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In the Name of the Bodleian and Other Essays online

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an occasional curtness about Cambridge men that is hard but not
impossible to reconcile with good feeling.

Bodley's will gave great dissatisfaction to some of his friends,
including this aforesaid John Chamberlain, and yet, on reading it
through, it is not easy to see any cause for just complaint. Bodley's
brother did not grumble, there were no children, Lady Bodley had died
in 1611, and everybody who knew the testator must have known that the
library would be (as it was) the great object of his bounty. What
annoyed Chamberlain seems to be that, whilst he had (so he says,
though I take leave to doubt it) put down Bodley for some trifle in
his will, Bodley forgot to mention Chamberlain in his. There is always
a good deal of human nature exhibited on these occasions. I will
transcribe a bit of one of this gentleman's grumbling letters,
written, one may be sure, with no view to publication, the day after
Bodley's death:

'Mr. Gent came to me this morning as it were to bemoan himself of
the little regard hath been had of him and others, and indeed for
ought I hear there is scant anybody pleased, but for the rest it
were no great matter if he had had more consideration or
commiseration where there was most need. But he was so carried away
with the vanity and vain-glory of his library, that he forgot all
other respects and duties, almost of Conscience, Friendship, or
Good-nature, and all he had was too little for that work. To say
the truth I never did rely much upon his conscience, but I thought
he had been more real and ingenuous. I cannot learn that he hath
given anything, no, not a good word nor so much as named any old
friend he had, but Mr. Gent and Thos. Allen, who like a couple of
Almesmen must have his best and second gown, and his best and
second cloak, but to cast a colour or shadow of something upon Mr.
Gent, he says he forgives him all he owed him, which Mr. Gent
protests is never a penny. I must intreat you to pardon me if I
seem somewhat impatient on his [_i.e._, Gent's] behalf, who hath
been so servile to him, and indeed such a perpetual servant, that
he deserved a better reward. Neither can I deny that I have a
little indignation for myself that having been acquainted with him
for almost forty years, and observed and respected him so much, I
should not be remembered with the value of a spoon, or a mourning
garment, whereas if I had gone before him (as poor a man as I am),
he should not have found himself forgotten.'[A]

[Footnote A: _Winwood's Memorials_, vol. iii., p. 429.]

Bodley did no more by his will, which is dated January 2, 1613, and is
all in his own handwriting, than he had bound himself to do in his
lifetime, and I feel as certain as I can feel about anything that
happened nearly 300 years ago, that Mr. Gent, of Gloucester Hall, did
owe Bodley money, though, as many another member of the University of
Oxford has done with his debts, he forgot all about it.

The founder of the Bodleian was buried with proper pomp and
circumstance in the chapel of Merton College on March 29, 1613. Two
Latin orations were delivered over his remains, one, that of John
Hales (the ever-memorable), a Fellow of Merton, being of no
inconsiderable length. After all was over, those who had mourning
weeds or 'blacks' retired, with the Heads of Houses, to the refectory
of Merton and had a funeral dinner bestowed upon them, 'amounting to
the sum of £100,' as directed by the founder's will.

The great foundation of Sir Thomas Bodley has, happily for all of us,
had better fortune than befell the generous gifts of the Bishops of
Durham and Worcester. The Protestant layman has had the luck, not the
large-minded prelates of the old religion. Even during the Civil War
Bodley's books remained uninjured, at all events by the Parliament
men. 'When Oxford was surrendered [June 24, 1646], the first thing
General Fairfax did was to set a good guard of soldiers to preserve
the Bodleian Library. 'Tis said there was more hurt done by the
Cavaliers [during their garrison] by way of embezzling and cutting of
chains of books than there was since. He was a lover of learning, and
had he not taken this special care that noble library had been utterly
destroyed, for there were ignorant senators enough who would have been
contented to have it so' (see Macray, p. 101).

