Reference > Cambridge History > Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton > The Foundation of Libraries > Cathedral libraries
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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.

§ 3. Cathedral libraries.


Cathedral libraries suffered far more serious losses during the civil war than at the reformation. They were less carefully guarded than those of the monasteries, there being no regulation requiring their annual inspection; partly owing to the fact that the collections were mostly small: it is rarely that, prior to the fifteenth century, we find evidences of their being catalogued; and, even where a catalogue existed, the entirety of the library which it represented was too often left unverified. The Restoration marks a third stage in their history, when churchmen made an effort to replace, to some extent, the vanished treasures; and collections, large or small, were brought in from localities where they were likely to be less serviceable, the newly-introduced volumes, as at York and Wimborne, requiring the practised eye of the expert to distinguish them from the remnants of the original collections.   12
  In the early decades of the seventeenth century, the library of the minster at York still possessed the MSS. brought from the abbey at Rievaulx, and, in 1628, it received from the widow of its former archbishop, Tobias Matthew, his valuable collection of printed books; but the costly volumes relating to liturgic use and to ritual were not acquired until the eighteenth century. Llandaff, at this time, still possessed the library which it afterwards transferred to Cardiff castle for safety, but only to be destroyed by Cromwell’s soldiery. Durham had suffered severely at the reformation, losing no inconsiderable portion of its fine illuminated manuscripts, but still owned St. Cuthbert’s copy of the Gospels (now at the British Museum), and the editio princeps of Tacitus, by Vindelin de Spira. Here, the former refectory of the monastery (rebuilt in 1685) contains the chapter library, while the fine library presented by Cosin—a thoroughly representative collection of the Jacobean era, of which the catalogue, on vellum, still exists—has been transferred to the castle. Rochester has preserved but few manuscripts of any interest; but, among the printed books, there is a copy of the first printed English Bible of 1535, and a fine missal (Salisbury use) printed by Regnault in 1534. Lichfield possesses little that can be considered strictly monastic, its library dating from the benefaction of Frances, duchess of Somerset, in 1672. Ceadda’s (St. Chad’s) copy of the Gospels, however, found its way thither from Llandaff, and the collection also includes a fine MS. of the poems of Chaucer. Hereford, on the other hand, preserves (but in a special building) a library which presents, both in its literature and in its furniture, a singularly pleasing example of a medieval institution—the catalogue itself chained to the desk, the volumes arranged according to the then customary classification, while the Mappa Mundi is of world-wide fame. There is also a copy of Coverdale’s Bible of 1535. None of the preceding, however, could compare in regard to literature with Salisbury, which can still show an array of MSS. filling one hundred and eightyseven volumes, remained intact for a period of four hundred years and included productions ranging from the ninth to the fourteenth century, among them the Gallican Psalter of the ninth century, an English version of the Gospel of Nicodemus, Chaucer’s translation of Boethius and a MS. of Geoffrey of Monmouth. The Inventory of the Riches of the Cathedral Church of Sarum, “made by Master Thomas Robertson, Treasurer of the same Church in 1536,” contains a list of items which attest the wealth of the ancient foundation. Winchester, on the other hand, did not become possessed of its fine collection of Bibles, bequeathed by bishop Morley, until 1684. The collection also includes the early editions of Izaak Walton’s works At Lincoln, many of the MSS. have suffered mutilation; while, about the middle of the seventeenth century, the ancient library was greatly injured by fire. There is still, however, to be seen a MS. of Old English romances, collected (c. 1430) by Robert de Thornton, archdeacon of Bedford. Exeter possesses no catalogue earlier than 1683. Out of the sixty volumes given by Leofric, its first bishop, the library can still show its Liber Exoniensis, to which reference has been made in Volume I of the present work. At Wells, there are the five volumes of the Aldine Aristotle, one of them with the autograph of Erasmus. Ely possesses no editiones principes, but there is a considerable number of tracts relating to the history of the Nonjurors. At Lambeth, the valuable collection (which may be said to have originated in the bequest of archbishop Bancroft) remained uncatalogued until the time of Edmund Gibson, bishop of London, who made a beginning, which was not carried to completion until the time of Ducarel, its librarian towards the end of the eighteenth century. At Chichester, the library possesses MSS. of the statutes of Peterhouse, Cambridge, and of an account of the foundation of Christchurch, Oxford. At Westminster, Hacket tells us that John Williams, when dean,
converted a waste room … into a goodly library, model’d it into decent shape, furnish’d it with desks and chairs, accoutred it with all utensils and stored it with a vast number of learned volumes. For which use he lighted most fortunately upon the study of that learned gentleman, Mr. Baker of Highgate, who in a long and industrious life had collected into his own possession the best authors in all sciences, in their best editions, which being bought at 5001. (a cheap pennyworth for such precious ware) was removed into this storehouse. 16 
  13

Note 16Life of Williams, pt. I, p. 47. [ back ]

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