OBITUARIES: David Rogers

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The Independent Online
The Bodleian Library, Oxford, was David Rogers's life. He knew its collections backwards. He knew where the great collectors had acquired their books and manuscripts. He was able to tell from shelf-marks and other annotations whom they had belonged to in the past, even though there was no clue obvious to ordinary mortals, as a thief who had stolen valuable old books and removed the library stamp but not old collectors' scribbles discovered to his cost some years ago.

The son of an officer in the Indian army, Rogers spent his early childhood in India - his mother related how she by sheer chance prevented abduction of the infant by sacred monkeys that invaded their garden. He went to school at Downside, and his first literary enterprise was as editor of the school magazine, the Raven, in 1934-35. He read Greats at New College, Oxford, and at the outbreak of war in 1939 he served in the Army in India and Burma. Whenever he had a chance during leave, he indulged his love of remote and wild places in Himalaya.

After the war he returned to New College and completed a thesis for the DPhil, the subject of which, English Catholics and the Printing Press at home and abroad 1558-1640, remained his great interest for the rest of his life. This was the first DPhil granted in Oxford for a dissertation on a bibliographical subject. As a graduate student he was employed part- time in the Bodleian Library from 1947, and after completion of his thesis in 1952 he became a full-time graduate assistant. He spent the rest of his working life in Bodley; from 1978 till he retired in 1984 he was Head of Special Collections.

Rogers wrote much, but perhaps his name will be remembered primarily because of the Catalogue of Catholic Books printed abroad or secretly in England 1558-1640, a joint venture with A. S. Allison, published in 1956, and still used as the reference book on the subject. Much later followed: The Contemporary Printed Literature of the English Counterreformation between 1558 and 1640, volume one, Works in Languages other than English, in 1989, and volume two, Works in English, in 1994, written jointly with W. Lottes. His many articles are listed by Dennis Rhodes in the Bodleian Library Record, 1985.

Rogers was an excellent incunabulist and found and acquired over the years many books for the library that filled important gaps in the collections. The lovely picture book The Bodleian Library and its Treasures, 1320 to 1700 (1991) is not least remarkable for Rogers's scholarly description of each splendid volume.

He was an ardent collector, not only of Catholic books, but also of incunables. He had over 160, collected, with great taste and knowledge, when that was still possible. Part of his war grant was spent on a splendid 11th- century manuscript. He would go to endless trouble to help a fellow collector, and one always learnt a lot about one's own books after he had had a look at them. "You know, of course, that that Ludolph [Amharic and Ethiopic Grammars and Dictionaries, 1698-1702] belonged to your 18th- century colleague, Richard Mead MD, for it has his shelf-mark." One didn't.

But there were many other sides to David Rogers. In the early 1960s I went with him for several weeks on a working party to remote St Kilda. We repaired cleits and weeded the graveyard. We made a hairy landing on Dun, and David soon disappeared in the distance like a mountain goat, while the rest of us were labouring up the treacherous slopes. His knowledge of birds and plants was great, as was his sense of humour. One evening a bent and very bearded "German Professor" came to our tents and lectured on strange birds like "the Greater Redbreasted Sunbather". At the end the false beard, the stoop, and the accent disappeared, and David emerged - he had had us in stitches.

Rogers was a great gardener. Whilst his parents were still alive, the family home was the Priory on the hills outside Bath with perhaps the loveliest view in Europe. The garden was full of exotic flowers and trees. In later years he lived at the Old Mill in Blewbury, where he delighted in a lovely garden with wonderful trees and shrubs.

Life latterly had not been easy. A sister who enjoyed ill-health for many years was a burden he accepted without a murmur, and his last few years were plagued by illness which he bore with great courage. David Rogers was a devout Roman Catholic, and it was his intention that his library should go to his old school, Downside, in whose splendid library he had long taken a lively interest.

Bent Juel-Jensen

David McGregor Rogers, librarian and bibliographer: born India 29 May 1917; Head of Special Collections, Bodleian Library, Oxford 1978-84; died Blewbury, Oxfordshire 31 May 1995.

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