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Account Of London Libraries

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

An Account of the several Libraries, public and private, in and about London, for the satisfaction of the Curious, whether Native or Foreigners (HARL,. MSS., 5900).

Having been abroad and seen the several cities and universities of Holland, and the French having given large accounts of their libraries at Paris, hath put me upon this subject, to give an account in print of our public and private libraries. Nothing of this nature having been attempted here in England, only the two Universities, the Bodleian Library, and the Catalogue of MSS. in colleges and cathedral churches, and those in private hands that would communicate them, I thought fit to inform the world that in London and Westminster are not only abundance of rare printed books and MSS., but antiquities—as statues, medals, paintings, and many other curiosities, both in art and nature, which may vie with any city in Europe, Rome excepted. We are not addicted to extol our own country, as the French do ; but we ought to let foreigners know the vast quantities we have of this nature.

I shall not trouble the reader with an account of such great abundance we have of good books, and how well the Conventual Fryeries and Abbeys were furnished with them before the Reformation.

First, in the Tower of London.—Those in Wakefield Tower deserve a critical inspection, especially since they are new modellized and have new cases. Those also in the White Tower contain vast number of records relating to monasteries, etc., several letters of Emperors, Kings, and Princes, Dukes, etc., in several parts, as Tartary, Barbary, Spain, France, Italy, etc., to our Kings in England, which are and will be in such order as to be very serviceable to the curious ; the building itself, which was a chapel of the Palace, is built after a rare and uncommon manner, and by the Queen's generosity in time will be both useful and ornamental.

For the Records at Westminster, there are, first, those in the Exchequer, in the custody of the Lord Treasurer. There are those two most antient books of Records of England, made in William the Conqueror's time, called Doomsday-Book, one in quarto, containing the survey of Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk ; the other in folio, being all the shires in England, from Cornwall to the River Tyne. This is well worth the seeing. There are also other antient and valuable records. See "Powell's Repertory of Records," 4to., printed in 1631.

The Parliament Rolls are kept in a stone tower in the Old Palace Yard.

The Papers of State, from the beginning of Henry VIII. to this time, are kept over the gate that goes to the Cock-pit, and is called the Paper Office ; it was built by Henry VIII., and is one of. the best pieces of work in Europe for flint. It is reported Hans Holbein was the architect.

Sir Robert Cotton's Library, founded by himself, and by many called the English Vatican, the storehouse to which all our antiquaries and historians have had recourse, to the great improvement of their performances. It is well furnisht with antient MSS., both in divinity and history, especially English history, as also many antient Saxon MSS., charters, coins of gold, silver, and copper ; and in the drawer are many rare pieces of Roman antiquities not mentioned in the catalogue, as brass images, fibulas, lamps, rings, seals, weapons, and a great many other rarities taken notice of by few. Many old relicks that belonged to monasteries in England at their dissolution, particularly one shown for the head of a griffin, with a silver loop ; that altar-piece of old painting that belonged to the monastery of Great St. Bartholomew in London; the pictures of some of the Kings of England at length on board, the oldest that are to be seen ; and in a large book are several noble designs for Interviews (sic) in the time of Henry VIII. I shall not treat of the excellency of these MSS., either for antiquity, beauty, and rich illuminations, curious writing, etc., but leave it for more able performers, such as the ingenious Mr. Humphrey \Vanley : when the world thinks fit to give encouragement, it is not to be doubted but he would exhibit this our Cotton Library as nobly as Lambesius has done the Emperor's at Vienna. The ancient Genesis there is worthy taking notice of in particular : it is one of the rarest MSS. in the world, and perhaps as old as any ; it is in Greek capitals, with figures, and well deserves the observation of the curious. The house where these rare jewels are kept is the remaining part of the palace of our St. Edward the King, and is one of the oldest buildings of those times now to be seen.

In the great Cloyster of the Abbey of Westminster, in a wellfurnisht library, considering the time when it was erected, by Dr. Williams, Dean of Westminster and Bishop of Lincoln, who was a great promoter of learning. He purchased the books of the heirs of one Baker of Highgate. He founded it for public use, every day in Term time, from 9 to 12 and from 2 to 4. The MSS. are kept in the inner part, though now many of them are consumed by a late fire. There I saw the rare book of the Rites and Ceremonies of the Coronation of our Kings. There is a manuscript catalogue in the library.

