Home  »  Volume IV: English PROSE AND POETRY SIR THOMAS NORTH TO MICHAEL DRAYTON  »  § 4. Cambridge College libraries

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

§ 4. Cambridge College libraries

The libraries in both universities sustained irreparable losses during the period of the reformation.

  • It is clear, from Leland’s Collectanea, that Clare College possessed in his time a large number of books of which there is no trace now. We have in print catalogues of the old libraries at Corpus Christi, Trinity Hall, King’s, Queens’, St. Catherine’s, and the University. At the present moment [1899] 19 of the University Library books are known to exist out of 330. At Corpus Christi, 3 out of 75; at Queens’, I believe, none; at King’s, 1 out of 176; at Trinity Hall, 1; at St. Catherine’s none out of about 100.
  • On the other hand, most of these libraries had also been receiving considerable accessions. Perne, who held the mastership of Peterhouse from 1553 to 1589, was distinguished by his efforts on behalf of the university library and also of the library of his own college. In relation to the former, Bradshaw says that “we may fairly look upon him as the principal agent in its restoration at this period.” While, as regards the college, he not only provided for the erection of the present library, but “enriched it with a large share of his magnificent collections.” None of the colleges (with the exception of Corpus Christi) bestowed greater care than did Peterhouse on its books and on their preservation—a tradition, possibly, from those earlier days, when, as night came on, the town gates were closed, and the little society without was called upon to trust solely to its own vigilance, against the marauder and the purloiner. As early as 1472, the library had been further augmented by the bequest of the royal physician, Roger Marshall, and a portion of his bequest had, by his instructions, been placed in apertiori libraria, evidently with the design of rendering the volumes more generally accessible, without allowing them to be borrowed. Eight years later, however, during the mastership of John Warkworth (the reputed author of the Chronicle), further regulations were enacted, whereby it was made permissible to lend a volume to a member of the society for a term of two years, but with the precaution of first obtaining a valuation of the book so as, in the event of its not being returned, to mulct the borrower in its full value. At Corpus Christi college, at the time when archbishop Parker bequeathed his noble collection, the original library had almost disappeared. He made it his first care, on succeeding to the mastership in 1544, and finding many volumes in the library “scattered about without any safe keeping,” to take measures which involved a radical reform. The earliest catalogue—that compiled by John Botener in 1376—and other records, enable us to realise the serious losses which had been sustained and also to understand how such experiences may well have seemed to him to justify the almost unprecedented regulations wherewith he sought to guard against their recurrence. In 1578, the college chapel was rebuilt, and rooms were constructed over it; and, in a small chamber over the ante-chapel, the famous Parker MSS. were safely housed for some 250 years.
  • Parker stands at the head of the race of modern book collectors. As Archbishop of Canterbury during the early years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, he had the first pick of the whole of the plunder of the libraries and muniment-rooms of the dissolved religious houses; and his suffragans were only too ready to gain his favour by almost forcing upon him the treasures of the Cathedral libraries.
  • A series of catalogues, from those compiled by Parker himself to that drawn up by M. R. James, give proof of what may be described as a continuously growing sense of the value of the entire collection. Among the chief treasures, the MS. of the four Gospels (no. 286) is asserted to have been one of the volumes that pope Gregory the Great sent from Rome for the use of St. Austin of Canterbury; two chronicles (nos. 16 and 26) are supposed to have been composed, written and illustrated by Matthew Paris, historiographer of St. Albans. The collection is also strong in liturgiology; but it is, perhaps, most widely known by its wealth in Old English literature, of which there are five distinct classes: Gospels, Annals of England, Glossaries, Homilies (Aelfric’s Lives of the Saints) and Canons. James has identified no less than 47 volumes as formerly belonging to Christ Church Church priory, and 26 to St. Augustine’s abbey, both at Canterbury.

