The earliest and still the most fundamental duty of a library of national rank differs in degree rather than in kind from that of its local younger sisters. It is similarly to preserve for use today and for posterity, however remote, the original records of the nation. It is an old story, often repeated, and not to be repeated again, except in passing, that the Dissolution of the Monasteries in this country scattered the monuments of the Church in England and with them those of the national life, in chronicles, cartularies and the rest; for the commissioners' interest in books was confined to the bindings of jewels and precious metals with which the piety of earlier times had covered some; an interest, and doubtless also a knowledge, which may be described as skin‐deep. To reassemble as many as could be found was the work of Matthew Parker, while Robert Cotton, and after him Robert and Edward Harley, not only carried on the good work, but added the State Papers of later days, and in fact did for the Crown what the Crown had not yet thought of doing for itself.
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