Oliver Cromwell, while Lord Protector, presented to the library
twenty-two Greek manuscripts he had purchased, and, what is more, when
Bodley's librarian refused the Lord Protector's request to allow the
Portugal Ambassador to borrow a manuscript, sending instead of the
manuscript a copy of the statutes forbidding loans, Oliver commended
the prudence of the founder, and subsequently made the donation just

A great wave of generosity towards this foundation was early
noticeable. The Bodleian got hold of men's imaginations. In those days
there were learned men in all walks of life, and many more who, if not
learned, were endlessly curious. The great merchants of the city of
London instructed their agents in far lands to be on the look-out for
rare things, and transmit them home to find a resting-place in
Bodley's buildings. All sorts of curiosities found their way
there - crocodiles, whales, mummies, and black negro-boys in spirits.
The Ashmolean now holds most of them; the negro-boy has been
conveniently lost.

In 1649 the total of 2,000 printed books had risen to more than
12,000 - viz., folios, 5,889; quartos, 2,067; octavos, 4,918; whilst of
manuscripts there were 3,001. One of the first gifts in money came
from Sir Walter Raleigh, who in 1605 gave £50, whilst among the early
benefactors of books and manuscripts it were a sin not to name the
Earl of Pembroke, Archbishop Laud (one of the library's best friends),
Robert Burton (of the _Anatomy of Melancholy_), Sir Kenelm Digby, John
Selden, Lord Fairfax, Colonel Vernon, and Barlow, Bishop of Lincoln.
No nobler library exists in the world than the Bodleian, unless it be
in the Vatican at Rome. The foundation of Sir Thomas Bodley, though of
no antiquity, shines with unrivalled splendour in the galaxy of Oxford

'Amidst the stars that own another birth.'

I must not say, being myself a Cambridge man, that the Bodleian
dominates Oxford, yet to many an English, American, and foreign
traveller to that city, which, despite railway-stations and motor-cars
and the never-ending villas and perambulators of the Banbury Road,
still breathes the charm of an earlier age, the Bodleian is the
pulsing heart of the University. Colleges, like ancient homesteads,
unless they are yours, never quite welcome you, though ready enough to
receive with civility your tendered meed of admiration. You wander
through their gardens, and pace their quadrangles with no sense of
co-ownership; not for you are their clustered memories. In the
Bodleian every lettered heart feels itself at home.

Bodley drafted with his own hand the first statutes or rules to be
observed in his library. Speaking generally, they are wise rules. One
mistake, indeed, he made - a great mistake, but a natural one. Let him
give his own reasons:

'I can see no good reason to alter my rule for excluding such books
as Almanacks, Plays, and an infinite number that are daily printed
of very unworthy matters - handling such books as one thinks both
the Keeper and Under-Keeper should disdain to seek out, to deliver
to any man. Haply some plays may be worthy the keeping - but hardly
one in forty.... This is my opinion, wherein if I err I shall err
with infinite others; and the more I think upon it, the more it
doth distaste me that such kinds of books should be vouchsafed room
in so noble a library.'[A]

[Footnote A: See correspondence in _Reliquiae Bodleianae_, London,

'Baggage-books' was the contemptuous expression elsewhere employed to
describe this 'light infantry' of literature - _Belles Lettres_, as it
is now more politely designated.

One play in forty is liberal measure, but who is to say out of the
forty plays which is the one worthy to be housed in a noble library?
The taste of Vice-Chancellors and Heads of Houses, of keepers and
under-keepers of libraries - can anybody trust it? The Bodleian is
entitled by imperial statutes to receive copies of all books published
within the realm, yet it appears, on the face of a Parliamentary
return made in 1818, that this 'noble library' refused to find room
for Ossian, the favourite poet of Goethe and Napoleon, and labelled
Miss Edgeworth's _Parent's Assistant_ and Miss Hannah More's _Sacred
Dramas_ 'Rubbish.' The sister University, home though she be of nearly
every English poet worth reading, rejected the _Siege of Corinth_,
though the work of a Trinity man; would not take in the _Thanksgiving
Ode_ of Mr. Wordsworth, of St. John's College; declined Leigh Hunt's
_Story of Rimini_; vetoed the _Headlong Hall_ of the inimitable
Peacock, and, most wonderful of all, would have nothing to say to
Scott's _Antiquary_, being probably disgusted to find that a book with
so promising a title was only a novel.

Now this is altered, and everything is collected in the Bodleian,
including, so I am told, Christmas-cards and bills of fare.

Bodley's rule has proved an expensive one, for the library has been
forced to buy at latter-day prices 'baggage-books' it could have got
for nothing.

