Frets and Knots

Anthony Grafton

  • A History of Cambridge University Press. Vol. I: Printing and the Book Trade in Cambridge, 1534-1698 by David McKitterick
    Cambridge, 500 pp, £65.00, October 1992, ISBN 0 521 30801 1

David McKitterick’s Printing and the Book Trade in Cambridge, 1534-1698 is the first of three projected volumes on the history of the book’s own publisher, the Cambridge University Press. Though the book stretches to 387 pages of text and almost another hundred pages of notes, it does not reach the point around 1700 when Richard Bentley reshaped the Press into a major player, as he tried to reshape Horace, Paradise Lost and Trinity College, where McKitterick is fellow and librarian. In the 1710s the appearance of Bentley’s Horace and Newton’s Principia on CUP’s list gave it extraordinary distinction. In the period that McKitterick addresses here, however, the University’s printers confined themselves to humbler tasks. Textbooks and tripos verses, dictionaries and almanacs, English Bibles, theological polemics and lawsuits against the London booksellers who regarded the existence of the Cambridge Press as an affront – these, not radical revisions of transmitted texts and world pictures, occupied the likes of Thomas Thomas and Cantrell Legge. Format and coverage conspire to make the book seem an exercise in that nostalgic obsession with the minutiae of the local past to which Cambridge dons succumb even more readily than their colleagues in other ancient seats of learning.

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