Thomas Smith, Humfrey Wanley, and the 'Little-Known Country' of the Cotton Library
Eileen A. Joy (notes)
Although there were many handwritten, often informal catalogues of Sir Robert Cotton's manuscripts and books during his lifetime and in the years afterwards, the desire for an official printed catalogue which could be circulated in the public realm did not really bear fruit until the late 1600s. And when two versions finally did appear - the Reverend Thomas Smith's in 1696 and Humfrey Wanley's in 1705 - they represented the fruits of bibliographic labours undertaken with great care and anxiety over the individual mastery of a summum of texts delimited by the contingencies (social, political, economic, geographical, and otherwise) of time and place, as well as over the perceived importance of indexing and preserving a national literary heritage well before the academic disciplines of systematic bibliography, literary history, or English studies even existed. In the often fractious relationship between Smith and Wanley, a productive convergence resulted that helped pave the way for a new union bibliography, and the evidence would seem to suggest that when it came to the conception and articulation of the necessity for a universal comparative catalogue in the early modern period, Wanley was the chief (if often underappreciated) conscience of English bibliography.