The Stapleton manuscripts in Oxford

An email brings news of an interesting collection of papers in the Museum of Science in Oxford.  These are the papers of H.E.Stapleton, who was a contributor to Ambix, the scholarly journal of Alchemy, along with F. Sherwood Taylor who translated Stephen of Alexandria.  I’ve also been sent a catalogue of the manuscripts, which are mainly Arabic or Syriac.  There are copious unpublished translations into English from unpublished Arabic alchemical manuscripts.  There are 40+ Arabic manuscripts, mostly late copies.  My eye falls on correspondance with Louis Cheikho in Beirut about the library there.  There are also translations from the German of published articles.

An sample entry is this (some extra formatting by me for readability):

136   Notebook, containing R. F. Azo’s edited Arabic text of Ibn Sina=s treatise for As-Sahli, and translations of the treatises of Jamas, Asfidus, and Agathodaimon

  • Uniform volume with L 134 and L 135; no signature or date, but instructions to R. F. Azo from HES preceding first item;
  • edited Arabic text, with footnotes (comparing 2 Arabic manuscripts, A and B, and a Latin version, as if for publication), of Ibn Sina’s treatise for As-Sahli, by R. F. Azo, with various notes and slips added by HES (including passages of Arabic in his hand, especially from Ar-Razi) [this part of the notebook is thus c.1903-05; the text in MS STAPLETON 47 seems to be a virtually exact copy; HES intended to publish the Arabic text in his projected work on Ibn Sina's two alchemical treatises, but it was not included in the version of the article published posthumously in Ambix, 1962];
  • HES’s translations of the three related treatises by
    • Jamas (beginning ‘The Risalah of Jamas the Sage to Ardashir, the King, on the Hidden Secret …‘),
    • Asfidus (‘The Book of Asfidus on the Wisdom to Aflarus’),
    • and [other way, reading from back of notebook] Agathodaimon from the Cairo manuscript (beginning ‘The Treatise of Aghatadimun the Great which he delivered when about to die to his pupils. It is known by the name of Risalatu-l-Hadar …‘), latter dated at beginning July 4, 1926 [cf. Turab 'Ali's analysis of the Cairo majmu`a, dated July 5, 1926; all 3 translations here are of about this date; TSS in L 109];
  • [loose inserts] some related loose inserts.

I cannot say that alchemy interests me.  But I really feel that material such as this should be online and accessible.  Much of it is in typescript.  Here we have an edited critical edition of an Arabic text, sitting forgotten in a basement.  Mss. 50-138 are full of interest.

My correspondant probably would like me to go to Oxford and photocopy some of it, and I suppose I could, although there is far too much to do in a day.  But really he should go himself, and work with the papers.  After all, most of the authors are just names to me, and I would probably miss stuff of the highest importance.

But considering the quantity of unpublished English material, these papers really should go online.

1 Response to “The Stapleton manuscripts in Oxford”


  1. Juan

    Hi Roger,

    >But really he should go himself, and work with the papers.

    Unfortunately, and as I believe you already know, neither John nor I are located anywhere near England. And neither one of us knows when, or even if, either one of us will be able to go there and visit the Museum. It might take years. Everyone interested in these translations could certainly use the help of anyone (not necessarily you) in England for whom it would not be too much trouble to invest some time to go there and copy some of these rare and little known documents. As you already know, we are willing to cover the costs of copying them.

    Regards,
    Juan

    PS: glad you liked the transcription.