Caesar Book

A recently catalogued book from Brasenose’s rare books collection: a copy of Caesar’s collected works published in 1544 in Paris. Not especially rare in itself, there are several other copies in Oxford, but what makes this one fascinating is one of the book’s first owners. There are many annotations throughout in a 16th century hand, and one of the pages bears the inscription:

John slie [sic] his book.


John Slie or Sly (the spelling varies) was a schoolboy at Westminster School, possibly a chorister, and has filled his little copy of Caesar with all kinds of schoolboy doodlings! They are fascinating to read, and really show how little the schoolboy mind has changed, although perhaps these days not so many would be quite so keen on mentioning the Queen – the word Elizabeth appears over and over again on empty pages. He also composed a poem which he wrote a few words at a time over 31 pages:

My father to me – this did give;

And I will keep it as long as I live.

Whose booke it is if you will know,

By letters twaine – I will you showe.

The one is I in all men’s sight,

The other is S and full of might.

Joyne these to letters – presently,

And you shall know – my name by and by.

John Slye – is my name,

And with my penn – I writ the same.

God that made both – sea and sand

Give me grace – to mende my hand;

For I have neither – hat nor cap,

He is a knave – that redes me that.

The rose is red, – the leves – are grene,

God save – Elizabeth – our noble – Quene.


Quite a little gem of a book, and incredible that it has lasted all this time considering it had many owners over the years, including two Brasenose alumni. An article was written on the book in the 19th century by A.M. Bell, appearing in volume 29 (1894) of The Antiquary, a copy of which is also available in the library.

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