By Lester J. Cappon
THE English Renaissance that flourished during the later decades of Queen Elizabeth’s reign and the quarter-century of James I’s witnessed three generations of remarkable intellectuals—scholars, antiquaries, literary figures, collectors—born during the second half of the sixteenth century. They knew one another by reputation, through correspondence, and by publication, and in many instances became personal friends or acquaintances. In spite of slow and uncertain transportation, this exchange of information among like-minded men stimulated thought and fostered a sense of intellectual community. John Selden, one of the younger generation, summed up the situation as “the advancement of that Common-wealth of Learning.”1
In seeking to identify the components of this “common-wealth” one must recognize the importance of a stabilized Elizabethan monarchy and an era of economic expansion as essential for the cultural manifestations that met with the favor, and at times the disfavor, of two such utterly different sovereigns as the last of the Tudors and the first of the Stuarts. Political issues between crown and Parliament and intricate religious controversy stemming from the peculiar nature of the Reformation in England stimulated statesmen and scholars, churchmen and antiquaries, to search records of the distant and the recent past, whether to argue a particular case or to increase the world’s useful knowledge by the pursuit of history.
It was an era notable for the development of private libraries, whether by the lord of the manor who could afford to indulge his taste for literature, classical and modern, and thus display the badge of learning, or by the antiquary who collected manuscripts and artifacts locally or more widely, as his purse allowed, in the course of his research. This interest in the past brought about the formation in London of the first Society of Antiquaries, where the members were soon enjoying association with the library of Sir Robert Cotton. In Oxford a few years later, the “public library” of Sir Thomas Bodley was starting its operations. They were the English collectors par excellence in this period of intellectual ferment. The milieu in which they built their collections and the service these and other libraries rendered to their contemporaries constitute the theme of the present essay.
Basic to the advancement of the “Common-wealth of Learning” have ever been the preservation of records and their accessibility under conditions conducive to their use. As in other eras, under varying circumstances of citizens and the state, the sources of learning survived in a thousand places more often exposed to the forces of destruction than protected for their inherent worth. Whether public or private in character, they were usually forgotten before they were remembered, and lost before they were found by accidental discovery. During a revival of learning, however, they were recovered by scholars who surmised what should have been and knew what must have been recorded, and then set out intelligently on the quest. Like the marathon in the coliseum that ends where it begins, so the search for the sources of the past begins and ends in that unique human creation, the library. For it is scarcely conceivable that he who “remembers” the sources of history, as yet unseen, has not sharpened his wits on knowledge already acquired in books which suggest how he might enrich his collection and lend it distinction.
The English Renaissance is notable for the development and proliferation of private libraries, in contrast to the condition of the public records varying in accessibility from one repository to another. In many instances the nucleus of the private library consisted of manorial records and a variety of family papers, the gradual accumulation of decades and centuries, preserved sometimes in a separate muniment room. These were family archives, replete with evidence of organic growth in the daily operation of the manor and related interests of the family. Thus came into existence and steadily grew, for example, the great corpus of manuscripts and imprints of the Thynne Family at Longleat in Wiltshire, or of the Egertons of Cheshire and Bridgewater House. These and many like them bespoke a feeling of personal obligation toward preservation for the family, not for purposes of research. Access by the antiquary hinged upon personal acquaintance or an introduction through proper channels. For the most part, the rich contents of such libraries were not made known in any detail until the late nineteenth century, when the Historical Manuscripts Commission began publishing lists and calendars with the cooperation of the owners.2 The day of the historian had arrived.
Some lords of the manor with antiquarian leanings reached out beyond their immediate family connections to accumulate the records of others, available because of the owners’ indifference or disposable in the settlement of estates. Many of these nobles had attended the universities where they became tinged, if not imbued, with the new learning and developed a sense of the past amid their local surroundings. William Lord Howard (1563–1640), son of the Catholic Duke of Norfolk and half brother of Philip, Earl of Arundel, began collecting books and manuscripts as a young man in Middlesex and later maintained a large library along with an expansive household at Naworth Castle in remote Cumberland. There, along Hadrian’s Wall, he salvaged Roman altars and inscriptions. Surmounting the prejudices that Roman Catholics were wont to suffer, Howard became the friend of scholars and cooperated in various antiquarian pursuits. That distinguished scholar, William Camden, to whom Howard had sent drawings of Roman remains, commended him as “a singular lover of valuable antiquity and learned withal.”3
If we associate the antiquary exclusively with local history and the limited viewpoint that the term commonly implies, we do him a grave injustice. In an era when the province of History had not yet been defined or subjected to criteria of historical criticism, we find in the antiquary’s activities a commendable mixture of primitive archeology, topography, genealogy, biography, and historical narrative. He had become aware of primary sources as the essential element for research and he had developed skepticism toward the ancient chronicles. “Antiquity” embraced the centuries from the ancient Britons to the Norman Conquest, with somewhat less attention paid to the twelfth century and the “middle age.” To find the sources lacking among the public records in London required searching in the localities, where loyalty to the county that was home and “native soyle”4 gave further incentive to the antiquary. The Elizabethan age marked the inception of a long succession of county topographical histories, by local antiquaries, beginning with William Lambarde’s A Perambulation of Kent (1576). He set the example which his contemporaries—John Norden, Thomas Nash, John Stow, Richard Carew—strove to emulate5 and in some cases exceeded in quality. County histories, a significant contribution to Elizabethan historiography, became increasingly elaborate after 1700,6 culminating in the monumental Victoria History of the Counties of England, which began publication during the first decade of the twentieth century. To a remarkable degree they became sources for the work of other antiquaries and eventually of the professional historian.