St. James's Library, founded by Henry VIII., well furnished with curious MSS., collected by Jo. Leland, and others, at the dissolution of the abbeys. There are books in all languages, and all sorts of printed books, well worthy any man's seeing. There is great variety of the first printed books, both in vellum and paper in all volumes. The catalogue of the MSS. is printed in the General Catalogue of the MSS. in England. This library was first founded for the use of the princes of the blood, and so continues. But our Kings had not only their books kept here, but had studies and libraries at several palaces—Whitehall, Hampton Court, Nonsuch, Windsor, Oatland, Greenwich, etc. But this at St. James's was the chiefest, and bath been much made use of by learned men. He that can obtain the sight of it will be extremely pleased with the keeping of this library. It would much redound to the honour of England if all learned foreigners did see it when they come hither. [See Note 27.]

Prince Henry caused a piece of ground near Leicester Fields to be walled in for the exercise of arms, which he much delighted in ; a house was built at one end for an armory, and a well-furnisht library of all such books as related to arms, chivalry, military affairs, encamping,, fortification, etc., the best that could be got in the kind in all languages, at the charge of the Prince, who had a particular learned man for a librarian, whose name I have forgot. It was called the Artillery Ground, and remained till the Restoration of King Charles II. ; and then it fell into the hands of the Lord Gerrard, who let the ground out to build on.

In the churchyard of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, the then incumbent, Dr. Tenison, built a noble structure extremely well contrived for the placing of books and the lights. It was begun and finished in the year 1683, at the said Doctor's charge, now Archbishop of Canter-bury, and by him furnished with the best modern books in all faculties, perhaps the best of its kind in England. The studious of all parts may have free access there to study, giving their names and places of abode to his grace.

At Lambeth Palace, over the Cloysters, is a well-furnisht library.

The oldest books there I find to have belonged to the Lord Dudley, Earl of Leicester. From time to time they have been augmented by several archbishops. It was a great loss to have it deprived of Archbishop Sheldon's, the best in England in its kind, for missals, breviaries, psalters, primers, etc., relating to the service of the Church. So also of Archbishop Sancroft's. In another apartment for MSS. only are those belonging to the see of Canterbury, and those that were Lord Cary's, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, many of them relating to the history of that kingdom.

Gray's Inn hath a library for the use of the society and students of the house, mostly consisting of books relating to the law and history; first founded by the Lord Verulam.

Lincoln's Inn bath a good library of the law, much augmented by the addition of the Lord Chief Justice Hale's, who gave it by will to the society. They are an admirable collection, relating to the laws of this nation ; many of them are MSS. of his own handwriting.

In the Middle Temple is a considerable library for common and civil law, English historians, etc. Constant attendance is given there at studying hours ; Wa. Williams, Esq., is the present librarian. Sir Creswell Leving printed a catalogue thereof, but would not suffer it to be made public, printing but a very few, which he gave to his friends.

In Guildhall, in the City, is the Treasury of their Records, Charters, Laws, Privileges, Acts of Common Council, etc. Their paper books in the Chamberlain's office are very antient ; those for the most part are in the keeping of the City Town Clerk. There is a great variety, worthy the observation of the curious.

In the days of Edward VI., in the chapel adjoining to the Guild-hall, called my Lord Maior's Chapell, was a library very well furnisht, being all MSS. Stow says the Duke of Somerset borrowed them, with a design never to return them, but furnisht his own study in his pompous house in the Strand; they were five cart-loads. Thus the City at that time had a public library ; besides many others within the walls, as at Grey Fryers in Newgate Street, was a good library of MSS. to which Whittington was a benefactor. [See Note 33.]

The White Fryers spared for no cost for books, and so their collection must be great and good; and Bale, one of their fraternity, said there was no book to be sold but they had their emissaries to procure it for them; and indeed the Carmelites ingrossed all they could lay their hands on, and I believe other orders did the same; so that a layman, though he were both able and willing to purchase, had but few fell into his hands; so that books and learning were only to be found in monasteries.

