The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

XV. Scholars, Antiquaries and Bibliographers

§ 7. Literary Antiquaries

  • “A literary antiquary” has been described by Isaac D’Israeli as “that idler whose life is passed in a perpetual voyage autour de ma chambre; fervent in sagacious diligence, instinct with the enthusiasm of curious inquiry, critical as well as erudite; he has to arbitrate between contending opinions, to resolve the doubtful, to clear up the obscure, and to grasp at the remote; so busied with other times, and so interested for other persons than those about him, that he becomes the inhabitant of the visionary world of books.”
  • One of the foremost places among the literary and historical antiquaries of England is due to Thomas Wright, of Trinity college, Cambridge, who, in 1838, was associated with John Mason Neale, and with the Irish antiquary, Thomas Crofton Croker, in founding the Camden society. The society was founded in honour of William Camden, author of Britannia (1586); and it had for its purpose the printing of books and documents connected with the early civil, ecclesiastical and literary history of the British empire. Wright was further associated, in 1840, with Croker, and with Alexander Dyce, J. O. Halliwell(-Phillipps) and John Payne Collier, in founding the Percy society for publishing old ballads and lyrical pieces, so named in memory of Thomas Percy, bishop of Dromore, the first editor of Reliques of English Poetry (1765). Even in his undergraduate days, Wright was an eager explorer of historic manuscripts in the Cambridge libraries. In 1836, he published four volumes of Early English Poetry, and, two years later, A Series of Original Letters, illustrating the history of queen Elizabeth and her times. In 1840 he edited, with notes and glossary, The Vision and Creed of Piers Plowman, and, in 1842, produced his Biographia Literaria of the Anglo-Saxon period, comprising “a rich mass of materials, arranged with taste and judgment.” This was followed, two years later, by his Anecdota Literaria, a collection of short poems in English, Latin and French, illustrating the literature and history of England in the thirteenth century. Among his many other works were essays on subjects connected with the literature, popular superstitions and history of England in the middle ages; a history of domestic manners and sentiments, and of caricature and grotesque in literature and art, besides editions of Chaucer, and of the romance of king Arthur and the knights of the Round Table.

    An Account of the Public Records was published in 1832 by Charles Purton Cooper, who also prepared a catalogue of the fine collection of old French law which he presented to the library of Lincoln’s inn. The labours of John Bruce, as calendarer of state papers, and as editor for the Camden society (1838–68), are noticed elsewhere. Anecdotes and Traditions, relating to early English history and literature, was published for the same society by William John Thoms, who founded Notes and Queries in 1849, and edited Stow’s Survey of London in 1875.

    In 1834 the Surtees society was founded in honour of Robert Surtees, author of a History of Durham published between 1816 and 1840. The purpose of the society was the publication of ancient manuscripts bearing on the history and topography of northern England. Among its active members were the brothers James and John Raine; canon Greenwell, who published several works connected with the antiquities of the county and bishopric of Durham; and George William Kitchin, late dean of Durham, who, in the early part of his career, had prepared the catalogue of the library of Christ Church, Oxford.

    The ten years from 1834 to 1844 were, in a special sense, the age of the birth of book-clubs and book-societies. Thus, the Camden society, already mentioned, was founded in 1838; and the year 1840 saw the foundation of the Parker society, which had for its main object “the reprinting, without abridgment, alteration, or omission, of the best works of the Fathers and early Writers of the Reformed Church, published … between the accession of Edward VI and the death of Elizabeth.” The fifty-three volumes published by the society ended with a general index in 1855. The Percy and Shakespeare societies were founded in the same year, and the Aelfric and Chetham societies in 1842. Of the last two, the former had for its object the publication of Old English and other documents illustrating the early state of England; the latter, the printing of “remains, historical and literary, connected with the Palatine Counties of Lancaster and Chester.” The Caxton society, founded in 1844, aimed at bringing out works “illustrative of the history and miscellaneous literature of the Middle Ages.” The Sydenham society, founded in memory of the English physician Thomas Sydenham, lasted from 1844 to 1858, when it was succeeded by the New Sydenham society. The Hakluyt society, for printing rare and unpublished voyages and travels, was founded in 1846; the Early English Text society in 1864; the Ballad and the Chaucer society in 1868; the Harleian in 1869; the Wyclif in 1882; the Oxford Historical society in 1882; the Selden society, for publishing ancient legal records, in 1887; the London Bibliographical society and the Viking club in 1892; and the Navy records society in 1897. The Scottish book-clubs will be duly mentioned in the sequel. One of the most generous contributors to the Scottish, as well as the English, book-clubs of the middle of the nineteenth century, was the scholarly and accomplished bibliographer, Beriah Botfield.