Most illustrious among the antiquaries was William Camden (1551–1623), whose Britannia (1586), published originally in Latin, was the work of his young manhood. His friendship with the brilliant Sir Philip Sidney at Christ Church, Oxford, anticipated a half-century of associations with the great, the near-great, and many a lesser light who found him stimulating and provocative as scholar and sage. Of the older generation of intellectuals that flourished at the turn of the century, Camden molded the younger generation during his twenty-two years as second master of Westminster School. Always a free-lance scholar, he established his reputation early. With modest material needs, this “learned layman” enjoyed prestige and independence of position, dissociated from the bureaucratic system that encouraged sycophants and court favorites. His proud statement, “I never made suit to any man, no not to his Majesty,”7 has often been quoted. In fact, Camden’s writings, like Thomas Jefferson’s, contain many quotable observations and reflections. Like Jefferson, too, he towers so high above the most of his contemporaries that the historian must be wary of making generalizations, derived too exclusively from his attainments, about his circle and society.
Camden must have first conceived the idea of a work on ancient Britain while still a student at Christ Church, for he spent the next four years, 1575–1579, traveling throughout England, conferring with the most skillful observers in each county and reading all the Latin as well as the English authors. He did research in the records, local and national, and copied “their very own words, (although barbarous they be) that the honor of veritie might in no wise be impeached.”8 Confronted with documents in ancient British and Anglo-Saxon, he proceeded to achieve some skill in these languages, although he was especially interested in Roman Britain and the significance of its history. He regarded the “Itinerary of Antoninus,” that register of places and distances on the Roman roads during Hadrian’s reign, as a kind of fundamental text, for Camden had also traveled widely and probed deeply in order to write a topographical description and historical sketch of each county, comprising three-fourths of his 800-page volume.9 The geographer, Abraham Ortelius, during a visit in England lent encouragement to Camden’s comprehensive project and urged that he “restore antiquity to Britaine, and Britain to his antiquity,” thus banishing the myths and correcting the errors prevalent in earlier accounts. Camden wrote in the annalistic tradition, but “upon fables I have in no wise relied.” With a sense of historical method he strove “to sift out the Truth,” and he deplored the religious prejudices of his day that threatened to distort history.1
Camden’s Britannia, which appeared in numerous editions during his lifetime and reappeared in the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries with supplementary annotations, became the starting point for many a county history.2 One must not overlook the fact that Camden wrote without benefit of the notable private libraries that marked the English Renaissance at its height. “I have looked into most Libraries, Registers, and memorials of Churches, Cities, and Corporations,” he stated in his Preface; “I have poored upon many an old Rowle, and Evidence”;3 but libraries were not numerous in the 1570’s or readily accessible. Archbishop Matthew Parker’s (d. 1575) large collection, which he bequeathed to Cambridge University, was an exception, but its contents were mainly theological. A man of scholarly proclivities, the Archbishop had lived at just the right time, under the most favorable conditions, to augment his library with priceless manuscripts and incunabula. He witnessed the dissolution of the religious houses by Henry VIII and was able to save many of their records from ruthless destruction.4 Camden and his contemporaries, however, were born too late to reap this harvest. They had to be content with salvage operations at second and third hand long after the monastic archives and libraries had been dispersed.
Nevertheless, after the lapse of a half-century they did savor the mixed fruit of King Henry’s wisdom and folly. The keeper of the Royal Library, John Leland (ca. 1503–1552), had been appointed King’s Antiquary in 1533 “to make a search after England’s Antiquities, and peruse the Libraries of all Cathedrals, Abbeys, Priories, Colleges, &c.”5 It was ironic that Leland’s painstaking itinerary through most of England and Wales and his transcription of numerous records should have proceeded in part simultaneously with dissolution and destruction by royal order. Leland had planned to write a book on England’s antiquities from his voluminous notes, but death intervened. The manuscript Itinerary and his papers (“Collectanea”) disappeared for several decades; then portions came to light and Camden and Stow, among several scholars, got access to them. Fortunately, in the long run, most of them came into the custody of the Cottonian and the Bodleian libraries.6
One of Camden’s pupils at Westminster School was Robert Cotton (1571–1631), who, like his master before him, went up to Cambridge and took the B.A. at Jesus College in 1585. The master is usually credited with having first aroused antiquarian tastes in his pupil, who doubtless heard accounts from time to time of experiences on Camden’s field trips in preparation for his Britannia. In any case, Cotton soon developed a deep interest in manuscript collecting;7 indeed throughout his life he thrived on bibliomania. As the eldest son of an affluent father, Cotton inherited the family seat of Connington in Huntingdonshire, which he maintained as his country estate. If Cotton the bibliophile was a man of action, he must have found Connington, seventy miles from London, too far from the center of the book trade to advance his interests. Some time in the early 1590’s, it appears, he acquired a house in Westminster, near the Old Palace Yard, with a garden extending to the bank of the Thames. Here he lived near the hub of commercial and political activity of the capital during a period of phenomenal expansion and vibrant nationalism, and here he became almost inevitably involved in public affairs.8
Cotton soon moved his library from Connington to Westminster. Imbued with the prevailing spirit of historical inquiry concerning ancient and medieval Britain, he reached out in all directions to seek and acquire original documents of the Romans and Anglo-Saxons, of Normans and Plantagenets, of church and state. How widely and frequently he traveled in quest of records is not known (he explored Cumberland County for antiquities with Camden in 1599),9 but his family connections and social position were advantageous for gaining entrée to accumulations or residues of old manuscripts. Social mobility during Elizabeth’s reign strengthened the Tudor monarchy.1 New fortunes were being made, old ones lost or revamped; new dukedoms vied with old for the favor of the crown; and marriages that brought about new family alliances affected property holdings including the archives in the muniment rooms. It was an exploitable prospect for an enterprising, knowledgeable man like Cotton.
