John Morris ca.1580-1658

From Book Owners Online

John MORRIS ca.1580-1658

Biographical Note

Born in London, the son of a Dutch water engineer Peter Morris, who became wealthy by creating a system of piped water supply for the city. John inherited the London watermills, built near London Bridge in 1580. His education is unknown but may have involved Cambridge and/or Gray’s Inn; he travelled extensively on the continent in the 1610s. His private means allowed him to pursue scholarly interests; he did not publish, beyond a few poems in larger works, but was acquainted with many of the better-known antiquaries of the time. His political opinions have been assessed as those of an orthodox protestant, with moderate parliamentarian and puritan leanings, but opposed to the execution of Charles I.


Morris’s reputation rests mainly upon the library he assembled, described in his will as “the chiefe pleasure and imployment of my life”, of which a significant proportion was sold by his widow to the Royal Library in 1660-61. A little under 1500 items from his collection are still in the British Library although the full extent of the original is unknown. The contents are wide ranging, covering Morris’s antiquarian and literary interests, noteworthy for the holdings of European, and particularly Italian, vernacular literature. His surviving correspondence reveals an extensive knowledge of the London book trade.

Morris's inscription, in Latin form (British Library 568.b.22, P. Bertius, De aggeribus et pontibus, 1629

Characteristic Markings

Morris usually inscribed his name on titlepages in the language of the book – “John Morris”, “sum Johannis Morris”, “Giovanni Maurizio”, etc. He regularly annotated his books, often on the front flyleaf, sometimes copying notes about the book in question from other works. Examples: many in the British Library, and elsewhere; detailed list in Birrell.


  • Birrell, T. The library of John Morris, 1976.
  • Bremmer, Rolf H. "Morris, John (d. 1658), antiquary and book collector." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Rhodes, D. E., Some English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish book-collectors in Italy, 1467-1850, in Rhodes, D. E. (ed), Bookbindings and other bibliophily: essays in honour of Anthony Hobson, Verona, 1994, 247-76, p.258.