    A project for a Corpus Historicum of early English history was formed by Henry Petrie, keeper of the records in the Tower. One large volume was published in 1848, with a preface by Sir Thomas Duffus Hardy, who had been trained under Petrie, and had already edited the Close Rolls, the Patent Rolls, the Rotuli de oblatis et finibus, the Rotuli Normanniae, the Chester Rolls, the Liberate Rolls and Modus Tenendi Parliamentum (1846). His Descriptive catalogue of materials relating to the history of Great Britain and Ireland filled three volumes. He edited William of Malmesbury, continued John Le Neve’s Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae, compiled an English syllabus of documents in Rymer’s Foedera and wrote memoirs of Henry Bickersteth, Lord Langdale.

    Lord Langdale was succeeded as master of the rolls by Sir John Romilly, who held office from 1851 to 1873. It was under his authority that the celebrated Rolls series came into being. Early in the nineteenth century, at a meeting held at Spencer house, it had been resolved to recommend the publication of a complete collection of the sources of English history to the age of the reformation. Henry Petrie had drawn up a scheme for the approval of the government, and had been subsequently appointed editor of the proposed series. But the standard which he had set up was unduly high, and the scheme had been left in abeyance by his death. However, in November, 1856, Joseph Stevenson, the archivist, who had been sub-commissioner of public records from 1834 to 1839, brought the subject under the consideration of the lords of the treasury. His representations were referred to the master of the rolls, who, on 26 January, 1857, submitted proposals for the publication of a series entitled Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland from the Invasion of the Romans to the Reign of Henry VIII. The proposals were adopted, and the publication of the proposed series was authorised under certain conditions: (1) that the works selected should be published without mutilation or abridgment; (2) that the text should be formed on a collation of the best manuscripts; and (3) that the editor should give an account of the manuscripts used by him, a brief notice of the age in which the author wrote, and an explanation of any chronological difficulties. This enterprise has done more towards supplying a sound foundation for an accurate knowledge of medieval history than all preceding efforts put together.

    Among the many literary antiquaries who made their mark as editors of some of the volumes in this great series may be mentioned John Sherren Brewer, Henry Richards Luard and (above all) James Gairdner. The Historia Minor of Matthew Paris was edited for the Rolls series in 1866–9 by Sir Frederic Madden, head of the department of MSS. in the British Museum from 1837 to 1866. He also edited Layamon’s Brut in 1847, and Silvestre’s Universal Palaeography, three years later. Three volumes of the Chronica Monasterii de Melsa, in the Rolls series, and four volumes of facsimiles of Old English charters, from 672 to the conquest, were edited by Sir Edward Bond, who was principal librarian of the British Museum from 1878 to 1888. In 1873, he took part in founding the Palaeographical society in conjunction with his successor in the office of principal librarian. A transcript of The Register of the Company of Stationers of London, from 1554 to 1640, was published in 1875 by Edward Arber, who also edited The Term Catalogues, the seven volumes entitled An English Garner, The English Scholar’s Library and the handy series issued under the title English Reprints.

    The biographical and historical antiquities of Cambridge were the field of research selected by Charles Henry Cooper, for many years town clerk of Cambridge. His minute and painstaking Annals of Cambridge appeared in four volumes in 1842–53, while a fifth volume bringing the work down to 1850–6, with an index to the whole, was added in 1908. The two volumes of his Athenae Cantabrigienses, published in 1858 and 1861, supplied materials for the lives of a large number of graduates of the university, the first and second volumes including those who died from 1500 to 1585, and from 1585 to 1609, respectively. The last work which he produced in his lifetime was Memorials of Cambridge, illustrated by Le Keux and Robert Farren. His Memoir of Margaret Countess of Richmond and Derby was edited in 1874 by John Mayor, who appears to have tacitly contributed more than half of the contents of the volume. In the course of an obituary notice, written on 21 March, 1866, the day of the Cambridge antiquary’s death, Mayor said of Cooper:

  • It was because he clung with fond reverence to our “Sparta,” whose every stone spoke to him of struggles and sacrifices and noble memories, that he “adorned” it as no gownsman has done.
  • Sir Alexander Boswell, son of the biographer of Dr. Johnson, became a member of the Roxburghe club in 1819, and set the example of printing the kind of books afterwards promulgated with much success by Scottish book-clubs. In 1816–18 he printed, at his private press at Auchinleck, works such as Churchyard’s Myrrour of man, and George Whetstone’s Remembraunce of the Life of Sir Nicolas Bacon. The greatest of the record-scholars produced by Scotland was Thomas Thomson, principal clerk of session from 1828 to 1852. Sir Walter Scott says of him in a letter to George Ellis: “He understands more of old books, old laws, and old history, than any man in Scotland.” He edited The Scots Acts and other documents for the Record commission, but, by reason of either fastidiousness or indolence, he never prepared the introductory volume, for which he had during many years collected materials. The publication of Popular Ballads and Songs, from tradition, manuscripts and scarce editions, by Robert Jamieson, in Edinburgh, in 1806, was described by Scott as having “opened a new discovery respecting the original source of the Scottish Ballads.” The author was afterwards associated with Henry Weber and Scott in Illustrations of Northern Antiquities (1814).

    Sir Walter Scott was the first president of the Bannatyne club, founded in 1823 in memory of George Bannatyne, who wrote out in 1568 a vast collection of Scottish poems in a folio volume of 800 pages, now preserved in the Advocates’ library, in Edinburgh. Scott was president of the club until his death in 1832; two years later, the Abbotsford club was founded in his memory, for printing and publishing historical works connected with his writings, and twenty-five works were thus produced from 1835 to 1864. Scott’s place as president of the Bannatyne club was filled for the next twenty years by Thomas Thomson, mentioned above. The first and only secretary, from its inauguration in 1823 to its dissolution in 1861, was David Laing.

  • “It was a remarkable trio,” says David Murray in his monograph on Laing: “they were the three men of the day most conversant with the literature of Scotland; each an accomplished antiquary…; all were distinguished in sagacity, shrewdness, and geniality; but Thomson lacked the exactness, method, energy, and business capacity of the other two.”
  • Laing, who was a learned bookseller and, from 1837 to his death in 1878, keeper of the library of the Writers to the Signet, Edinburgh, edited a large number of works of Scottish poetry and prose.

    One of Laing’s contemporaries, James Maidment, a Londoner who spent a large part of his life in Edinburgh, printed some rare tracts on the history and antiquities of Scotland (1822), and edited works for the Bannatyne, Maitland, Abbotsford and Hunterian clubs, as well as for the Spottiswoode society. Of these, the Maitland club, founded at Glasgow in 1828, for the publication of works illustrating the antiquities, history and literature of Scotland, produced seventy-five volumes, in little more than thirty years, while the Spottiswoode society, founded in memory of John Spottiswoode, archbishop of St. Andrews, published his History of the Church and State of Scotland (1655 f.) in 1851. On the other side, the presbyterian History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland from Restoration to Revolution, written by Robert Wodrow, was published in 1828–30. The Wodrow society was founded in his honour at Edinburgh in 1841, and continued to flourish until about 1850, as an organisation mainly devoted to the history of presbyterianism. In the Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, a work of wonderful accuracy and completeness, Hew Scott supplied a list (with biographical details) of the ministers of every parish in Scotland from the reformation to 1871. The Scottish text society was founded in 1882.

    The editorial work that had been left unfinished by the dilatory and fastidious Thomas Thomson was taken up after his death by Cosmo Innes, a man of singular charm and geniality, who filled the chair of constitutional law in Edinburgh from 1846 to his death in 1874. His style was lucid and engaging, and the object of his latest publication, Lectures on Scotch legal antiquities, was “to lead the student of law from the daily practice of his profession to the historical and archaeological conditions connected with its technicalities.” He also did a vast amount of work for the Bannatyne, Maitland and Spalding clubs. This last, so named after John Spalding, of Aberdeen (fl. 1650), author of The History of … Scotland … from 1624 to 1645, was founded, in 1839, for publishing the historical, genealogical, topographical and literary remains of the northeast counties of Scotland. Dissolved in 1870, it was revived as the New Spalding club in 1886. One of the principal founders of the original club was Joseph Robertson, who edited eight of its thirty-eight volumes. Robertson, whose comparatively short life of fifty-six years was outspanned by that of Cosmo Innes, was one of the most erudite and accurate of the antiquaries of Scotland. He was curator of the historical department of the Edinburgh Register house from 1853 to his death in 1866, and edited the Statuta Ecclesiae Scoticanae (1864), and many other volumes for the above-mentioned clubs, notably Illustrations of the Topography and Antiquities of the Shires of Aberdeen and Banff (1843–62).

