A cataloguer’s progress, or, Subscription à la mode

How long does it take to catalogue a rare book? Well, it all depends on what lies between the covers (and sometimes on the covers too). More importantly, it also depends on the cataloguer … what kind of day they are having or if they become fascinated by the book in hand.

The latter happened to me, dear Reader, a few days ago when I was cataloguing a three-part work (bound in two volumes) by Samuel Butler. No, not the iconoclastic Samuel Butler (1835-1903), alumnus of St John’s College Cambridge, who wrote ‘The Way of All Flesh’ (coincidentally a really great read) … but the seventeenth-century one. This Samuel Butler (1612-1680) was also a satirist (what is it with these Samuel Butlers?) and the book I had in hand was his bestseller ‘Hudibras’, which lampoons the Puritans and was originally published 1663-1678.

Ours is a later edition, printed in Cambridge in 1744 by J. Bentham, printer to the University and what first caught my eye were the 42 pages of subscribers. The publication was obviously the ‘latest thing’, not just amongst Cambridge academics, but also Oxford men, the aristocracy and the gentry. Soon I was absorbed by this roll of the great and the good of 1744.


The book in hand – or rather, the first volume.

I counted no fewer than twenty-nine members of Trinity Hall, starting with the Master, Dr Edward Sympson (or Simpson), and President, Dr William Warren (who was also Librarian) to a list of other Trinity Hall men: Thomas Ansell, Thomas Beaumont, Richard Bull, Dennis Clarke, Dr. Dale, Ambrose Dickins, Dr. Francis Dickins, George Etherington, John Meres Fagge, John Hagar, John Hill, William Hinxman, Oliver Marton, William Maurice, Edward Milles, Dr. Henry Monson, Humphrey Morice, Buckley Macworth Pried, Matthew Robinson, Dr Salisbury, William Strahan, Thomas Thoroton, John Trenchard, Fines Trotman, Lyonel Vane, Thomas Wallis and Jonathan White. What a marvellous snapshot of Trinity Hall at that time!

List of subscribers

First page of the list of subscribers. The poet Thomas Ansell is here.

Some of these Trinity Hall men are familiar to me through their manuscripts which we hold in the Old Library, for instance, the manuscript volumes of Thomas Ansell’s poems. Perhaps more significantly we have fifteen manuscript volumes of the works of Dr Dickins (see our list of post-medieval manuscripts). Francis Dickins (or Dickens), who died in 1755, was a lawyer, author and Fellow of Trinity Hall from 1705. His donation of manuscripts came with strict instructions: ‘I do desire yt the few manuscript books I shall leave behind me on ye subject of matrimony, guardianship, dominion or property may find a place in some remote corner of the College Library never to be taken out thence on any account whatever.’

Dickins inscription

Take note and obey!

These instructions have been followed faithfully! Preserved for over 250 years, these works are now of great interest to legal historians.

Two other entries in the list of subscribers are of interest to us. The fact that the ‘Library of Trinity Hall’ is listed indicates that by the mid eighteenth-century we had broadened our acquisitions policy to include works of English literature (to add to our core holding in law and the ancients).

Library subscribers

Here we are in print!

The second entry of interest is ‘Merril’, the bookseller at No. 2 Trinity Street, who took 6 copies. Merril recognised that this was a ‘must-have’ book which he could sell, even though a vast number of University people had already subscribed.



Trinity Hall had a strong link with Merril: this was the bookseller with whom we had a subscription for Diderot’s great Encyclopédie. This magnum opus was printed in Paris from 1751 and Merril arranged for the fascicules to be sent as they became available, to be bound into volumes in Cambridge. This complete first edition of the Encyclopédie is now one of the great treasures of the Old Library.

Encyclopedie plate

Preparation of parchment – from the Encyclopédie

But why, you may ask, have I made reference to Hogarth in the title of this piece? The reason is that this edition of ‘Hudibras’ has wonderful engravings of illustrations by Hogarth. But that’s for next time!


Aladdin’s Cave

Most of us love rummaging around in antique shops, dreaming of discovering something valuable amongst the assorted items of furniture, worn paperbacks and bric-a-brac.  Well, several years ago Trinity Hall alumnus Bill Cave was actually lucky enough to make an amazing find.

Not the junk shop in question - but a great Cambridge antique shop on Gwydir Street

There, in the bottom of a cardboard box in a dusty corner of a junk shop in the Lake District, was a tatty looking Bible. Still in its original (much worn) binding, the volume could have been easily overlooked but it was something special and Bill Cave recognised its value immediately. It was an early edition of the King James Version of the Bible (KJV), printed by John Barker, the King’s printer, in 1616. This year is the 400th anniversary of the KJV and this copy of the Bible has been recently on exhibition where it was valued at over £2,000 for insurance purposes. We are now extremely fortunate to receive it as a gift to add to the Old Library’s collection.


Hidden treasure - definately not junk!

In 1604 King James I initiated a new translation of the Bible at the Hampton Court Conference. While the translators worked from the Hebrew for the Old Testament, Greek for the New Testament and Greek and Latin for the Apocrypha, they also drew on previous translations (the Tyndale, Coverdale and Geneva Bibles). Also known as the “Breeches Bible”, the Geneva Bible was the primary Bible of the Protestant movement and its language influenced William Shakespeare as well as the translators of the Authorized Version.  First published in 1611, the KJV became tremendously popular and by the first half of the 18th century it was the English translation most widely used by the Anglican church. The language of the King James Bible has become embedded in the psyche of the English, influencing many writers from Milton and Ruskin right up to the present day.

Stern faces from 1616 in the guise of Jacob's sons surrounding his death bed

Our copy of the Bible is bound with John Speed’s The genealogies recorded in sacred scriptures. This work contains 34 pages of lively woodblock prints of genealogical trees of Biblical figures and a magnificent double page map of the Holy Land.


Not Middle Earth but a map of the Holy Land (Canaan)

In addition to the Bible, Bill Cave has also presented us with three books by his distant ancestor and namesake, Rev. William Cave (1637-1713): the Lives of the Fathers volume 1 and volume 2 (1682-1683) and the Lives of the Apostles   (1684). Educated at St John’s College Cambridge, William Cave started his career as vicar of St Mary’s, Islington (where he is buried) and rose to be Chaplain in Ordinary to Charles II and canon of Windsor. He certainly moved in posh circles! His scholarship focussed principally on the early church and is distinguished by the lucidity of its arrangement, making his volumes standard texts for several centuries. These three volumes, treasured family presents to Bill Cave some 20-30 years ago, have now joined another work by Cave already in our collection, Scriptorum ecclesiasticorum historia literaria, which was published in two parts (1688-1698). They have now found a permanent home in the Old Library where they are available to scholars and will be cared for in the future.

Additional information:

There is currently an excellent exhibition on the making of the King James Bible, “Great and manifold blessings” in the University Library which is on until 18 June 2011.

Hurry! This exhibition finishes on 18th June

Ruskin scholar, Clive Wilmer, gave an excellent talk on Ruskin and the King James Bible on 10th May 2011. For more on Ruskin’s Bible reading see Wilmer’s article ‘Ruskin and the Sense of an Ending: Apocalypse and Literary Form’ in Ruskin’s Struggle for Coherence: Self-Representation in Art, Place and Society, eds. Rachel Dickinson and Keith Hanley (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2006).

Information on Rev. William Cave, Chaplain in Ordinary to Charles II, was taken from Wikipedia and there is also an article on him in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (for those who have access to this online database).