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Early in the eighteenth century during the librarianship (1648 1712) of John Laughton—by no means negligible as a scholar, and as a librarian a considerable improvement on his immediate predecessors—the library began to assume a modern appearance. In 1706 it adopted for the first time a general bookplate (engraved by William Jackson, who made bookplates for some of the Cambridge colleges also and for Eton) and in the same year the books were reversed on the shelf so that they stood spine outward and could now be labelled with their full class-marks visible to readers as they scanned the shelves. In 1709 (in which year the learned German Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach visited the library and found little to please him) the library was included among the privileged libraries of copyright deposit under the first Copyright Act, and in 1715 it received by gift from King George I the magnificent library collected by John Moore, Bishop of Ely, who had died in the previous year. These last two events are the highlights not of the century only, but of the library's whole history.

The Copyright Act of Queen Anne—"An Act for the Encouragement of Learning by Vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or Purchasers of such Copies. During the Times Therein Mentioned"—gave publishers copyright protection (though not the perpetual copyright they wanted) provided they entered their titles before publication in the Stationers' Register and sent nine copies of each book, also before publication, to Stationers' Hall to be forwarded to the nine privileged libraries. Unfortunately, the operation of the Act soon proved uncertain, for though it specified penalties for failure to deliver or forward the required copies, it specified no penalty if a publisher failed to enter a title; and so the trade argued that entry of each and every title was not obligatory and that they need enter (and so deposit) only those books for which they wished to obtain copyright protection. Hence it became the common complaint of the privileges libraries that the Act brought them not the large, learned and expensive works that they required but the popular best-sellers and cheap pamphlets that their publishers feared might be pirated if they did not register them as their copyrights. In addition the publishers, who understandable resented having to give so many copies away, devised ingenious methods of evading their obligation even as regarded books they registered; and against these tactics the libraries found themselves powerless since it proved impossible to take legal action against a delinquent publisher within the limits of three months after publication as the Act required. This unsatisfactory situation persisted for just over a century.

Nor did the library take active steps to improve it. It did not, for example, as did some of the privileged libraries, appoint persons with power of attorney to act as official collecting agents, but was content simply to receive from Stationers' Hall such books (they were usually delivered at Lady Day and Michaelmas) as the clerk of the Hall chose to garner in return for a small quarterly fee. Moreover, the library found many of the books which were sent, especially fiction, unsuitable for admission to a learned library, and from 1751 sold such books and bought with the proceeds non-copyright books which it thought more useful. Soon afterwards it delegated to one of the Cambridge booksellers the duty of receiving the Stationers' parcels and settling the university's expenses in carriage of the books and fees to the Stationers' clerk, allowing him to retain books which appeared unsuitable in return for appropriate credits on the library's book bills. This deplorable situation (which, however, was neither unique nor in its contemporary context so disgraceful as it now appears) was radically changed early on the following century.

The result of this policy of non-cooperation on the one side and short-sighted lethargy on the other is that the library is now conspicuously lacking in copyright copies of many major works of fiction, poetry, and drama published during the eighteenth century (though very many of them have, of course, been acquired since). Exactly what proportion of registered titles the Stationers delivered and the library kept is impossible to determine since there survive no accessions lists of Stationers' books before 1758 and no complete file of correspondence with Stationers' Hall before 1814; but it is likely that of the 17,000 or so titles registered between those dates the library possess in original copies of deposit no more than one-sixth.

The library of John Moore, which from the circumstances of its donation became known as the King's or Royal Library of the University Library, was renowned throughout Europe and contained some 30,000 volumes, of which 1,790 were manuscripts; and it is understandable that a gift of such magnitude (it trebled the size of the existing collections), though rapturously received, should prove something of an embarrassment to its recipients. The immediate requirement, of course, was for shelf space, and with commendable promptitude the university at once made over to the library the upper floor of the western range of the Schools (then used as a Law School) and built at their southwest corner a room that connected the southern and western ranges. This structural work and the furnishing of the west room with bookcases (made by John Austin) were completed in 1718–1719.

