The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XIX. The Foundation of Libraries

§ 10. Trinity College, Dublin

In singular contrast to the numerous collections which have been dispersed by war, the library of Trinity college, Dublin, originated in a victory won by English arms. It was in the year 1601, after the rebellion in Munster had been crushed, that the conquerors at Kinsale subscribed the sum of £700 for the purchase of books to be presented to the college; and, in 1603, James Ussher and Luke Challoner were sent to London to expend the money. While thus employed, they fell in with Thomas Bodley, engaged in a like errand on behalf of the future Bodleian. The total fund at their disposal had been increased to £1800, which was soon invested in purchases; and, by 1610, the original forty volumes in the library had been increased to 4000.

Ussher’s own library, however, the same that had very narrowly escaped dispersion after he left Oxford for Wales, and which he was designing to present to Dublin, had been confiscated by parliament as a mark of its displeasure at his refusal to recognise the authority of the Westminster assembly of divines; and it was only through the intercession of John Selden in his behalf, that he eventually succeeded in recovering the larger part of the collection; then it was, that, in order to make some provision for his daughter, lady Tyrrell, the primate was diverted from his original intention, and bequeathed the books to her. On his death, her ladyship received various offers for the same, the king of Denmark and cardinal Mazarin having been among the would-be purchasers; but Cromwell forbade the sale, and all that remained of the collection was ultimately purchased by the parliamentary army in Ireland for £2200.

  • “By the acquisition of Ussher’s books,” says Macneile Dixon, “the library of Trinity College was at once raised to high rank. Grants from the Irish House of Commons and the benefactions of many private persons added to its treasures in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.… During the nineteenth century, the chief increase in the number of volumes has been due to the act of parliament which, in 1801, gave to Trinity college library the right to a copy of every book published in the United Kingdom.”