Nor did he confine his collecting to Britain. Valuable documents of the ancient and medieval world were changing hands on the Continent, and Cotton commissioned agents to buy for him and keep him informed of the market.2 Private libraries multiplied in Italy and France, some of the more famous becoming better known a century later through printed catalogues; and, like the Cottonian Library, they became so fruitful as the meeting places of scholars that they constituted a kind of “republic of letters.” Most notable among the sixty-odd libraries in Paris was that of Jacques Auguste de Thou (d. 1617), president of the city’s Parlement, who welcomed “men belonging to the learned classes.”3 In England, by the time of James I’s reign, the Cottonian Library led all the rest, and Cotton’s name became eminent in Europe. John Selden dedicated his Historie of Tithes (1618) to Cotton, “in whom that usefull part is so fully eminent, that the most learned through Europe willingly acknowledge it.” In April 1622 Cotton was repairing a house he had recently purchased in Westminster and “there means to settle his library by feoffment to continue for the use of posterity.”4
The mingling of public records with private papers provides a perennial problem for archivists and a running commentary on the habits and personal interests of public officials as well as the cupidity of the private collector. In the course of increasing his library and broadening its content, Cotton acquired many groups of public records and individual documents of great historical value, so much so that during the reign of James I, whose favor Cotton enjoyed most of the time, bureaucratic resentment was expressed against those collections of his which comprised a kind of supplementary public record repository. He was a long-time friend of Arthur Agarde, keeper of records in the Four Treasuries of the Exchequer, who had devoted his life to the public records and was so highly respected in the circle of antiquaries that Camden dubbed him “antiquarius insignis”. Through Agarde, Sir Robert undoubtedly had easy access to the records, but that the two men were in collusion to gratify the acquisitive urge of the collector, without conscience concerning the official records, is more easily charged than proved. To what extent were some of them borrowed for more convenient use and better preservation in Cotton’s house? Were others loaned for the making of transcripts, regarded as sufficient for the archives if the originals were carefully preserved elsewhere? While there are no positive answers to these questions, they must be considered in the context of the loose archival practices of the period and the dynamic character of Sir Robert, who was frequently serving the nation through his knowledge of the records most easily accessible in the Cottonian Library. His request, among others, for “subscriptions and signatures of Princes and great men, attached to letters otherwise unimportant” in the state papers, which he was collecting “for curiosity’s sake,” becomes a commentary on contemporary archival policy concerning retention and disposal of records. Many others may have been weeded out of office files by irresponsible clerks and ended up as “dislocated manuscripts” in the Cottonian Library and elsewhere.5
After Agarde’s death Thomas Wilson, keeper of the state papers, urged his son-in-law, Ambrose Randolph, to apply promptly for the vacant position of keeper of the exchequer records, so that it might be preempted before Cotton made a recommendation in his own interest. Wilson felt that Cotton had already injured the keepers of state papers by “having such things as he hath coningly scraped together.” This innuendo, along with another casting doubt on the legality of Agarde’s will and his bequest of books and manuscripts to Cotton, has questionable validity as historical evidence, although it was Wilson’s duty to insist that public papers should be kept in the possession of the King’s officers, lest they “be suppressed when most wanted.” However, one must not overlook the fact that such records, of broken provenance, existed throughout England in the residences of current and former government officials (and their descendants) who had never segregated the public records from their private papers. Many of these Sir Robert acquired and thus assured their preservation, which eventually became permanent in the British Museum.6
In passing archival judgment on Cotton as private collector and public citizen, one finds more to commend than to condemn. The Reverend Thomas Fuller did not regard it ironic that the Cottonian Library contained many “privaties of Princes and transactions of State, insomuch that I have been informed, that the Fountains has been fain to fetch water from the stream; and the Secretaries of State, and Clerks of the Council, glad from hence to borrow back again many Originals, which being lost by casualty or negligence of Officers, have been recovered and preserved.” Fuller called Cotton “a man of publick spirit.” This is exemplified by his collaboration with Agarde in compiling a catalogue of records in the Four Treasuries.7 Here was commendable cooperation between public archivist and private collector and keeper.
The archivist’s responsibility for the archives became an issue again in the attitude of the London city fathers toward Cotton when they discovered belatedly that some of their old official records were among the collections in the Cottonian Library. With dignified procedure they made an issue of the matter, demanding that Cotton restore the records to their proper repository. In the confrontation, however, Collector Cotton refused to return what he had not taken. When he maintained that the records were his property by proper transaction with the previous owner, the city officials did not see fit to prosecute on grounds of alienation of public property.8 For that matter, neither had the crown with respect to the public records of the kingdom.
Thus 250 years before the Public Record Office was established, the Cottonian Library in Westminster contained a significant corpus of manuscripts of an official nature that became more and more widely known as Cotton encouraged use of his collections. We know of no “keeper” of the library, other than the owner himself, until later years, but he must have had a clerk or two to assist in what was developing into a quasi-public institution. That its reputation as a repository of public records had reached Elizabeth’s Court is evident from the fact that in 1600 her advisers referred to Cotton a question of precedent that might be settled by certain documents in his custody.9 Although it seems unlikely that he ever had occasion to meet the Queen, his fame must have extended into Scotland, for within a few weeks after the new King’s arrival in London, Cotton was knighted, on 11 May 1603. Having scholarly leanings, though preconceived opinions, James I occasionally discussed antiquarian subjects with Sir Robert; but so jealous was he of the royal prerogative that the question arose whether the State was endangered by the existence of public papers in a private repository.1 This was long before the enunciation of archival principles, including the importance of unbroken custody; but more relevant to the contemporary frame of mind was the question of access. It was not the prevailing opinion that public records belong to the people. The keeper must safeguard the records against undesirable, unauthorized readers. The Cottonian Library, a private institution, was not open to the general reading public; it was accessible to “qualified” persons, not at the discretion of any Government official, but by permission of Sir Robert. However, he and his library rendered valuable service to the State and the modus operandi was workable enough to avoid any crisis on that score during James I’s reign.
