Aldus Manutius (1452? – 6 February 1515) : A humanist printer for humanist readers. Aldine editions at Cambridge University Library

The 500th anniversary of Aldus Manutius’s death on 6 February 1515 (Incunabula Project Blog) is celebrated this year by libraries and institutions all over the world. Cambridge University Library joins in with a small exhibition of books published by Manutius between 1495 and 1515 (plus a couple of others) on display in the library Entrance Hall, from Monday 6 February to Saturday 7 March 2015, with an enlarged online version available at

Drawn from the library holdings of incunabula and early sixteenth-century Aldine editions, the exhibition celebrates Aldus’s achievements as the most successful editor, printer and businessman in Renaissance Italy. The individual history of some of these books also illustrates his importance as a highly respected humanist, scholar, linguistic and grammarian who could converse at equal level with humanists of the stature of Pietro Bembo and Erasmus of Rotterdam.

Sir George Arthur and British Honduras

Belize Almanack, 1829, RCS Case.d.391

The Royal Commonwealth Society Library has just published an on-line catalogue for one of its earliest and most fascinating manuscript collections, the archives of the distinguished colonial administrator Sir George Arthur (1784-1854). These papers relate to his tenure as Superintendent and Commandant of British Honduras during 1814-1822. Now known by its modern name of Belize, British settlement in the area began during the eighteenth century when timber-cutters illegally established themselves in Spanish territory along the Bay of Honduras. They exported logwood, whose dyes were essential to the European textile industries. When Arthur arrived, British Honduras was a small, remote frontier settlement populated by about thirty European families, a few companies of the West India Regiment, nearly 1,000 free people of mixed race and African origin, and almost 3,000 African and native American slaves, mainly employed in woodcutting.

Y3087B_21 Mahogany Raft, Belize, 1911

Arthur proved himself to be an energetic, progressive superintendent. He obtained more advantageous terms for the timber trade, which was chiefly in mahogany at this time, and defended commerce from piracy or privateering, enhancing the settlement’s economic prosperity.  He maintained friendly relations with neighbouring Spanish colonies, and walked a diplomatic tightrope to observe neutrality as they fought for independence from Spain.

Arthur reformed the administration of justice and undertook a public works programme to improve conditions at Belize, which included the construction of a new wharf, lighthouse, market, school, hospital, courthouse and government house. Arthur supported church building and missionary work, reflecting his deeply felt evangelical Christianity.  He was a committed abolitionist, and from the first acted to suppress the illegal importation of slaves. A slave rebellion in 1820 revealed the harsh treatment that many received, and Arthur did what he could to improve their plight.

Y3078A_1 Belize Court House, 1911

Constitutionally, since Honduras was not yet a British colony, and its inhabitants possessed considerable control over local taxation, expenditure and justice, Arthur’s authority was limited. Autocratic by nature and impatient with opposition, he at times clashed with the elected magistrates and public meeting over the extent of his powers. Not all of his initiatives were popular, such as an attempt to combat illegal land occupation. Arthur’s command of the settlement garrison was challenged by Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Bradley, whom he had arrested, leading to a lengthy dispute in which Arthur received the backing of the army and home government.

RCMS 270_10 Register of Indians Petitioning for Freedom, 1822

Arthur’s final years were dominated by a controversy over the allegedly illegal enslavement of the descendants of native Americans originally brought to the settlement from the Mosquito Coast in 1784. Arthur ordered them to be freed in early 1822, but considered legal opinion later upheld an appeal from the slave owners, who were eventually compensated for the loss of their property. In 1822 Arthur took leave in Britain due to ill health and did not return to Honduras. He went on to enjoy a distinguished career in colonial administration, serving as Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (1823-36), Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada (1837-41), and Governor of Bombay (1842-45).