Another ill-advised regulation got rid of duplicates. Thus, when the
third Shakespeare Folio appeared in 1664, the Bodleian disposed of its
copy of the First Folio. However, this wrong was righted in 1821,
when, under the terms of Edmund Malone's bequest, the library once
again became the possessor of the edition of 1623. Quite lately the
original displaced Folio has been recovered.

Against lending books Bodley was adamant, and here his rule prevails.
It is pre-eminently a wise one. The stealing of books, as well as the
losing of books, from public libraries is a melancholy and ancient
chapter in the histories of such institutions; indeed, there is too
much reason to believe that not a few books in the Bodleian itself
were stolen to start with. But the long possession by such a
foundation has doubtless purged the original offence. In the National
Library in Paris is at least one precious manuscript which was stolen
from the Escurial. There are volumes in the British Museum on which
the Bodleian looks with suspicion, and _vice versa_. But let sleeping
dogs lie. Bodley would not give the divines who were engaged upon a
bigger bit of work even than his library - the translation of the Bible
into that matchless English which makes King James's version our
greatest literary possession - permission to borrow 'the one or two
books' they wished to see.

Bodley's Library has sheltered through three centuries many queer
things besides books and strangely-written manuscripts in old tongues;
queerer things even than crocodiles, whales, and mummies - I mean the
librarians and sub-librarians, janitors, and servants. Oddities many
of them have been. Honest old Jacobites, non-jurors, primitive
thinkers, as well as scandalously lazy drunkards and illiterate dogs.
An old foundation can afford to have a varied experience in these

One of the most original of these originals was the famous Thomas
Hearne, an 'honest gentleman' - that is, a Jacobite - and one whose
collections and diaries have given pleasure to thousands. He was
appointed janitor in 1701, and sub-librarian in 1712, but in 1716,
when an Act of Parliament came into operation which imposed a fine of
£500 upon anyone who held any public office without taking the oath of
allegiance to the Hanoverians, Hearne's office was taken away from
him; but he shared with his King over the water the satisfaction of
accounting himself still _de jure_, and though he lived till 1735,
he never failed each half-year to enter his salary and fees as
sub-librarian as being still unpaid. He was perhaps a little spiteful
and vindictive, but none the less a fine old fellow. I will write down
as specimens of his humour a prayer of his and an apology, and then
leave him alone. His prayer ran as follows:

'O most gracious and merciful Lord God, wonderful in Thy
Providence, I return all possible thanks to Thee for the care Thou
hast always taken of me. I continually meet with most signal
instances of this Thy Providence, and one act yesterday, _when I
unexpectedly met with three old manuscripts_, for which in a
particular manner I return my thanks, beseeching Thee to continue
the same protection to me, a poor helpless sinner, and that for
Jesus Christ his sake' (_Aubrey's Letters_, i. 118).

His apology, which I do not think was actually published, though kept
in draft, was after this fashion:

'I, Thomas Hearne, A.M. of the University of Oxford, having ever
since my matriculation followed my studies with as much application
as I have been capable of, and having published several books for
the honour and credit of learning, and particularly for the
reputation of the foresaid University, am very sorry that by my
declining to say anything but what I knew to be true in any of my
writings, and especially in the last book I published entituled,
&c, I should incur the displeasure of any of the Heads of Houses,
and as a token of my sorrow for their being offended at truth, I
subscribe my name to this paper and permit them to make what use of
it they please.'

Leaping 140 years, an odd tale is thus lovingly recorded of another
sub-librarian, the Rev. A. Hackman, who died in 1874:

'During all the time of his service in the library (thirty-six
years) he had used as a cushion in his plain wooden armchair a
certain vellum-bound folio, which by its indented side, worn down
by continual pressure, bore testimony to the use to which it had
been put. No one had ever the curiosity to examine what the book
might be, but when, after Hackman's departure from the library, it
was removed from its resting-place of years, some amusement was
caused by finding that the chief compiler of the last printed
catalogue had omitted from his catalogue the volume on which he
sat, of which, too, though of no special value, there was no other
copy in the library' (Macray, p. 388A).

The spectacle in the mind's eye of this devoted sub-librarian and
sound divine sitting on the vellum-bound folio for six-and-thirty
years, so absorbed in his work as to be oblivious of the fact that he
had failed to include in what was his _magnum opus_, the Great
Catalogue, the very book he was sitting upon, tickles the midriff.