As Sir Robert became increasingly a public figure, two complementary though somewhat conflicting facets of his life, the scholarly and the political, came into focus. A gregarious person, a proud man of the world, whose ardent public spirit was fired by personal ambition, he cultivated a sixth sense concerning records that might enrich his collections. How much cajoling and bargaining he carried on with the original owners is not known, but he must have established many personal contacts along with the business he conducted through dealers or his own agents. That he gave the latter considerable latitude to exercise judgment is evident in the letter from John Borough, who was expecting to see the catalogue of a Venetian library “wherein if I finde any thinge worth your Jewell house I will either purchase them, or make means to nayle them until you may take further order.”2
Cotton won the confidence and admiration of many scholars who became his friends, and during the first decade of his library he derived pleasure from membership in the Society of Antiquaries, founded ca. 1586.3 It was hardly fortuitous that a few years after Cotton joined the Society, ca. 1590, the members began to convene at his house, to the mutual advantage of the Society and the Library. Along with Agarde, probably one of the earliest members, were William Bowyer and Thomas (“Limping”) Talbot, keeper and clerk respectively of the Tower Records.4 In the Society, Cotton renewed his friendship with Camden and met such scholars as Henry Spelman, medievalist, and the youthful John Selden, subsequently a distinguished jurist.5 Among the antiquarians were Lambarde of Kent, Richard Carew of Cornwall, John Stow of London, and John Speed, in the preparation of whose History of Great Britaine (1611) Cotton was later to be of assistance.6 The members met on call, when someone had a paper to deliver, and Cotton contributed a considerable number—e.g., on heraldry, the antiquity of English castles, the offices of high Steward and constable.7 No minutes are extant of the closed meetings. In the last year of Elizabeth’s reign several members petitioned the Queen in vain for incorporation of “An Academy for the studye of Antiquity and History,” including a library to be named in her honor (presumably a royal or national library). Soon after the accession of James I the Society fell under a cloud of royal suspicion as to its motives, and by the end of 1608 it was dissolved.8 From Cornwall, too far from London for frequent attendance at meetings, Carew expressed his grief over the late Queen’s inaction concerning the petition, and as for James “methinckes that under so learned a King this plant should rather growe to his full height than quaille in the Springe. It imports no little disgrace to our Nation, that others have so many Academyes, and wee none at all.”9 The Royal Society was sixty years in the future, the British Museum, one hundred and fifty.
The Cottonian Library continued to grow and to maintain its reputation for service to men of learning throughout the remaining quarter-century of the founder’s life. Not until the mid-1620’s did Cotton engage an official keeper. Among his friends were Thomas James, formerly Sir Thomas Bodley’s librarian at Oxford University, who recommended his nephew Richard James (1592–1638) for the position. A “short red-bearded, high-coloured fellow,” an Oxonian and a theologian, Richard had traveled widely as a young man; now in his early thirties he was seeking employment, but with some difficulty, for his uncle characterized him as “almost friendless.”1 Whether before or after he took up his duties in the Library (more likely before), he attempted to court Sir Robert’s favor by assuring him that “many things of antiquitie are mine in promise: if they comme, they shall soone be yours.”2 With his mastery of ancient and modern languages and his skill in reading those “Manuscripts of an extraordinary style in penning,”3 James performed valuable service for the users of the Library along the lines of his competence.
The Cottonian Library had long been a going concern, its system of classification devised by Sir Robert using the names of the twelve Roman emperors supplemented by Cleopatra and Faustina. If James was involved with current acquisitions, one wonders whether any conflict of interest arose, for he was accumulating simultaneously a collection of his own. He became engaged in compiling a catalogue of the manuscripts (a great disideratum that did not achieve publication until 1696),4 but, according to one critic, “being greedy of making extracts out of the Books of our History for his own private use, he passed carelessly over a great many very valuable Volumes.”5 Scattered evidence suggests that Keeper James, a “loner,” a disappointed bachelor, and an emotional anti-papist, may have tried the patience of Cotton and frequenters of the Library, although he continued his services under Sir Robert’s son, Sir Thomas, and died in the latter’s home in Westminster.6
Bearing in mind that the Cottonian Library was only quasi public and that Cotton’s relations with the users of his treasures was on a personal basis, nevertheless one finds almost incredible the informal borrowing of manuscripts on an unlimited basis. “To you only am I, and must be more beholding for furnishing me with materials,” wrote Ussher;7 and generous Cotton encouraged the procedure: “I have received Eight of the Manuscripts you had; the rest are not returned. If I might know what my Study would afford to your content, I would always send you.”8 Selden, recipient of many favors, while visiting Sir Robert at Connington, got permission to borrow from Ussher two Saxon Chronicles which Ussher had previously borrowed from Cotton and Selden would return to Ussher if he still needed them.9 And Cotton’s long-time friend, Camden, “presuming on your antient kindness,” requested the Book of Heraldry. . . . Or some other booke or Papers which you shall think fitting my studies or delight.”1 Sir Robert’s reward came in Camden’s will, which declared that he should have the first view of Camden’s papers “that he may take out such as I borrowed of him”; then, having salved his conscience, Camden bequeathed all of his “imprinted Bookes and Manuscripts,” except those on Arms and Heraldry, to Sir Robert.2 Arthur Agarde, as already noted, had willed his papers to Sir Robert too; in fact, in various ways the Cottonian Library became the repository of both earlier and contemporary antiquarians’ records (e.g., Lambarde’s, Talbot’s, Francis Thynne’s, and some of Leland’s).3 Furthermore, it inspired the younger generation of antiquaries, men like Sir Simonds D’Ewes, extensive collector and compiler during the second quarter of the seventeenth century.4
It may be said with some validity that Cotton’s liberal policy concerning access to his Library was a contributing factor to his premature death in 1631. For good or ill he became increasingly involved in Stuart politics, intermittently as a member of Parliament and as author of several important state papers prepared in part from the resources of his Library. Personal ties in Court and Parliament were often hazardous, however, and, as Cotton leaned toward the Puritan faction, the Kings’s friendship cooled. Sir Robert’s loyalty to the Earl of Somerset, on trial for murder, moved him to tamper with documents that were evidence in the case.
