Home  »  Volume IV: English PROSE AND POETRY SIR THOMAS NORTH TO MICHAEL DRAYTON  »  § 30. Cambridge University Press

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

XVIII. The Book-Trade, 1557–1625

§ 30. Cambridge University Press

By 1557, the year in which the Stationers’ company was incorporated, all these presses had already ceased; and, until the revival of the Cambridge press in 1583, the only printing carried on in England, outside London, was that by Anthony de Solempne, who, from 1568 to 1580, was printing Dutch books in Norwich for the use of the refugees there, for which he seems to have obtained the queen’s authority. Although the monopoly conferred upon the company did not contribute to the extinction of the provincial presses, the opposition to the re-establishment of the Cambridge press clearly indicates that any attempted revival would have been promptly strangled.

The right to elect “three stationers or printers or sellers of books” had been granted to the university of Cambridge by Henry VIII in 1534, but, though printers were regularly appointed under this grant, no actual printing was done in Cambridge from the cessation of John Siberch’s press in 1522 until the appointment in 1582 of Thomas Thomas as university printer. The Stationers’ company, having got wind of this intention to establish a university press, scented dangerous competition and infringement of their privileges, and the “presse and furniture” intended for Mr. Thomas’s establishment, having been discovered by their searchers, were seized and detained. In this action, the company was supported by the bishop of London (John Aylmer), who, though professing great concern for the interests of printing, was, no doubt, alarmed at the power which this new press might place in the hands of the puritan party in Cambridge. The university appealed to their chancellor, lord Burghley, for the restoration of the press, and succeeded in vindicating their claim to the privileges of the patent; but a jealous struggle with the London company continued for many years, with varying successes and reprisals on both sides, the university, on the whole, steadily gaining ground and, in the end, completely establishing its right to print.

Besides his work as university printer, Thomas, who was a fellow of King’s college, is known as the author of a Latin dictionary, of which eight editions had been issued from the Cambridge press by 1610. Thomas was succeeded on his death in 1588 by John Legate, who, in 1609, removed to London, and was followed in the office by Cantrell Legge. Among the productions of this press, books in divinity and scholastic subjects naturally preponderate, and there is very little of literary interest. Certain things such as The Returne from Parnassus (1606), Tomkis’s Albumazar (1615), and Ruggle’s Ignoramus (entered 18 April, 1615), which, being university plays, one might very well expect to find with a Cambridge imprint, were, nevertheless, printed and published in London.