  • “It is in the Scotch book-clubs,” says John Hill Burton, in his Book-Hunter, “that Joseph Robertson has had the opportunity of exercising those subtle powers of investigation and critical acumen, peculiarly his own, which have had a perceptible and substantial effect in raising archaeology out of that quackish repute which it had long to endure under the name of antiquarianism.”
  • Sir Archibald Campbell Lawrie, before becoming a judge in Ceylon from 1892 to 1901, produced admirable examples of antiquarian work in his Early Scottish Charters prior to 1153, and in his Annals of Malcolm and William. His Index to the Scots Acts is an enormous folio, methodically arranged and practically forming an index to the history of Scotland.

    In Ireland, Thomas Crofton Croker’s Researches in the South of Ireland (1824) were followed by his Fairy Legends and Traditions, his Legends of the Lakes, and his Popular Songs (1839). John O’Donovan, who has been described as “probably the greatest native Irish scholar who ever lived,” obtained an appointment in the Record office in 1826 and in the ordnance survey in 1829, and devoted his whole life to the elucidation of Irish history, topography and antiquities. Besides providing a Grammar of the Irish Language (1845), he ably edited and annotated a series of important texts, culminating in his monumental edition of The Annals of … the Four Masters (1848–51). The rest of his life was spent on the preliminary labours required for the herculean task of editing The Ancient Laws of Ireland. His colleague in the ordnance survey, and his connection by marriage, Eugene O’Curry, was professor of Irish history and archaeology in the catholic university of Ireland. O’Curry’s lectures entitled Manuscript Materials for Ancient Irish History, and Manners and Customs of the Irish, are “still indispensable to all serious students of the past of Ireland.”

    Sir Samuel Ferguson, whose eminent services to Irish antiquities were recognised by his appointment in 1867 as the first deputy-keeper of the public records of Ireland, was knighted eleven years later for his successful reorganisation of the records department. As an Irish poet, he aimed at embodying in modern poetry the old Irish tales of heroes and saints and histories of places. His Ogham inscriptions in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland was edited in 1887 by Lady Ferguson. James Henthorn Todd, who became librarian of Trinity college, Dublin, in 1852, classified the manuscripts and compiled a catalogue, founded the Archaeological society in 1840, acted as its secretary and contributed to its publications and, finally, published his masterpiece, St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland (1864). William Reeves, who ultimately became bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore, published Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Down and Connor in 1847, and, ten years later, elaborately edited for the Irish Archaeological and Celtic society, and for the Bannatyne club, The Life of St. Columba by Adamnan. The Irish Archaeological society, founded in 1840, has had for its occasional collaborators several clubs of kindred objects, the Ossianic, the Iona and the Celtic. Of these, the Iona was founded in 1833, while the Celtic, founded in 1845, was merged in the Irish Archaeological society in 1853.

    Patrick Weston Joyce, principal of the training college, Dublin, was also a commissioner for the publication of Ancient Laws of Ireland. His love of Irish songs and of folk-music bore fruit in his Ancient Irish Music (1882), Irish Music and Song and Irish Peasant Songs in the English Language (1909). It also led him to many lonely places, where he collected half-forgotten local names, and thus prepared himself for the production of what may, probably, prove to be the most permanent of his works, The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places (1869, etc.). Of his various histories of Ireland, which were familiar as household words in his own land and among his countrymen in the colonies, the most important was The Social History of Ancient Ireland (1893).

    The historical antiquary, Sir John Thomas Gilbert, secretary to the public record office of Ireland from 1867 to 1875, wrote Celtic Records and Historic Literature of Ireland (1861), and edited Historic and Municipal Documents of Ireland from the Archives of the City of Dublin (1870), as well as Facsimiles of the National Manuscripts of Ireland (1874–1880). These last have been recognised as equally interesting in their historic, palaeographic and artistic aspects.

    Whitley Stokes, who had studied Irish philology from an early age, returned to England in 1882 after a legal career of twenty years in India. He took part in editing a series of Irish and Celtic texts, and was associated with John Strachan in Thesaurus Palaeo-Hibernicus (1901–3). Robert Atkinson, successively professor of Romance languages and of Sanskrit in Trinity college, Dublin, was also familiar with Tamil, Telegu, Hebrew, Persian, Arabic, Chinese, Celtic and Coptic. He edited the Norman-French poem, La Vie de Seint Auban, The Book of Leinster, The Book of Ballymote, a collection of pieces, prose and verse, in the Irish language, and a middle Irish work, The Passions and Homilies from the Leabhar Breac (1897). In the following year, he was joint editor of two volumes of the Irish Liber Hymnorum.