Portuguese authors and Cambridge libraries


Title page detail from Peterborough.F.2.42.

The pioneering work of Professor Tom Earle of St Peter’s College Oxford, Portuguese writers and English readers (B990.7.33 ; C204.c.9561), published by the Oxford Bibliographical Society in 2009, investigates the holdings of books by Portuguese writers printed before 1640 and held in the university and college libraries of Oxford and Cambridge. The core of the publication is a short title catalogue listing 906 items in a total of 2,343 copies. They are predominantly in Latin, of course, with a sizeable minority in Portuguese, but the listing also includes translations in English, French, German and Spanish. Whilst Lisbon is the most common place of publication (with 113 items), Lyon comes close behind (103 items), followed by Venice (92), Cologne (83), Paris (67) and Antwerp (60). Relatively few titles were published in London (23 items).

Professor Earle prefaces his catalogue with five introductory chapters, and also includes a substantial bibliography. A primary focus is a study of the provenance of these volumes, and in particular the extent to which material was acquired before or after 1750. 61% of the volumes – 1,426 copies – are held by Oxford libraries, and 39% – 917 copies – are held in Cambridge, but the author lays no great significance on this statistical contrast, other than to point out that there are more college libraries in Oxford than in Cambridge, and that prior to 1715 “the Cambridge University Library was more neglected and more chaotic than the Bodleian”.

The author who made the greatest impact on sixteenth and seventeenth century Oxbridge was the theologian Jerónimo Osório (1514-1580). About 160 copies of his books exist in Oxford and Cambridge libraries, more than 100 of them acquired before 1750. Neither university is particularly strong in early Portuguese literary texts, though Oxford has better coverage. The great Portuguese epic poem Os Lusíadas of Luís de Camões (?1529-1580) is represented by 5 early editions in Oxford libraries, but none in Cambridge.  On the other hand the only early text by poet Pedro de Galhegos (1597-1665), his Templo da memoria, is held in the library of St Catharine’s College, part of the bequest of Henry Chaytor, Master of the College from 1933 to 1946.

That St Catharine’s uniquely holds this item demonstrates how wide-ranging coverage in college libraries can be. One of the appendices to Portuguese writers and English readers, an index of current locations, makes it very easy to give a breakdown of the range of Cambridge locations. The number of libraries featuring in the list is fascinating. The front runners are predictable – the University Library with 314 titles, Trinity with 103, St John’s with 94, Emmanuel with 80 and Gonville and Caius with 33. Then come a range of libraries each possessing a similar number of titles, starting with Magdalene and Sidney Sussex (22 each), Clare (21), King’s  and Trinity Hall (20 each), Queens’ (18), Pembroke and Peterhouse (17 each), Corpus (13), Jesus (12) and Christ’s (11).  And finally six libraries with a total in single figures – St Catharine’s (6), Fitzwilliam Museum (5), Westminster (2) and the Squire, the Whipple and Zoology (1 title each).

Producing this STC of books printed before 1640 by Portuguese authors has clearly taken a great deal of time and expertise. It is also an indication of the work which needs to be done for other European countries and other periods of publishing history. As Professor Earle states in his foreword “Only a few libraries provide information about provenance, even in up-to-date computerized catalogues. So though one day, when every book in Oxford and Cambridge has a full computer record, including a record of the nationality of its author, this book will be obsolete, that day is some way away

** Features on particularly interesting items and authors identified by Professor Earle will form the basis of future posts on our blog.**

David Lowe

3 thoughts on “Portuguese authors and Cambridge libraries

  1. The book is a remarkable achievement. It provides insights into unknown instances of Portuguese influence in English thought, especially in theology, philosophy, history, the arts and even the sciences. I can hardly express the enthusiasm with which I read the chapters of the “Introduction”, as the element of wonder occurs at almost every page. I can’t resist quoting. For example: “The works of Portuguese botanists, ethnographers, geographers and linguists fill the shelves of early modern libraries” (p. xix). Who would have guessed?! All of this is tempered with a light touch that makes the Introduction superb reading. The following sentence on Jerónimo Osório, one of the most widely read of Portuguese authors, is typical: “Here is a piece of splendid Osorian rhetoric, the kind of thing that sometimes irritated his English readers, but kept them turning the pages” (p. xliv). In a book of such erudition and painstaking detail, a few mistakes are inevitable. One name that David Lowe mentions, Pedro de Galhegos, the author of “Templo da memoria”, was, in fact, MANUEL de Galhegos. But this is hardly worth mentioning in such a great book. It should be required reading for specialists in early modern, especially seventeenth-century, English studies. And it is not less useful to their Portuguese colleagues.

    • Helio, I enjoyed reading your enthusiastic response to this publication. Thank you. Your enthusiasm is shared by Cambridge librarians, who are delighted that Professor Earle has done so much fascinating detective work. A Portuguese version of the book has just been published by the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, under the title Escritores portugueses e leitores ingleses (ISBN 9789723115130). The author describes this as “uma segunda edição” rather than just a translation, since a number of small mistakes in the original English edition have been corrected. A blog post on the Portuguese version will follow in the course of the summer.

      • Dear David, thank you for the information. I didn’t know about the Gulbenkian publication. And congratulations on your blog!

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