Sion College was founded by the will of Thomas White, Vicar of St. Dunstan in the West, for the use of divines and others in and about London. They are a body corporate, by charter, 163o. Great part of the books were destroyed in the fire in r666; some of them were saved by the industry of the librarian, John Spencer; and since that rebuilt, and the library furnished with many good books by the Viscountess Camden, 1643, Lord Berkeley, and John Lawson, M.D., of late, and is an object well deserving of pious benefactors that are lovers of learning, it being a place very conveniently situated out of the noise of coaches, carts, and waggons, and the only public library within the walls of the City of London ; a large, convenient, spacious room, capable of containing many thousands of volumes; and it were to be wisht there were made a compleat collection of Bibles, especially in the English tongue ; as also of our Latin aid English historians; for persons generally give to public libraries books of shew only and of no value, such as they do not know how to dispose of. [See Note 34.]

We have some other small libraries within the walls of the City, one founded by Dean Colet, founder of St. Paul's School, for the use of the scholars there, since rebuilt by the Company of Mercers. They had many good books, both MSS. and printed, in grammatical, in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and which filled their library ; but they were destroyed in the late dreadfull fire, with those of the upper master's, Mr. Cromleholme, which was an excellent collection of the best editions of the classics, printed by Aldus, Junti, Gryphius, Stephens, Elzevirs, etc., neatly bound, and at the time were the best private one in and about London. The loss of them shortened his days, for he spared no cost to procure them from all parts of Europe. Since, the library hath been furnisht with all sorts of lexicons, dictionaries, and grammars, in Hebrew, Chaldie, Greek, and Latin, for the use of the upper school.

From the collections of Mr. John Bagford,* concerning the History of Printing, in the British Museum.

The Heralds' Office hath a good collection of books relating to heraldry, arms, ceremonies, as coronations, marriages, funerals, christenings, etc., visitations of several counties in England. During the late Civil War they lost many of their best books, which fell into the hands of some that should have had the honour and justice to have returned them. They have been supplied by some choice MSS. that were the Earl of Arundel's by the Duke of Norfolk. They had an antient Nennius on vellum, a Robert of Gloucester, an old rhymer who flourished in the reign of Henry lI. It is a chronicle of England from its first inhabiting to his time, and is the only ancient copy of it in England. It were to be wished they had all the French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Flemish books on the like subject. The books are kept in cases or cupboards with shutters, and locked up very neat. Particular persons also belonging to the office have good collections relating to their faculty. There is a catalogue put out by Thomas Gore, Esq., of all the books of heraldry; printed at Oxford, 4to., 1674.

In the Prerogative Office is a large collection of books, written on vellum, containing the wills of our ancestors, with calendars for the ready finding of names.

In the Commons the bishops' registers are each kept in their peculiar office.

Parish churches have their registers of burials, christenings, and marriages; and in the hall of each company are registers of those they bind and make free—their masters, wardens, etc. ; and charters granted to them by several kings and queens.

It is to be supposed that there are several records, books, and charters of the office of the hospital of the Charter-House, by what Mr. Hearne mentions in his account of its foundation.

Christ's Hospital, formerly the Grey Friars, bath a neat library for the use of the masters and scholars ; besides their collection of mathematical instruments, maps, globes, ships with all their rigging, for the instruction of lads designed for the sea; and in their counting-house is the picture of Edward VI., their founder, done by the famous Holbein ; and in their great hall is a noble representation of James II. on his throne, with a great many of the nobility, Privy Councillors, the Chancellor, Lord Mayor and Aldermen, the Governors and other officers of the house, the boys and girls on their knees, etc., done all after the life by the famous Signor Verrio; a very curious piece.

Both Merchant Taylors' and Mercers' Chapel School have libraries, as well as St. Paul's School.

