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  • History of Cambridge University Press, volume 2: Scholarship and Commerce 1698–1872
  • Willis G. Regier
David McKitterick, A History of Cambridge University Press, volume 2: Scholarship and Commerce 1698–1872. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. xxiv + 511 pages.

In 1698 the University of Cambridge voted to appoint the first Syndics for its press. In 1872, the Cambridge University Press set out to become a London publisher. Events between these dates fill the second volume of David McKitterick’s History of Cambridge University Press. (Volume 1, subtitled Printing and the Book Trade in Cambridge, 1534–1698, was published in 1992.) McKitterick, Fellow and Librarian of Trinity College, Cambridge, builds upon D. F. McKenzie’s two-volume Cambridge University Press, 1696–1712: A Bibliographical Study (Cambridge University Press, 1966), M. H. Black’s Cambridge University Press, 1584–1984 (Cambridge University Press, 1984), and McKitterick’s own Four Hundred Years of University Printing and Publishing in Cambridge, 1584–1984 (Cambridge University Press, 1984). Also the coauthor (with J. C. T. Oates) of Cambridge University Library: A History (Cambridge University Press, 1986), McKitterick is exceptionally well placed and well prepared to undertake the history of the Cambridge University Press in local and national contexts.

The Press is the occasion but context is the forte of the History. McKitterick had to master much that was unwieldy and entangled—not least the nets of peculiar publishing arrangements between the Press, printers, and booksellers—and the slow sea changes in the market, from patronage, to subscriptions, to high-volume special sales for missionary work, to the rewards and heartbreaks of retail. McKitterick tracks changes in prices and populations, vagaries of the empire, and improvements in roads, railroads, presses, type, bindings, and paper-especially paper. He observes wavering Press relations with university faculty and administrators and changes in the Press’s location and facilities. The “age-old rivalry” with Oxford University Press is discreetly followed: Oxford was sooner established and often better led, it was quicker to buy better type, it sold three times as many Bibles, and the Thames gave it quicker and cheaper communication with London. McKitterick stresses how cold a shadow London cast. London dominated the businesses that sustained the book trade: illustrators, engravers, magazines, and stationers. London was also a huge market, and “without London, the Press could not survive.” But London publishers strove to keep that market to themselves and conspired to keep Cambridge University Press small and isolated.

McKitterick regularly reminds readers that for most of its history, the University Press was a printer, not a publisher. For years on end its Syndics did not pay much attention to it and its publishing decisions were “cautious in the extreme.” The men appointed to head the Press were often mediocre functionaries and sometimes hired agents of London publishers anxious to take advantages of the University’s rights and privileges. For long periods the Press was scarcely involved in scholarship, instead preferring sermons, and cut so low a figure on its own campus that Cambridge faculty preferred to publish in London or Amsterdam. Press output was often drab and meager: [End Page 1151] in 1717 it published only two sets of sermons and in 1729–30 a total of six books.

The University Press and the University coexisted in mutual neglect, to the detriment of both and to the benefit of opportunists.

Long before the mid-nineteenth century, the University was taking no formal responsibility for all that it printed, save in the most indirect way. It appointed a University Printer; it required him to print certain books agreed by the Syndics and such administrative papers as were necessary each year for the smooth running of an increasingly paper-dependent organisation; but it left him free to use the University’s equipment as he would, for most of the time. Such an arrangement, folly at best but actually the result of culpable neglect, potentially left University Printers in personally very profitable positions. Much more importantly, it permitted an active, imaginative and well-informed publisher, Macmillan, to profit at the University’s expense, and to lay the foundations of a list that became ever stronger as the University Press’s own meagre list...

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