    The losses against which Parker had sought to guard his bequeathed treasures either menaced, or actually overtook, other colleges, but not until long after his death, and then chiefly in connection with political events, of which the experience of Emmanuel college affords a singularly noteworthy but somewhat complicated illustration. Richard Bancroft, who had been educated at Christ’s college and was, subsequently, a fellow of Jesus, becoming, finally, archbishop of Canterbury, died in 1610, bequeathing a valuable library to his successors in the see; but his bequest was accompanied with certain conditions which proved difficult to carry into effect. Those who were to inherit it were to give security for its due preservation in its entirety, a requirement which the enforcement of the covenant rendered impracticable. Failing this proviso, the collection was to become the property of Bancroft’s projected foundation of Chelsea college, of which the scheme, however, altogether collapsed. And, finally, the donor, in anticipation of such miscarriage, had designated the university of Cambridge as the recipient. For thirty years, however, owing to certain obstacles, although the collection was augmented by considerable gifts from both archbishop Abbot and his rival Laud, it remained stowed away in “the study over the Cloisters at Lambeth,” until parliament, on being formally petitioned, intervened, and order was given, in February 1645/6, that the entire collection, now unrivalled as a source of information with respect to church history in the Jacobean era, should be sent to Cambridge. It was not, even then, until after John Selden and others had used their influence that these instructions were carried into effect. On the arrival of the books, the imposing array was described by the academic authorities as evoking no little “exultation”; and parliament itself, on learning that the first result had been to render increased accommodation imperatively necessary, was induced to grant £2000 “for the building and finishing the Public Library at Cambridge.” The Lords, although unable to give their assent, concurred, notwithstanding, in a separate grant for the purchase from Thomason of a valuable collection of Hebrew books—noted by Henry Bradshaw as constituting the nucleus of the Hebrew library of the university. The volumes given by Abbot and other later donors had not been sent with Bancroft’s, but in the following year (1649) these also arrived. It was at this junction that the death of Richard Holdsworth gave rise to unlooked for complications. Holdsworth was a distinguished scholar who had filled the office of public orator with marked ability, but, owing to his refusal to take the covenant, had been ejected, in 1644, from the mastership of Emmanuel and, subsequently, imprisoned in the Tower. He was well known, however, to Manchester, the puritan general, and had, consequently, been able to save his own valuable library from sequestration by declaring his intention of bequeathing it to his college; but, at his death, in 1649, it was found, on opening his will, that he had finally decided to leave the collection to the university library should the Bancroft collection ever be reclaimed for Lambeth. When the Restoration came, it was one of Juxon’s first measures as primate to make that demand, as it was one of his last, to provide for the fit reception of the books by the erection of the noble building which bears his name. The university promptly complied; but, when it sought to obtain some compensation for its loss, by applying for the transfer of Holdsworth’s library (then in London) to its own shelves, the authorities at Emmanuel contested their claim, and a suit was consequently begun in the court of Arches. Eventually, the matter was left to be dealt with by three adjudicators—the archbishop of York, the bishop of London and the bishop of Ely—who, in December 1664, gave a formal award on parchment to the following effect: (1) Holdsworth’s printed books and MSS. were to come to the public library at Cambridge; (2) duplicates were to be disposed of, as Holdsworth had directed in his will; (3) Emmanuel college was to receive from the university £200 in settlement of its claim, and also to be repaid its costs, provided the said costs did not exceed £20.

    To St. Catharine’s belongs the credit of having been the first to print its entire catalogue, 1771; but that by Stanley, of the Parker MSS. at Corpus, had appeared in 1722; and, in 1827, Queen’s college printed its catalogue, compiled by Thomas Hartwell Horne, in two large octavo volumes.

    The library of St. John’s college, Cambridge, affords an excellent example of both the literature and the architecture of the period, having been built in 1624, by John Williams, the lord keeper (whose arms are over the doorway), in the style known as Jacobean Gothic; the interior, with its white-washed walls, dark oak ceiling and presses, still presenting very much the same appearance that it must have done in 1654, when John Evelyn pronounced it “the fairest of that university.” The presses, more particularly—each with its sloping top, designed, originally, to serve as a reading-desk, and list of contents at the end, enclosed under folding panels—are a good illustration of the medieval arrangements already described. Among the contents to be noted are: the so-called Cromwell’s Bible, printed (on vellum) partly in Paris and partly in London, and “finished in April, A.D. 1539”—a vast folio, splendidly illuminated, bearing the arms of Thomas Cromwell; the service books used by Charles I and archbishop Laud at the coronation of the former, and that used by Sancroft at the coronation of James II; a curious Irish Psalter supposed to be of the ninth century, with grotesque drawings, and interlined throughout with Latin glosses written in Celtic minuscules; and an illuminated book of Hours, an admirable specimen of Flemish art, containing the autograph of the foundress, the Lady Margaret.

    Neither the statutes of Michael house nor those of King’s hall (the two foundations subsequently absorbed in Trinity) contain any reference to books, and the erection of the magnificent library of Trinity, of which the plans were first begun by Sir Christopher Wren in 1676, belongs to a period beyond our present limits. Among the donors to the Trinity collection, Sir Edward Stanhope, a fellow of the society, bequeathed fifteen manuscripts and over 300 volumes, among them the Polyglot Bible, known as king Philip’s Bible; and James Duport, vice-master of the society, and afterwards master of Magdalene, was a liberal donor of “English books,” under which denomination the compiler of the catalogue includes not only works in the English language, whether printed in the country or abroad, but books which “though not in the English language, have a distinct connection with the English Church, history, or literature.”

    The original catalogue of Magdalene college library is still preserved, “a volume with an illuminated heraldic frontispiece” bearing the arms of Thomas Howard, a distinguished benefactor to the society, whom king James had created first earl of Suffolk in 1603; while, on the opposite page, the names of the earliest donors to the library appear on the leaves of an olivetree. The list begins with the name of Thomas Neville, of Pembroke college, whom the earl had appointed master in 1582. A Nuremberg Chronicon (folio, 1493); an Aesop (de Worde, 1503); a Manuale ad usum Sarum (Rouen, 1504); a Salisbury breviary (London, 1556), are among the chief rarities.