A Description Of The Library At Merly In the County of Dorset. Description De La Bibliothèque De Merly Dans le Comté de Dorset.

Ralph Willett

RA Collection: Book

Record number



Variant Title

Description De La Bibliothèque De Merly


London:: Printed For The Author, Ralph Willett, Esq; Dean-Street, Soho, By John Nichols,, 1785.

Physical Description

[6], 14 p., [24] leaves carrying [25] pl. (5 dble., 2 fold.): illus. (t.p. vignette); 545mm. (Broadsheet).


[T.p., dedic.] - List of Subscribers - [Text] - [Plates].

Responsibility Note

The title-page vignette and all plates are signed as designed by R. Willett, except plate [18] (Athens), which is signed as designed by James Stuart. All but three are signed as drawn by Wm. Collins (one is unsigned; pl. [24] is signed as painted by Richard Wilson, pl. [25] as painted by Sol. Delane). Most are signed as engraved by James Caldwell or James Record, but some are signed as engraved by Wm. Sharp, Ryley or B.T. Pouncy.

The work is dedicated by the author to the King (George III).


T. Knox, 'The library at Merly', in Apollo, 152 (2000), p.38-45; S. Jervis, 'The English country house library', in N. Barker, ed., Treasures from the libraries of National Trust country houses [exhibition catalogue] (1999), p. 12-33; J. Brewer, The pleasures of the imagination: English culture in the eighteenth century (1997); A. Masson, Le Décor des bibliothèques du moyen age à la Révolution (1972); D. Stillman, 'The gallery for Lansdowne House', in Art bulletin 52 (1970), p. 69-80; A.G. Thomas, 'Ralph Willett', in Book collector, 12 (1963), p.439-48.
ESTC, T88028

Summary Note

The text is in English and French in parallel.

The work provides an example of a thematic decoration of a library in the eighteenth century. The theme chosen for the library at Merly was that of the rise and progress of civilization and the arts. The plates show: 1. Quarter round of the center compartments; Ground plan of the Library. 2. Book case. 3. Zoroaster. 4. Mahomet. 5. Moses. 6. Christ. 7. Alfred. 8. Confucius. 9. Osiris. 10. Manco Capac. 11. Painting. 12. Sculpture. 13. Geography. 14. Astronomy. 15. Patagonia. 16. Otaheite. 17. Egypt. 18. Athens. 19. Britannia. 20. Tablets of the Chimnies, Terms and Angular Ornaments. 21, 22, 23. General Arrangement of the Ceiling. 24. Athens in its Flourishing State. 25. Athens in its present State of Ruin.

The library had been built in 1772, to house Willett's collection of finely-printed books. In 1776 he had printed an octavo description; and in 1785 not only the present work but also octavo versions in English and in French. In 1790 he would publish an octavo catalogue of the library. After his death the building was torn down, and its contents (of which a sale catalogue survives) were auctioned off (1813).


Originally purchased from the author for 4 guineas in the Lady Day quarter of 1785. Willett however returned the money and presented the book instead in January 1786 (see RA Quarterly Cashbook 1769-1795; RA Council Minutes, II, 19).

Copy Note

Imperfect: lacks the List of Subscribers.

Binding Note

18th-century half calf, marbled-papered boards; rebacked and recornered in 20th century; red morocco spine-label lettered 'Merly Library'.


Libraries (rooms) - Library bookcases - Ceilings - Interior decoration - Country houses - Great Britain - Dorset - Merly (Dorset) - History - 18th century
Civilization - Arts - Iconography - 18th century
Pictorial works - Great Britain - 18th century


George III King of Great Britain, dedicatee
John Nichols, printer
William Collins, draughtsman
James Caldwall, engraver
James Record, engraver
James Stuart, draughtsman
Solomon Delane, source artist
William Sharp, engraver
Charles Reuben Ryley, engraver
Benjamin Thomas Pouncy, engraver
Richard Wilson RA, source artist
Ralph Willett, source artist, previous owner, donor