To view the on-line catalogue of the Arthur papers, RCMS 270, please follow this link:


Charles Sayle (1864-1924): poet, bibliographer & librarian

Charles Edward Sayle (1864-1924), from A. W. Pollard’s obituary in ‘The Library’ of 1924

Charles Edward Sayle – poet, bibliographer and librarian – was born 150 years ago on this day in 1864. His surname may be familiar to Cambridge residents as his father, Robert Sayle, was the founder in 1840 of the town’s most famous department store (the building in St Andrew’s Street was taken over by John Lewis in 2004). Charles was schooled at Rugby and did not attend Cambridge University, matriculating instead at New College Oxford in November 1883, and took his BA in 1887 and MA in 1890. Having returned to Cambridge he was admitted to St John’s, where he catalogued books in the fine seventeenth-century college library. He joined the staff of the University Library aged 29 in 1893 and rose to the position of Assistant Under-Librarian in 1910, in which position he remained until his death, at the age of fifty-nine, in July 1924. Although this post is by no means a complete account of Sayle’s many virtues and achievements, the 150th anniversary of his birth seems like a good time to reconsider his life and work, his gifts to the University Library and his impact on this university town, where he lived and worked for over thirty years.

Continue reading Charles Sayle (1864-1924): poet, bibliographer & librarian

Recent Acquisitions: Manuscript Books of Hours

St Christopher (CUL, MS Add. 10060)

The current exhibition in the entrance hall, Scribes and Printers, features recent acquisitions by the Departments of Manuscripts and Rare Books. This post showcases the manuscripts and a further post will describe the early printed books. The three manuscripts acquired are all Books of Hours and between them illustrate some of the most distinctive features of this enormously popular genre. Continue reading Recent Acquisitions: Manuscript Books of Hours

Sassoon manuscripts on exhibition in Newcastle

Several items from the library’s collection of the manuscripts of Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) are currently on display at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in an exhibition entitled Screaming Steel: Art, War and Trauma 1914-1918. The exhibition explores how artists and writers responded to their experience of warfare, particularly on the Western Front. Sassoon’s works are displayed alongside an early draft of Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth, paintings by artists such as Paul Nash and George Grosz, and two haunting prints by Otto Dix from his cycle Der Krieg. Continue reading Sassoon manuscripts on exhibition in Newcastle

Codex Zacynthius


Codex Zacynthius
Codex Zacynthius

Cambridge University Library is delighted to announce that we have reached our appeal target and secured the purchase of Codex Zacynthius. We are extremely grateful for the large number of donations we received from individuals and organisations. The target was finally reached with a grant of £500,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the manuscript has been formally accessioned. Continue reading Codex Zacynthius

Early Egyptian texts revealed; the papers of Sir Herbert Thompson

Thompson portrait
Portrait of Herbert Thompson by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1877.
© Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

The University Library has recently acquired from the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, an archive of the personal papers of Sir Herbert Thompson, the Egyptologist and specialist in ancient Egyptian languages. He was also the founder of the Cambridge Chair of Egyptology which is named after him. The archive is an extensive collection containing notes for his publications, notes on language and correspondence with other Egyptologists. At present the archive remains unsorted but is likely to shed a great deal of light on Thompson’s work and on the development of Egyptology studies in the UK in the early part of the twentieth century.

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‘The necklace of her kingdom': Elizabeth I and Cambridge

In August 1564 – 450 years ago this month – Queen Elizabeth I visited Cambridge for the first time during her reign. The town was spruced up for the occasion, with scented flowers strewn on the ground and flags hung from buildings. Her arrival on Saturday 5th August was received with trumpet fanfares and the pealing of church bells (though Great St Mary’s was fined for neglecting to ring). The current Entrance Hall exhibition commemorates the visit, bringing together manuscript and printed material relating to the event and to the Queen’s connections with the University. Continue reading ‘The necklace of her kingdom': Elizabeth I and Cambridge

‘Swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget’: Siegfried Sassoon’s First World War Poems in Context

The First World War was one of the defining conflicts of European history. On 4 August 1914, the date when Britain entered the War, a 27 year old poet and sportsman from Kent named Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967) voluntarily enlisted. Sassoon’s direct experience of a catastrophic War which lasted four long years and saw an estimated 37 million soldier and civilian casualties would establish his reputation as one of the finest poets of the Great War and as one of its most outspoken critics. One hundred years since the War began, the anger, compassion and caustic realism of Sassoon’s poems still resonate today.

‘Swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget’,[1] a new exhibition in the University Library’s Entrance Hall, charts the evolution of Sassoon’s poetry and his changing attitude towards the War which influenced him so profoundly. The exhibition presents five of Sassoon’s best-regarded poems, paired with and contextualised by contemporary books and sketches from the Library’s collection. Keep reading …