Cambridge University Library

J.C.T. Oates, Cambridge University Library: a historical sketch
Cambridge: Cambridge University Library, 1975

The Modern Library

Sidereus nuncius

The moon's surface, from Galileo's Sidereus nuncius (Venice, 1610). From the library of John Couch Adams (1819–1892), Lowndean Professor of Astronomy and Geometry. Adams.5.61.1

Two principal events of the eighteenth century had increased the status of the library to a point where it could no longer remain, as it had in effect hitherto been, a private library for such senior members of the university as cared to use it. Its story in the nineteenth century is of its gradual emergence (and the process was a painful one) as a central and vital institution in the university and as a place of scholarly repute and usefulness beyond it.

The process began in 1812, when the university sued under the Copyright Act a publisher who had not delivered a book which he had not registered, and somewhat to its own embarrassment won its case. It could now no longer dispose of such Stationers' books as it thought unworthy and so (though squabbles with the Stationers continued for some time) began at last to assume its responsibilities as a repository of national literature. An immediate effect, of course, was a modest increase in the library's establishment, which rose to five by 1823, though it dropped to four five years later when by the grace of the university the Protobibliothecarius and the University Librarian became one flesh enjoying two stipends, the office of Protobibliothecarius lapsing and being finally abolished in 1845. One of the newcomers was John Bowtell, nephew of a well-known Cambridge bookbinder, who was appointed in 1819 and remained (in his latter years a pillar of irascible reaction) until persuaded into an honourable retirement in 1852 at the age of seventy-five. During his long years at the library he was effectively responsible for all its practical work and in particular between 1819 and 1826 compiled in forty-two volumes a manuscript author catalogue that superseded those inaugurated in 1752. The same period also saw a considerable enlargement of the library's premises with the construction in 1842 of the opulent Cockerell's Building running parallel to the old northern range of the Schools but extending beyond it on the west to form one side of what (with additional ranges put up in 1864–1868 and 1890–1891) was to become another court of buildings eventually wholly devoted to the library. The most conspicuous feature of the first half of the century was, however, the failure of the authorities to attract and procure any really notable and sizable additions to the library's holdings. For this the library's antiquated system of administration—a syndicate (to use the Cambridge word) of all the officials of the university, established in 1751—was responsible; and when in 1853 the syndicate was reconstituted on a rotational basis and reduced to a membership of seventeen, the immediate effect was to stimulate a good deal of confused and argumentative activity since no steps were taken at the same time to strengthen the library's executive staff. One immediate and lasting piece of work dates, however, from this period in the institution of a new form of catalogue in which manuscript entries produced with the aid of a manifold writer were pasted into large volumes of blank paper in their proper sequence but leaving spaces for additions. The present system using printed catalogue entries was a logical development and was introduced in 1861. These years also saw the compilation, by several learned hands, and publication of a catalogue of the library's western manuscripts (five volumes and index, 1856–1867).

What the times required was a strong librarian who could prepare the way for the reforms that were needed and being increasingly demanded. Such a man came forward in 1864 in the person of John Eyton Bickersteth Mayor (1825–1910), University Librarian from that date until 1867 and afterwards Professor of Latin, a man whom some members of the library's staff could remember, when the present writer joined it in 1936, as a reader in his old age in the place over which he had once presided. Not everything that he attempted was practicable or even sensible, but he was combative when combat was called for, expressed his opinions unequivocally in speech and print, gave a great deal of pain to persons who well deserved it, and in four short years shook off from the library the dust which two centuries of indifference had allowed to accumulate upon it.

He was succeeded by Henry Bradshaw, one of the most distinguished scholar-librarians of his time, who held the librarianship until his death in 1886. Administration was not his forte (nor did he enjoy it), but he began the establishment within the library of an efficient departmental organization and instituted procedures and routines some of which have survived effective to this day. A man of great learning in many fields—especially palaeography, bibliography, and liturgiology—he set about restoring to order the library's collections of manuscripts and rare books, in particular its incunabula, which he gathered together from all over the library into what he called his museum typographicum, there arranging them after minute analysis of their typography, into groups by countries, towns, and presses in their correct chronological order—a practical application of the "natural history" method of study (as he called it) which Robert Proctor and other incunabulists have since adopted and developed. At the same time Bradshaw greatly added to the collection by wise (and sometimes spectacular) purchases, especially in the field of early Netherlandish printing. Perhaps the most prescient of Bradshaw's purchases, however, though it did not come to the Library until after his death, was the great collection of some 30,000 broadside ballads formed by Sir Frederic Madden.