Relations with Charles I became strained at once, and, not long after the dissolution of the ominous Parliament of 1628–1629, the uneasy King took offense at the circulation of copies of an anonymous pamphlet that had turned up in the Cottonian Library: The Proposition for Your Majesties Service . . . to secure your Estate and to bridle the Impertinencie of Parliaments. It is doubtful that Cotton knew of its existence in the Library’s collections, but the King, in need of a scapegoat, demanded Star-Chamber proceedings. Sir Robert was punished by arrest and by the sealing of his Library under lock and key.5 If the tract had not been purloined, presumably it passed through Richard James’s hands to the borrower. Sir Simonds D’Ewes, an ardent admirer of Cotton and already hostile to James, put the blame upon the keeper, who was committed to close confinement by order of the Privy Council.6 After Cotton’s release he was still denied access to his books and manuscripts. This was cruel and unusual punishment, indeed. He also suffered an attack on his moral character, which failed in its intent of extortion, but undermined his physical condition. His health continued to decline, as petitions to allow him access to his books were heartlessly ignored by the King. Whatever else Sir Robert might lose, his library was his life and the denial of it hastened his death on 6 May 1631.7
The Cottonian Library remained intact under Sir Robert’s son, Sir Thomas, whom D’Ewes regarded as “altogether unworthy to be master of so estimable a library as his father,” in part because Sir Thomas was reluctant to lend its treasures freely and had put D’Ewes off with “frivolous excuses.” On the other hand, Thomas Fuller, in praising the administration of the library, maintained that “What addeth luster to all the rest is the favourable access thereto. . . . Some Antiquaries are so jealous of their books, as if every hand which toucheth would ravish them, whereas here [is] no such suspition of ingenious persons.” The library was continued by Sir Thomas’s son, Sir John, and by the latter’s grandson, Sir John, until the end of the century, when he offered it to the nation.8
During the heyday of the Cottonian Library another library in the capital suddenly achieved great importance, its contents better known to historians today, however, than to most of Cotton’s contemporaries. This was the library of Henry, Prince of Wales, suddenly augmented by the gift of John, Lord Lumley (1534?–1609) of “Nonesuch,” one of the great collectors of Elizabethan England, especially in the sciences and most notably in geography and cosmology.9 Of kings and princes in legend there are the very good and the very bad, sometimes substantiated by history. Henry Frederick (1594–1612), elder son of James I, was clearly a good prince, even after allowance is made for the customary idolizing of the heir to the throne by loyal Britons and the inevitable idealizing of his character after his untimely death at the age of eighteen. The treasurer of Prince Henry’s household wrote of his “comely personage, straight-limbed and strongly proportioned, though of indifferent stature,”1 and the Prince’s great shock of hair must have compensated for his medium height.2 When he was sixteen, the King provided him with a separate household. Inclined towards athletics, riding horses daily “at the ring or at tilt,” and playing tennis, he also showed an early interest in books, encouraged, no doubt, by his Scotch tutor, Adam Newton. “To enable his knowledge in government civil,” according to his earliest biographer, “he read histories”;3 and out of an intense interest in ships and the navy he struck up a friendship with Sir Walter Raleigh, who wrote to him from the Tower concerning the model of a ship. When he received a tract entitled “Propositions of War and Peace,” in which certain military men took their traditional position, he asked Sir Robert Cotton to write a reply, which argued against foreign wars.4
The Newberry Library, Chicago
The Newberry Library, Chicago
The Newberry Library, Chicago
The Newberry Library, Chicago
15. The Bodleian Library and the Schools, by David Loggan, Oxonia Illustrata, 1675, Plate ; reduced in The Bodleian and Its Friends: Catalogue of an Exhibition held 1969–1970 (Oxford, 1969), p. 22. The Library on left, second floor.
The Newberry Library, Chicago
The Newberry Library, Chicago
17. The First British Museum, formerly the Residence of the Duke of Montagu, at the opening of the Institution in 1759, containing the Cottonian Library; in Edward Edwards, Lives of the Founders of the British Museum . . . 1570–1870 (London and New York, 1870), frontispiece.
The Newberry Library, Chicago
18. John Selden, Antiquary and Collector, copy after Sir Peter Lely (?) in the National Portrait Gallery, London. In Richard Garnett and Edmund Gosse, English Literature, an Illustrated Record (New York and London, 1903–04), ii, page 388.
The Newberry Library, Chicago
Whatever library Prince Henry had accumulated by his sixteenth year was greatly augmented by the notable Lumley collection. In his early seventies, Lord Lumley, too, had become a friend of the Prince, attracted perhaps by his penchant for learning. He was also on good terms with the King and may have known of a current proposal that members of the nobility give the Prince a library.5 The nucleus of the Lumley Library was that of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. After Cranmer’s execution in 1556 during the Counter-Reformation, his library was obtained by Queen Mary’s Lord High Steward, the Earl of Arundel, who eventually gave it to his son-in-law, Lord Lumley, already a collector of fine books and paintings at his castle near Durham. During the last years of his life Arundel (d. 1579) lived at “Nonesuch,” which he had also acquired as a favor from Queen Mary. He willed his entire estate to Lumley, who made “Nonesuch” his home and merged Arundel’s library with his. A member of the Society of Antiquaries, Lumley assembled all the family records and continued to enrich his library of some 2,500 volumes, especially in history and science.6 He died in 1609 and by the following year the Lumley Library, now Prince Henry’s, had been moved into enlarged quarters in St. James’s Palace.