Once the books were unpacked, however, it immediately became clear that yet more space was needed. The only room left for expansion was the upper room of the northern range, and since this room, formerly the University Chapel, was the official meeting place of the Regent Masters an entirely new building for the conduct of university business had to be provided. The building of the present Senate House, completed in 1730, therefore followed, the task of fitting up the north room (with bookcases made by James Essex) being undertaken in 1731 and finished in 1734. At this point, however, things began to go wrong. The Senate House had been conceived as one wing of a grand new building, over the design of which protracted controversy now ensued. Eventually the scheme was abandoned and a new one, involving the demolition of the eastern range of the Schools so that it might be rebuilt in a politer style of architecture to match the Senate House, was taken up instead and carried out in 1745–1758. Thus nearly twenty years elapsed between the reception of Moore's books and the provision of space for them in the west and north rooms, and nearly twice that time before all the changes consequent upon their arrival were completed. During those years quantities of Moore's books lay about unsorted in heaps, and shameful depredations were committed upon them, the largest by Henry Justice, Fellow-Commoner of Trinity (whose library he also abused), convicted felon, and in the last stage of his career publisher at The Hague of an engraved edition of Virgil in imitation of Pine's Horace.

The university's answer to the problems posed by the arrangement of so large a collection had been to create in 1721 a new officer grandly entitled Protobibliothecarius and to appoint Conyers Middleton, principally with the object of annoying his old enemy Richard Bentley. Middleton produced in 1723 a pamphlet Bibliothecae Cantabrigiensis ordinandae methodus, in which he made some sensible recommendations as to the classification and shelving of the books, and thereupon (it would seem) retired from all further effort. The practical work of setting up the books in the west and north rooms appears to have been carried out, with the help of young Bachelors of Arts, in 1732–1734 during the librarianship of John Taylor, editor of Lysias and Demosthenes and later Headmaster of Shrewsbury School. The arrangement and shelving of the manuscripts and of certain of the rarest printed books that were locked up with them were the work of Francis Sawyer Parris, Protobibliothecarius in succession to Middleton, soon after 1752. Parris's elegant shelf lists contained an author index of their own; the rest of the Royal collection was catalogued in four massive folio volumes, the non-Royal collection being served by a copy (bought in 1752) of the Bodleian printed catalogue of 1738 interleaved and annotated. The new bookcases were again distinguished by letters, the printed books running from A to Cc and the manuscripts (those of the old collection were sorted in with the newcomers) from Dd to Mm; and since most of the printed-book class-marks duplicated those in the old collections in the south room, books soon began to get into the wrong places, even though the Royal books were distinguished by a bookplate engraved for them by John Pine. To overcome this difficulty the University Press was commissioned to print some thousands of asterisks, one of which was solemnly pasted onto the spine of each of the pre-Royal books.

This munificent benefaction brought to the library a comprehensive collection of books of all periods (there were about 470 incunabula) in all departments of literature and learning, including many of the library's most valuable rarities. To particularize among so many is difficult, and not very useful; but mention may be made, among printed books, of Moore's unique copies of quartos printed by Caxton and Wynkyn de Worde and, among manuscripts, of his Bede's Ecclesiastical History with the Hymn of Caedmon at the end (MS. Kk.5.16, written ca. A.D. 737), Book of Cerne (narrative of the Passion, with prayers, hymns, and monastic charters; MS. Ll.1.10, of the ninth century), Book of Deer (a gospel book, with Gaelic charters, etc.; MS. Ii.6.32, of the ninth/tenth centuries), Winchester Pontifical (MS. Ee.2.3, early twelfth-century), and the copiously illustrated Life of King Edward the Confessor (MS. Ee.3.59, ca. 1250).

All other events of the library's history during the eighteenth century are relatively insignificant or altogether trivial. In 1726 George Lewis presented a cabinet containing a small but valuable collection of Persian manuscripts and a number of Oriental curiosities which proved a great attraction to tourists; Thomas Baker, non-juror and elected Fellow of St John's College (where, nonetheless, he happily resided until his death) bequeathed in 1740 a large portion of his multi-volume manuscript transcriptions of historical documents, invaluable especially for matters pertaining to the University; in 1785 the library brought a number of Greek manuscripts at Anthony Askew's sale, prompted no doubt by the Protobibliothecarius Richard Farmer (black-letter collector and author of the Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare), who himself in the same year bought and gave to the library a number of books from the working library of the former librarian, John Taylor; and in the last years of the century James Nasmith completed, but did not publish, a descriptive catalogue of the library's manuscripts.

Image: Harold's defeat of Tostig and the King of Norway at the battle of Stamford Bridge (detail), fromThe Life of St Edward the Confessor, presented by King George I, 1715. MS. Ee.3.59, fol. 31r.