Gresham College has a noble library, but it belongs not to the foundation as a college, but to the Fellows of the Royal Society. These books, for the most part, were collected by the noble and learned antiquary, the Earl of Arundel; and most of them (I mean the MSS.) were collected by him in Germany, when he was ambassador to the court of Vienna; the journal whereof is written by one Crown, of his own retinue, but imperfectly. In this expedition he bought up all the valuable books, statues, medals, pictures, and some libraries, and some pieces of the remains of that at Heidelburg. I had once a catalogue in manuscript of all the curious MSS. and printed books collected by him in Germany, besides what was presented to him by the Duke of Saxony, being a collection of the draughts of his medals, gold, silver, and copper, drawn by hand, and curiously performed in costly volumes, with rare antique MSS. on several subjects; and, if I mistake not, there is an antient MS. of Vitruvius, seldom seen in catalogues. This library was presented them by the Duke of Norfolk, and if a catalogue were taken of it agreeable to its merit, it would outshine many in Europe. In the year 1687 Mr. Marmaduke Foster took a catalogue of it, and indeed no man fitter with respect to the printed books, and he took great pains in it ; but before it was printed they thought fit to have it contracted, which was done by one who knew little of the matter, so that we have not Mr. Foster's catalogue ; but he was deficient in the knowledge of ancient MSS., as appears by two Irish MSS., which he says were in the Pict language in an account of those two MSS. I often visited him whilst he took a catalogue, to stick on each press, containing the books there; and I took the opportunity to turn over many of them, and found they deserved a better catalogue. They are MSS. intermixed with printed books, and the MSS. are alone in the general catalogue printed at Oxford; but neither has done them justice. I am the more earnest in this point, because it is not my opinion only, but of those far superior to me in judgment. We see that in France, Italy, and Germany they extol and magnify many trivial collections ; and if we had encouragement given us here, we have as noble collections, and might find as able pens to illustrate them. What rare books in noble collections are, as it were, imprisoned by the capricious humours of many ill-natured persons, like the dog and ox in Æsop ! It is very detrimental to the honour of the nation, as well as injurious to learning here, for persons to have rare and useful books in their possession, not to exhibit catalogues of them to the world, and to permit the curious to have access unto them. Gresham College Library is in a spacious gallery on the right hand of the quadrangle, in convenient cases on each side, and is to be seen by any curious inquirer.

In the Physicians' College in Warwick Lane is a fine collection of books, relating not only to their own profession, but divinity, history, etc. [See Note 35.]

In Austin Friars, in the remaining part of the Conventual Church, now made use of by the Dutch and Flemish, first allowed in the reign of Edward VI., at the entrance, over the door, is their library, containing a great many books in divinity, controversies, etc. ; also many original letters in MS. of the first reformers. Most of their books are in the Dutch language. The commandments at the altar are said to be performed by Sir Peter Paul Rubens.

The French Church, situated in Threadneedle Street, is mentioned by Minsheu for subscribing to his dictionary; but this was before the dreadful conflagration, and what collections they have made since I know not.

There is another French congregation that have a church allowed them in the Savoy, which have a library for the use of their ministry.

The Swedes have a church in Trinity Lane, and a good collection of books there.

The Jews, in their newly-erected synagogue near Duke's Place, have a collection of books relating to the ceremonial of their worship, the Talmud, and other Rabbinical learning. There are their rolls, whereon the Pentateuch is written on fine calves' leather. This, though a fine building, is not comparable to that at Amsterdam. [See Note 36.]

The Quakers have been some years collecting a library, but where erected I have not heard. [See Note 37.]

The Baptists, at their meeting in Barbican, have a library.

At Mile End is a library curiously chosen, erected by a person that spared for no cost ; it is for the use of [Qu. whom ?]

At Dulwich College, erected by one Alleyn, who formerly had been a strolling player, is a library, having a collection of plays given by one Cartwright, bred a bookseller, and afterwards turned player ; he kept a shop at the end of Turnstile Alley, which was first designed for a 'Change for vending Welsh flannels, friezes, etc., as maybe seen by the left side going from Lincoln Inn Fields ; the house, being now divided, remains still turned with arches. Cartwright was an excel-lent actor, and in his latter days gave them not only plays, but many good pictures, and intended to have been a further benefactor with money, and been buried there, but was prevented by a turbulent woman. There is a fine view of London, taken by John Norden in 1603 ; at the bottom is the Lord Major's Show. I could never see another.

There being so many able and wealthy men of the Company of Stationers, it were to be wished they would erect a library in their Hall, which is so near the grand passage of the City; and it would redound much to their honour, having got their estates by learning. This would soon be done if everyone of that numerous society would give but 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, with great pains and care made such a collection from 1641 to 1660; and King Charles I., wanting a particular pamphlet, and hearing Tomlinson had it, took coach and went to his house in St. Paul's Church Yard, to read it there, and would not borrow it, but gave him 10 pounds. There are several hundred volumes, bound uniform in folio, quarto, and octavo, so well digested that a single sheet may be readily found by the catalogue, which was taken by Mr. Foster, and is twelve vols. in folio. This collection deserves to be publicly reposited.

The Apothecaries not long since had a design to collect all sorts of dispensatories and books relating to botanicks, as herbals, etc.`

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 Wardens their charter, painted by the famous Hans Holbein.

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