Here I must bring these prolonged but wholly insufficient observations
to a very necessary conclusion. Not a word has been said of the great
collection of bibles, or of the unique copies of the Koran and the
Talmud and the _Arabian Nights_, or of the Dante manuscripts, or of
Bishop Tanner's books (many bought on the dispersion of Archbishop
Sancroft's great library), which in course of removal by water from
Norwich to Oxford fell into the river and remained submerged for
twenty hours, nor of many other splendid benefactions of a later date.

One thing only remains, not to be said, but to be sent round - I mean
the hat. Ignominious to relate, this glorious foundation stands in
need of money. Shade of Sir Thomas Bodley, I invoke thy aid to loosen
the purse-strings of the wealthy! The age of learned and curious
merchants, of high-spirited and learning-loving nobles, of
book-collecting bishops, of antiquaries, is over. The Bodleian cannot
condescend to beg. It is too majestical. But I, an unauthorized
stranger, have no need to be ashamed.

Especially rich is this great library in _Americana_, and America
suggests multi-millionaires. The rich men of the United States have
been patriotically alive to the first claims of their own richly
endowed universities, and long may they so continue; but if by any
happy chance any one of them should accidentally stumble across an odd
million or even half a million of dollars hidden away in some casual
investment he had forgotten, what better thing could he do with it
than send it to this, the most famous foundation of his Old Home? It
would be acknowledged by return of post in English and in Latin, and
the donor's name would be inscribed, not indeed (and this is a
regrettable lapse) in that famous old register which Bodley provided
should always be in a prominent place in his library, but in the
Annual Statement of Accounts now regularly issued. To be associated
with the Bodleian is to share its fame and partake of the blessing it
has inherited. 'The liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal
things he shall stand.'


Great is bookishness and the charm of books. No doubt there are times
and seasons in the lives of most reading men when they rebel against
the dust of libraries and kick against the pricks of these monstrously
accumulated heaps of words. We all know 'the dark hour' when the
vanity of learning and the childishness of merely literary things are
brought home to us in such a way as almost to avail to put the pale
student out of conceit with his books, and to make him turn from his
best-loved authors as from a friend who has outstayed his welcome,
whose carriage we wish were at the door. In these unhappy moments we
are apt to call to mind the shrewd men we have known, who have been
our blithe companions on breezy fells, heathery moor, and by the
stream side, who could neither read nor write, or who, at all events,
but rarely practised those Cadmean arts. Yet they could tell the time
of day by the sun, and steer through the silent night by the stars;
and each of them had - as Emerson, a very bookish person, has said - a
dial in his mind for the whole bright calendar of the year. How racy
was their talk; how wise their judgments on men and things; how well
they did all that at the moment seemed worth doing; how universally
useful was their garnered experience - their acquired learning! How
wily were these illiterates in the pursuit of game - how ready in an
emergency! What a charm there is about out-of-door company! Who would
not sooner have spent a summer's day with Sir Walter's humble friend,
Tom Purday, than with Mr. William Wordsworth of Rydal Mount! It is, we
can only suppose, reflections such as these that make country
gentlemen and farmers the sworn foes they are of education and the
enemies of School Boards.

I only indicate this line of thought to condemn it. Such temptations
come from below. Great, we repeat, is bookishness and the charm of
books. Even the writings, the ponderous writings, of that portentous
parson, the Rev. T.F. Dibdin, with all their lumbering gaiety and
dust-choked rapture over first editions, are not hastily to be sent
packing to the auction-room. Much red gold did they cost us, these
portly tomes, in bygone days, and on our shelves they shall remain
till the end of our time, unless our creditors intervene - were it only
to remind us of years when our enthusiasms were pure though our tastes
may have been crude.