In the manner of affluent private collectors the Prince had many of the best books rebound at great expense, and he ordered a catalogue to be compiled. A keeper was engaged, the scholarly Patrick Young (1584–1652), who was already in charge of the long neglected Royal Library and continued in this service until the death of Charles I in 1649.7 But after such a promising beginning the Prince’s library soon lost its identity. Prince Henry fell sick in the summer of 1612 and died on 6 November. It is a commentary on his brother Charles’s intellectual interests that the Library was not maintained as his. Against the expressed wishes of Adam Newton, then secretary of the late Prince’s household, that it should remain intact, Young merged it into the Old Royal Library and eliminated the duplicates, reducing the number of Lumley volumes to about two thousand. And when Young left the royal service in 1649, he took with him the main catalogue, which, almost a century later, secured permanent preservation in Trinity College, Cambridge.8
In turning to the origin and development of the Bodleian Library, most significant contemporary of the Cottonian, one is confronted with the term “public library,” which must be comprehended in proper historical context, divested of its connotation of the past hundred years. Sir Thomas Bodley’s Library was conceived as the university library of Oxford, public in contrast with the private nature of each of the college libraries, which was accessible only to the officers and students of that college. The Bodleian’s policy was geared to the needs of scholars within and outside the University. It is worth noting that the comprehensive program of acquisition occurred during a period when the proliferation of printed books threatened the keepers of such collections for the first time with a quantitative problem. The concept of a national library had not yet appeared as a viable proposition. Meanwhile, the Bodleian was to achieve some attributes of a national collection of books and manuscripts, a century and a half before the British Museum was established.
The Cottonian Library has received favorable recognition by some scholars as a public institution, because of its founder’s broad-minded practices concerning access and lending, but it was basically a private library in origin and phenomenal development, dependent for its admirable policies upon Sir Robert and, later, upon his son and great-grandson. Until it became a gift to the nation, authorized by Act of Parliament in 1700, the Cottonian Library lacked the institutional tie that private collectors have sought increasingly since the nineteenth century in order to assure continuance in perpetuity. In the case of the Royal Library, in the custody of the King and his household, “royal” was not synonymous with “national” either in concept or in practice of the seventeenth century, but rather an element in the evolution of what became the British Museum in the mid-eighteenth century. (In somewhat similar fashion the Library of Congress, in the literal meaning of the name, did not become the national library of the United States until the twentieth century.)
These considerations may serve to sharpen focus in surveying the objectives and achievement of Sir Thomas Bodley as another distinguished contemporary in this “Common-wealth of Learning.” Native of Devonshire and perennial Oxonian, Bodley took the B.A. at Magdalen College in 1563 and was immediately recipient of a fellowship at Merton, which he retained for twenty-three years. During the period 1563–1576 he held most of the College offices at various times—bursar, dean, principal of the postmasters with supervision of the undergraduates, and “gardener.” His duties were interrupted by four years’ leave to study abroad (financed in part by a portion of his stipend as fellow), during which he became proficient in Italian, French, and German.9 He apparently made the most of the opportunity to indulge his scholarly interests and widen his acquaintanceship, thereby unwittingly preparing himself for diplomatic service in Denmark, 1585–1589, and in the Netherlands, 1589–1596. The latter post proved to be especially frustrating in his endeavor to protect and advance English interests in a hotbed of Spanish intrigue. Weary of his protracted responsibilities, Bodley had petitioned Queen Elizabeth for release, but Her Majesty, valuing his services in her ruthless Tudor way, had procrastinated.1 By the time he returned to England he was past fifty years of age; he had married late, at forty-one; and although he received many offers of high official position, he declined them, meanwhile asking himself how he “should doe the true part of a profitable member in the State.”2
Having resolved to turn his back on “Common-wealth affaires,” Sir Thomas found that uppermost in his mind was “the love that I beare to my Reverend Mother the University of Oxford and to the advancement of her good.” He wanted to become engaged in a worthy project that would occupy the rest of his life; and, as he put it in characteristic Elizabethan prose some ten years later, “having sought, as I thought, all the waies to the wood, to select the most proper, I concluded at the last to set up my Staffe at the Library doore in Oxford.”3 He knew firsthand the crying need of a university library. During his long years at Oxford there was only a great “desolate roome,” built in the late fifteenth century to house the collection of books given by Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester, and vacant since their destruction in 1550. Sir Thomas had made his decision by early 1598, for in February he wrote to the Vice-Chancellor to propose taking the “charge and cost” of restoring the building, stocking it with books, and providing “a standing annual rent” to be disbursed for purchase of books, officers’ stipends, and other pertinent purposes. The University readily accepted his offer and appointed a committee on affairs of the library.4 Having reached his decision after careful deliberation, Sir Thomas felt confident of success for several reasons: first, his own knowledge in the “learned and modern tongues” and in a wide span of literature; second, his “purse-ability to goe through with the charge”; third, “a very great store of honourable friends” of whose support he was confident; and last, his “speciall good leisure to pursue the undertaking.”5
While the building was being renovated,6 Bodley devoted much of his leisure to acquisition of books, initially by means of his own “purse-ability,” hopefully setting an example for donors. His concept of the scope of the collections was commendable: it should embrace all fields of learning as a genuine university library, with manuscripts and printed books. In the case of the latter, the age of printing had begun only 150 years before, so that the ideal of completeness might nearly coincide with the reality. A limiting factor was Bodley’s prejudice against works in the vernacular, which he shared with most of his contemporaries. Latin was the universal language of scholars. All of them wrote in Latin; most of them could speak it. A comment by Francis Bacon, in sending Bodley a copy of The Advancement of Learning translated into Latin, is revealing: “It is a book I think will live, and be a citizen of the World, as English books are not.” In building a library for scholars, present and future, Bodley failed to grasp their continually changing interests or the value of a variety of contemporary imprints for future research. As late as 1612 he was arguing the point with his librarian that “suche bookes, as almanackes, plaies, & an infinit number, that are daily printed, of very unworthy matters” should be excluded. Doubtless with some of his influential friends in mind, he was fearful of “the harme that the scandal will bring unto the Librarie, when it shalbe given out, that we stuffe it full of baggage bookes.”7
