Crewe-Milnes, and grandfather, Richard Monckton Milnes, both studied at Trinity before embarking on political careers.

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