Some years ago Mr. Blades, the famous printer and Caxtonist, published
in vellum covers a small volume which he christened _The Enemies of
Books_. It made many friends, and now a revised and enlarged version
in comely form, adorned with pictures, and with a few prefatory words
by Dr. Garnett, has made its appearance. Mr. Blades himself has left
this world for a better one, where - so piety bids us believe - neither
fire nor water nor worm can despoil or destroy the pages of heavenly
wisdom. But the book-collector must not be caught nursing mere
sublunary hopes. There is every reason to believe that in the realms
of the blessed the library, like that of Major Ponto, will be small
though well selected. Mr. Blades had, as his friend Dr. Garnett
observes, a debonair spirit - there was nothing fiery or controversial
about him. His attitude towards the human race and its treatment of
rare books was rather mournful than angry. For example, under the head
of 'Fire,' he has occasion to refer to that great destruction of books
of magic which took place at Ephesus, to which St. Luke has called
attention in his Acts of the Apostles. Mr. Blades describes this
holocaust as righteous, and only permits himself to say in a kind of
undertone that he feels a certain mental disquietude and uneasiness at
the thought of the loss of more than £18,000 worth of books, which
could not but have thrown much light (had they been preserved) on
many curious questions of folk-lore. Personally, I am dead against the
burning of books. A far worse, because a corrupt, proceeding, was the
scandalously horrid fate that befell the monastic libraries at our
disgustingly conducted, even if generally beneficent, Reformation. The
greedy nobles and landed gentry, who grabbed the ancient foundations
of the old religion, cared nothing for the books they found cumbering
the walls, and either devoted them to vile domestic uses or sold them
in shiploads across the seas. It may well be that the monks - fine,
lusty fellows! - cared more for the contents of their fish-ponds than
of their libraries; but, at all events, they left the books alone to
take their chance - they did not rub their boots with them or sell them
at the price of old paper. A man need have a very debonair spirit who
does not lose his temper over our blessed Reformation. Mr. Blades, on
the whole, managed to keep his.

Passing from fire, Mr. Blades has a good deal to say about water, and
the harm it has been allowed to do in our collegiate and cathedral
libraries. With really creditable composure he writes: 'Few old
libraries in England are now so thoroughly neglected as they were
thirty years ago. The state of many of our collegiate and cathedral
libraries was at that time simply appalling. I could mention many
instances - one especially - where, a window having been left broken for
a long time, the ivy had pushed through and crept over a row of books,
each of which was worth hundreds of pounds. In rainy weather the water
was conducted as by a pipe along the tops of the books, and soaked
through the whole.' Ours is indeed a learned Church. Fancy the mingled
amazement and dismay of the Dean and Chapter when they were informed
that all this mouldering literary trash had 'boodle' in it. 'In
another and a smaller collection the rain came through on to a
bookcase through a sky-light, saturating continually the top shelf,
containing Caxtons and other English books, one of which, although
rotten, was sold soon after by permission of the Charity Commissioners
for £200.' Oh, those scoundrelly Charity Commissioners! How
impertinent has been their interference with the loving care and
guardianship of the Lord's property by His lawfully consecrated
ministers! By the side of these anthropoid apes, the genuine
bookworm, the paper-eating insect, ravenous as he once was, has done
comparatively little mischief. Very little seems known of the
creature, though the purchaser of Mr. Blades's book becomes the owner
of a life-size portrait of the miscreant in one, at all events, of his
many shapes. Mr. Birdsall, of Northampton, sent Mr. Blades, in 1879,
by post, a fat little worm he had found in an old volume. Mr. Blades
did all, and more than all, that could be expected of a humane man to
keep the creature alive, actually feeding him with fragments of
Caxtons and seventeenth-century literature; but it availed not, for in
three weeks the thing died, and as the result of a post-mortem was
declared to be _Aecophera pseudopretella_. Some years later Dr.
Garnett, who has spent a long life obliging men of letters, sent Mr.
Blades two Athenian worms, which had travelled to this country in a
Hebrew Commentary; but, lovely and pleasant in their lives, in their
deaths they were not far divided. Mr. Blades, at least, mourned their
loss. The energy of bookworms, like that of men, greatly varies. Some
go much farther than others. However fair they may start on the same
folio, they end very differently. Once upon a time 212 worms began to
eat their way through a stout folio printed in the year 1477, by Peter
Schoeffer, of Mentz. It was an ungodly race they ran, but let me trace
their progress. By the time the sixty-first page was reached all but
four had given in, either slinking back the way they came, or
perishing _en route_. By the time the eighty-sixth page had been
reached but one was left, and he evidently on his last legs, for he

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Online LibraryAugustine BirrellIn the Name of the Bodleian and Other Essays → online text (page 2 of 14)