Residing in London, Bodley found it advantageous to deal with booksellers there, whose stock was superior to that of the Oxford merchants. He bought chiefly from John Norton, master of the Stationers’ Company, with which the Library was to have valuable business relations. His agent in Europe was John Bill, who turned up treasures in Italy, France, and Spain and attended the Frankfort book fairs. The books were stored in Bodley’s spacious house until the building in Oxford was ready for occupancy.8
Unlike Sir Robert Cotton, Bodley gave early attention to engaging a keeper for his library, and Thomas James (1573?—1629) was his first choice. With the B.A. and M.A. degrees from New College, James’s scholarly bent was first revealed in his editing of Philobiblon (1599), a fourteenth-century treatise, which he dedicated to Sir Thomas, perhaps with an ulterior motive. By the time he received the offer to become Bodley’s Librarian (the title is still in use), James had published his Ecloga Oxonio Cantabrigiensis (1600), a catalogue of the manuscripts in each of the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge and in the Cambridge University (Public) Library. During 1601, the first year of his new position, his time was largely his own for research. He was keeper of an embryonic library, for most of the books were not transported from London into the building until June 1601. He estimated the number at 1,200, of which 800 were folios. While the doors remained closed to students, James began preparing the first catalogue. The formal opening was held on 8 November 1602.9
It is the historian’s good fortune that Sir Thomas lived in London rather than Oxford and therefore wrote frequently to James on a great variety of matters. His letters reveal the incessant drive of the man in putting his well-conceived plans into execution, in seeking support to supplement his own benefaction, in encouraging use of the Library under proper safeguards and regulations, and in establishing the classification and arrangement of the printed books and manuscripts. James, suffering continual interference in his administrative duties, found that they were more onerous than he had anticipated (only after three years was he authorized to employ an “under-keeper”), more disciplinary (reprimanding students for rough treatment of books or for appearing in the Library without cap and gown), and more frustrating in relations with his superior.1 Perhaps it was also James’s good fortune that Bodley lived in London and made only occasional visits to Oxford. While James was keeper of Bodley’s Library, Bodley was the keeper’s keeper until Bodley’s death in 1613. And yet their relationship was one of mutual respect with an occasional expression of affection on the part of the older man. According to the statutes of the Library, the keeper’s term of office was during behavior. On one count only did James challenge his employer, and with success. That was on his intention to marry, although Bodley had stipulated at the outset that the keeper must remain single or lose his job. With reluctance but good sense he deferred to James’s wishes.2
For the acquisition of books at the inception of the Library and later, the founder took entire responsibility; after they reached Oxford they were under the keeper’s custody and management, though not without unsolicited directives from London. Bodley specified that letters of thanks for gifts must be in the name of the University, so that no misunderstanding would arise as to the official status of the Library. In his shrewd understanding of human nature, he advised prompt acknowledgment of books offered as well as of those given, “For many men’s mindes doe alter so soone, as it will be requisit alwaies, to open the poake when the pigge is presented.”3 The increase in gifts, as news of Bodley’s project was widely disseminated by letter and word of mouth, illustrated the Scriptural saying “To him that hath shall be given,” sometimes in strange and questionable ways. From the archives of the Chapter Library of Exeter Cathedral, where his brother Lawrence was canon, came eighty-one medieval manuscripts; from the Earl of Essex, 200 volumes of the Bishop of Faro’s library, salvaged when the town was sacked during the Cadiz Expedition of 1596.4 Among other prominent donors was Sir Robert Cotton.5 Alert to various editions of the same work and to marginal notes in what might seem on first sight merely a duplicate copy, Bodley cautioned James to make note of all books he might “finde to be double, and make them knowen onely to me, for avoiding suitours, that will be desirous to have then.” Then, when he came to Oxford, he would take the time to examine all the “doubles”!6
The early completion of the first catalogue of the Library (the first general catalogue of any European library), Catalogus librorum bibliothecae publicae (1605), is evidence of James’s diligence and the effort to make the Library more widely useful. Arrangement of the entries in four sections—arts (by far the largest), theology, jurisprudence, and medicine—reflected the books’ classification. Quartos and octavos were denoted by asterisks because they were kept in a locked room, accessible only through the librarian; folios, however, were chained to the open shelves, in the prevailing manner of the times, for security against theft. By the time the catalogue had been compiled, the Library contained nearly 6,000 volumes. Bodley had forewarned James that “I am like to bring more bookes than is imagined”; in fact, the increase was so rapid during the compiling that one-third of the entries comprise an Appendix.7
It was Bodley’s idea that the Catalogus be dedicated to Prince Henry. Always on the lookout to capitalize on an occasion for the benefit of the Library, he observed that the King had bestowed few rewards in return for the many books dedicated to him; therefore Bodley had “more hope at the Princes hands, by the meanes of good frindes.”8 In the autumn of this same year, 1605, the King and Queen, accompanied by the Prince, visited Oxford and Bodley’s hopes rose again. Keeper James prepared a speech in Latin which he submitted to Sir Thomas, who wrote an alternative, more to his liking, for James to deliver. Knowing that the King detested the Latin pronunciation used in the English universities, Bodley rehearsed James particularly in the royal i and au sounds. How well the speaker succeeded is not recorded. Although the King made a promise of books and manuscripts from the Royal Library, he never fulfilled it, nor did the eleven-year-old Prince acknowledge the dedication of the Catalogus in any material way.9
