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NOTHING is known of the collections formed by the learned in the earliest stages of our history. The discoveries at Herculaneum and other places, overwhelmed by the ashes of Vesuvius, incontestably demonstrate, that the natives of Italy, contemporary with the Roman invaders of England, had depositaries of manuscripts. Therefore, whatever was the custom previous to their arrival in this country, the inhabitants of it must have known from them the necessity and convenience of collections for reference or amusement.
Immediately after the establishment of religious societies, they had their muniment rooms; and the monks, having little employment, soon added to their contents legends, chronicles, and leiger books. As the former and other subjects multiplied, they spread abroad, and kings, princes, and barons, may have had collections from the pens of the indefatigable members of monasteries, independent of the later supplies by professed clerks
or scribes. The readers of my history of London will recollect, that I have given a catalogue of the MSS. in the library of Elsynge Spital in the reign of Henry VI. consisting of sixty-two articles; upon referring to which a tolerable estimate may be formed of the nature of most of our antient libraries.
It has been my fate on other occasions to lament the indiscriminate destruction of manuscripts, when our religion was reformed. To that cause is partly to be attributed the paucity of materials for compiling a satisfactory sketch under this head; as to the collections in temporal hands, they were comparatively few, and constantly liable to destruction or dispersion through the endless disputes of our feudal lords. In the sacking of a castle, manuscripts seldom found protectors through a partiality for learning; and such as did escape and reach the time of Henry VIII. and the next following reigns, were generally destroyed, because most of them related to subjects either remotely or intimately connected with the Roman catholic faith. Unfortunately, we had but one Cotton to rescue literature from the wretched state to which bigotry had reduced her.
The reader of this work will perceive the necessity I am under of being concise as to private libraries before the invention of printing. After the encouragement of that art had rendered books
sufficiently moderate in their price, many publi libraries were founded, which might be mentioned, with their contents chained to the desks—a custom universal in churches, and which ceased when books became numerous. The reign of James I. has generally been termed a pedantic period. It is, however, certain, that the example of the monarch was of infinite service to literature; and libraries, both public and private, increased in a far greater proportion than the unhappy reign of his son permitted in his age.
The profligate conduet of Charles II., and the infatuation. of his brother, prevented the publick from turning their attention this way; but after the Revolution of 1688, the people at large had time, security, and property, to indulge safely in their propensities for learning; and we find the following collections made subsequent to that period, noticed in a MS. preserved in the British Museum,
The person to whom we are indebted for this information observes, that libraries might be collected without difficulty by societies of men, each presenting to a common stock "one book of a sort, in five years it would be a good library; and half a dozen of all the pamphlets that come out weekly, for the use of such as wanted them, and would present bound books for them, but still to keep one for the use of the library. One Mr. Tomlinson,
Tomlinson, who, with great pains and care, made such a collection from 1641 to 1660, King Charles I. wanting a particular pamphlet, and hearing Tomlinson had it, took coach and went to his house in Paul's church-yard to read it there, and would not borrow it, but gave him 10l.
"There are several hundred volumes bound uniform in folio, 4to. and 8vo. so well digested, that a single sheet may be readily found by the catalogue which was taken by Mr. Foster, and is twelve volumes in folio. This collection deserves to be publickly reposited.
"The apothecaries not long since had a design to collect all sorts of dispensatories and books relating to botanicks, as Herbals, &c.
"The barber-surgeons have collected such books as relate to anatomy at their hall in Monkwell street; there is also that admirable piece of Henry VIII. sitting on his throne and giving the master and warden their charter, painted by the famous Hans Holbein.
"Libraries in private hands.-The Right Reverend the Bishop of Norwich hath a large and most incomparable library. There are vast quantities both of printed books and MSS. in all
* Something seems wanting here. The volumes referred to were all the pamphlets published in the great rebellion: they were purchased by the late King, and deposited by him in the British Museum, where they remain.-S. A.
faculties; there are great variety of MSS. admirable both for antiquity and fair writing: a Capgrave, the finest in England; there is but one more, and that is in Bennet college library in Cambridge, with many others of great value too long to insert. He hath the old printed books at the first beginning of printing; that at Mentz, 1460, and others, printed at Rome and several other cities in Italy, Germany, France, and Holland, before 1500; those printed in England by the first printers at Oxford, St. Alban's, Westminster by Caxton, Winken de Worde, Pynson, &c. the greatest collection of any in England; other books, printed on vellum, and curiously illuminated, so as to pass for MSS.; a fine Pliny and Livy, in 2 vols. both printed on vellum, and many such like; abundance of exemplars of books printed by the famous printers, the Aldi, Zanchi, Geyphius, Vascosanus, Stephens, Elzevirs, &c. It were heartily to be wished his Lordship's Catalogue were printed; for I believe it would be the best that ever appeared, I mean here in England.
"Dr. Hans Sloane hath a very copious collection of books in all faculties, as physick, mathematicks, the classicks, &c. in all languages, old printed books; a great number of MSS. on divers subjects, both antient and modern.
"He hath a most admirable collection of natural and artificial rarities, shells, insects, fossils, medals