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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

§ 31. Osborne and Oldys

The former of these two wonderful collections, brought together by Sir Robert Cotton, scholar and antiquary, was justly celebrated as much for the liberality with which the founder and his successors made its riches accessible, as for the extraordinary historical value of its contents, largely composed, as they were, of salvage from the archives and libraries of the dispossessed monasteries. The Harleian library, no less remarkable in its way, was collected by Robert Harley, first earl of Oxford, and his son the second earl, friend of Pope and patron of letters. On the death of the second earl, the printed books (upwards of 20,000 volumes) were purchased by Thomas Osborne, a bookseller who has had fame thrust upon him through having been castigated at the hands of Johnson and satirised by the pen of Pope, but who has a much better claim to being remembered as the publisher of The Harleian Miscellany (1744–6). This reprint of a selection of tracts from the Harleian library was edited by William Oldys and Johnson, who also worked together for some time upon a catalogue of the whole collection. Oldys, who deserved a better fate, spent a large part of his life in hack-work, for booksellers. To the edition of Ralegh’s History of the World, edited by him in 1736, he prefixed an elaborate life of the author, perhaps his most important work. The British Librarian, which he issued in six monthly numbers, in 1737, is merely an analytical contents of a selection of books, new and old; but his annotations in copies of various books, especially Langbaine’s Dramatic Poets, have been largely used by later commentators.