Even from the opening of the Library in 1602, the Register of readers confirms the “public” nature of the institution. Within the University, freedom of study in the Bodleian was allowed to all scholars with higher degrees, down to Bachelors of Arts of two years’ standing and all other bachelors, “if they come thither in their Habits and Hoods, and there demean themselves with Reverence. . . .” Students without degrees must continue to depend upon their individual college libraries. Outside the University, “any other Person, for the Furtherance of his Study in whatever Science, although he may be no Contributor,” could obtain “Freedome of recourse.” Thus the Library offered service to the visitor (peregrinus), whose stay was usually brief, and to the foreigner (extraneus) who was likely to be a daily user for a longer period. The latter came from many countries of western Europe, contributing no doubt to the intellectual tone of the University.1
While Bodley was inclined toward the mature scholar as of first importance, James gave consideration to students “of the younger sort.” He proposed a “select” library for students of the Arts and, after his resignation in 1620, he compiled a still unpublished Subject-Catalogue of the Seven Arts and Three Philosophies.2 Both men favored “open-access,” allowing the reader to go without supervision to the shelves occupied by the chained folios; but the keeper, anticipating the modern librarian’s differentiation in the care of manuscript and printed books, argued with the founder that they should be segregated, the former to be accessible only with the librarian’s permission. Inevitably he lost the argument, but shortly after Bodley’s death he carried out his plan, only to be challenged by the first Keeper of the Archives, Brian Twyne (1579?–1644), who claimed that the restriction obstructed his work. The curators, during their visitation of 1613, having considered Twyne’s formal document of complaint, refused to overrule the librarian, but when Twyne got a sympathetic response from the Vice-Chancellor, James dissolved the issue by returning the manuscripts to the open shelves.3
Thanks to James’s farsightedness, the Library exploited a source of books that Bodley had overlooked. In 1610, on his recommendation, Sir Thomas signed an Agreement with the Stationers’ Company which provided that the Library should receive one copy of every book entered in their Registers, in return for a gift of plate. The increasing flow of imprints into the Library by this means brought many “idle bookes, riffe raffes among them,” unbeknown to Bodley, who had always feared for the reputation of his scholarly institution from such acquisitions. With an eye to future usefulness as well as to current opinion, James ordered the “baggage bookes” bound but not necessarily entered in the Catalogue. The Agreement continued until 1709, when this privilege of the Library was covered by the first Copyright Act.4
Thomas James’s accomplishments as Keeper of Bodley’s Library must be viewed not only in relation to the founder’s grand design but also in the context of James’s work as a theologian. On the intellectual front he voiced the spirit of religious antagonism that fanned the flames of the Thirty Years’ War on the Continent; if he had lived long enough, he would have qualified as an ardent Roundhead in England’s civil war. As a Protestant of the Puritan stripe, James was virulently anti-papist; as an authority on the Church Fathers, he sought support for a definitive edition of their writings that would expose the inaccurate and spurious texts of Roman Catholic works. Theological studies of this nature were his primary and enduring interest, from which, he felt, his duties as librarian were diverting him. He derived some compensation from cataloguing, as it enlarged his knowledge of controversial literature, and from the Library’s acquisition of new publications of this nature, especially those slanted toward the Protestant viewpoint. Bodley’s religious convictions, though more temperate, were so similar as to be inclined toward making James’s project a semiofficial publication of the Library. Fortunately for the Library’s reputation, his ardor cooled as he became skeptical of the value of such a polemical work and sensed James’s divided loyalty as theologian and librarian.5
James’s last significant contribution to the Library was the Catalogus universalis librorum in bibliotheca Bodleiana (1620), published after his resignation that year and offered, as the title page states, to public libraries of Europe and to private collectors as a representative corpus of learning. The Bodleian Library then contained about 16,000 volumes in many languages other than Latin and in many branches of knowledge pertaining to both the ancient and the modern world—a living monument to the English Renaissance.6 To James’s bitter disappointment his great theological project never came to fruition. Nevertheless, although a student, in a memorial to Bodley written by men of Merton College, dubbed James “a severe and painful scholar,” most of his contemporaries agreed with Camden’s judgment of him as “vir eruditus” “a true lover of Books, wholly dedicated to Learning.”7
As for Sir Thomas, his last and greatest achievement during a long life grew out of a bold concept, wise planning, and careful execution for the glory of his University and the advancement of learning. Although it was Oxford’s “public library,” in a very personal sense it was Bodley’s Library, and he lived long enough to derive full satisfaction from his endeavor. As early as 1607 he reflected on the happiness of being “engaged in occupations undertaken with a mind freed from care and restraint and subjected to the will of no other.”8 Two years later, in the conclusion of his autobiographical sketch, he observed that “the project is cast, and whether I live or dye it shall be, God willing, put in full execudon.”9 And so it was, before his death in 1613 that, as he put it, “I need not be the publisher of the dignity and worth of mine owne Institution.”1
At the heart of the Renaissance was that spirit of inquiry that compelled men to search for the records of the past, hoping to find them accessible for use in libraries and archives. In an age of private libraries the vision and the quality of mind and thought of the collector provide something of a gauge to evaluate the intellectual perspective and achievements that characterize this “rebirth.” It is clear that the “Common-wealth of Learning,” identified by Englishmen, thrived on the cultural resources which all were concerned with, many collected, and a few converted into rendezvous of research and discussion on a personal basis. Cotton and Bodley saw eye-to-eye in terms of fundamental objectives, but Bodley’s concept and many of his methods, assessed by Keeper James, anticipated the day when all libraries for scholars would be “public” institutions within varying shades of meaning of the adjective. In the long run both the Cottonian and the Royal libraries arrived at this goal in the British Museum, as did many others. As early as the 1660’s, “Bodley” had won distinction as a term with special connotation. John Selden (d. 1654) whose “learning did not live in a Lane, but traced all the Latitude of Arts and Languages” had accumulated a very large library, “a Jewell indeed,” wrote Thomas Fuller, who included Selden among his “worthies of England.”2 Within a few years of Selden’s death his collection was “reposited (Bodly within a Bodly) in the matchless Library of Oxford.”3 Already the Bodleian had achieved an apotheosis.