Narcissus Luttrell 1657-1732

From Book Owners Online

Narcissus LUTTRELL 1657-1732

Luttrell's monogram ink stamp (St Ignatius, Epistolae, 1646, private collection)

Biographical Note

Born in Holborn, London, son of Francis Luttrell, lawyer. MA St John's College, Cambridge 1675; admitted at Gray's Inn 1673, where he became a barrister in 1680. He did not pursue an active legal practice, but was a JP for Middlesex, and was MP for two Cornish seats between 1679 and 1691. His parliamentary diary for the early 1690s has been edited as a valuable historical resource. He lived in Chelsea for the last two decades of his life.


Luttrell's reputation rests not only on his diaries and his Historical relation of state affairs (published long after his death in 1857) but on the way he collected and maintained his library. He began buying books during the 1670s, and soon afterwards began purchasing, systematically, all new pamphlets and publications on current affairs, through the time of the Popish Plot and thereafter. His habit of noting both the purchase price and date of publication has been invaluable for establishing the sequence of such tracts and broadsides. He also assembled a series of volumes of early English poetry, bound up by date, but beyond that he acquired books on a broad range of subjects, and by 1705 he reckoned he had spent at least £1500 on his library. James Osborn reckoned that at least that sum, again, was spent on books from 1705 until his death. The size and contents of his entire library are not known, but Osborn identified over 2300 surviving pamphlets with his characteristic dating on them; this would only have been one element of the whole.

Luttrell's son Francis shared his father's interests and inherited the books. In his final will, made in 1732, the bulk of his estate passed to Francis; an earlier draft will of 1705 suggested that the library should go to a suitable institution, such as Gray's Inn, should Francis die prematurely or intestate. After Francis's death in 1749, the library descended to Edward Wynne, son of a cousin, and much of it was sold as part of the sale of his library in 1786. Some manuscripts were also given, at that time, to All Souls College, Oxford; other Luttrell manuscripts were dispersed at sales in the 20th century. His books are now widely distributed across libraries around the world.

Characteristic Markings

As noted above, Luttrell regularly a date of publication and/or a purchase price on his titlepages. He also sometimes added his name, comments, identifications, etc. His most distinctive and readily recognisable mark of ownership is a monogram ink stamp, incorporating the letters of his name, which is typically found on his titlepages.