Bradshaw's work was continued by his pupil and successor at one remove Francis Jenkinson, librarian from 1889 to 1923, and by Jenkinson's successor, Alwyn Faber Scholfield, 1923–1949. Jenkinson frankly detested administrative work, but he tolerated it and with the help of the library's first secretary, H.G. Aldis (bibliographer of Scottish printing and author of the handbook, still in its revised editions current and useful, entitled The Printed Book), performed it efficiently. His great contribution to the library was the result of the charm and gentle goodness of his character ("Jenkinson was a saint," men who served under him would say), producing within the library an atmosphere where a still inadequate staff worked happily and well and attracting to it men of scholarly capacity such as A.T. Bartholomew, bibliographer of Bentley and editor of Samuel (Erewhon) Butler, and Charles Edward Sayle, author of Early English Printed Books in the University Library, Cambridge (four volumes, 1900–1907) and of Annals of Cambridge University Library, 1278–1900 (1916). Jenkinson's personal friendships also brought to the library a constant stream of donations and benefactions, especially those of Samuel Sandars (founder of the university's annual Readership in Bibliography), donor of many fine incunabula and illuminated manuscripts, and John Charrington, whose principal interest lay in early Florentine books with wood-cut illustrations.

A.F. Scholfield, an accomplished classical scholar, deliberately subordinated his own interests to the organizational needs of the library, establishing an efficient departmental structure and devoting his energies to problems of classification and cataloguing. The outstanding event of his librarianship was the removal of the library from its Old Schools site to its present premises built with the generous aid of the Rockefeller Foundation and opened in 1934. Here with a depleted and in large part temporary staff, he guided the library's fortunes successfully through the difficult years of World War II.

These three men transformed the University Library into a place where scholarship might be pursued and its needs adequately served. The results of their labours may be seen in the great accessions that have come to the library during the last century in all departments of its collections, beginning with Bradshaw's gift of Irish books in 1868. Of major benefactions received since then mention may be made of the Ritschl collection of foreign dissertations (1878); Sir T.F. Wade's Far Eastern library (1886); John Venn's collection of books on logic (1888); the early printed books of John Couch Adams (1892); the massive Taylor-Schechter collection of Hebraica from the Cairo Genizah (1898); the Near Eastern libraries of R.L. Bensly (1895), E.J.W. Gibb (1901), E.B. Cowell and Frank Chance (both 1903), E.G. Browne (1936), A.J. Arberry (1948-1952), and C.H. Armbruster (1957); the Japanese collection of W.G. Aston (1911); the library of the historian Lord Acton (60,000 volumes, 1902) and more recently (1973) his correspondence; the J.W. Clark collection of books, pamphlets, and ephemera relating to the University (1910); the notebooks, etc., of the bibliographer Edward Gordon Duff (1924); the early printed books of Francis Jenkinson (1908, 1917, 1923), F.W. Seebohm (1925; Erasmiana), J.W.L. Glaisher (1928; books of arithmetic [CCA-E.13], chapbooks), A.W. Young (1933, 1936; including the Gutenberg Bible), Karl Pearson (1936, Reformation pamphlets), Sir Stephen Gaselee (1934, incunabula; 1940, sixteenth-century books; 1943, Petroniana [CCA-E.12]) and R.E. Hart (1946; five blockbooks and a Caxton); the Restif de la Bretonne collection of L.C.G. Clark (1960); the Swift library of Sir Harold Williams (1964); F.P. White's books of early mathematics and science (1962–1964); about 1,5000 items from Ely Cathedral Library and the Archdeaconry Library of Huntingdon (800 items), both in 1970; in music the collections of F.T. Arnold (1944; largely eighteenth-century) and Marion Margaret Scott (1953; Haydn); and, among manuscript collections (some on deposit only) the nineteenth-century archive of Jardine Matheson & Co., merchants in the Far East, Sir Robert Walpole's archive from Houghton (handlist by G.A. Chinnery, 1953), the papers of Charles Hardinge, 1st Baron Hardinge of Penshurst, Viceroy of India from 1910 to 1916 (handlist by N.J. Hancock, 1968) and the 1st Marquess of Crewe, Secretary of State for India from 1910 to 1915, papers and correspondence of Charles Darwin (handlist of papers, 1960) as well as books and pamphlets from his library, with his manuscript notes, the Ely Diocesan Records (handlist by Dorothy M. Owen, 1971) and the Ely Dean & Chapter Records, the papers of Stanley Baldwin (handlist by A.E.B. Owen, 1973) and of Samuel Hoare, 1st Lord Templewood (d. 1959), medieval manuscripts belonging to Pembroke College and Peterhouse and the archives of Queens' College. Recent deposits of printed books include the library of Peterborough Cathedral (remarkable for its wealth of early English books) and the library of the Grammar School of King Edward VI at Bury St. Edmunds. A current development of importance is the acquisition, stimulated by the gift in 1968 by Sir Allen Lane of the working library of Stanley Morison, of archival collections devoted to modern typography, including papers and correspondence not only of Morison himself but of Sir Francis Meynell and Oliver Simon also.

The absorption of these very considerable collections and the removal to the University Library from the Old Schools of the University Archive were made possible by the addition at the rear of the building of a closed-stack extension which was taken into use in 1972.

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