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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XIII. Scholars and Antiquaries

§ 30. The Cottonian and the Harleian Libraries

With the growth of the literature of antiquarian studies consequent upon this increased activity, there arose the need of guides through the labyrinth of existing materials and of working books designed to facilitate research; and, accordingly, such aids begin to appear, though they were not always the outcome of a deliberate intention to furnish the tool-chest of the student of antiquities. Some of these books, such as Tanner’s Bibliotheca Britannica and Notitia Monastica, and the indispensable Athenae Oxonienses, have already been mentioned. Sir Henry Spelman’s Glossarium Archaiologicum represents another class of aids; while Thomas Rymer’s Foedera, and David Wilkins’s Concilia (founded on the work of Spelman and Dugdale), though perhaps belonging more properly to the domain of history, may also be noted here. The English, Scotch, and Irish Historical Libraries of that industrious but too impetuous antiquary, archbishop William Nicolson, was a new departure which, whatever its shortcomings, continued to be for long after its appearance a useful, and the best existing, conspectus of the literature with which it dealt.

The stores of original sources whence this army of antiquaries quarried material included the various archives of state papers and records, and the chief public and private libraries. A key to the manuscript treasures of the more important libraries, including the extensive collection formed by John Moore, bishop of Ely, was provided, in 1697, by the publication of the Catalogi Librorum Manuscriptorum Angliae et Hiberniae, a compilation which has not even yet ceased to be useful, and which must, in its own day, have been invaluable. In this work the editor, Edward Bernard, was assisted by many scholars, including Humfrey Wanley, celebrated for his skill in palaeography and for his catalogue of the Harleian manuscripts, upon which he was at work when overtaken by death.

Of state papers and records the most important depository was the Tower, where, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, something was done towards reducing them to order under the keepership of William Petyt, author, among other works, of Jus Parliamentarium, a treatise on the ancient power, jurisdiction, rights, and liberties of parliament. Among public libraries, the Bodleian, with its continuous accession of large and important gifts and bequests, had no rival; and almost every antiquary who essayed original work was indebted to the resources of the Cottonian or the Harleian library.