Francis Whiting Halsey.

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sold for large prices he had been able, through rare
industry and thorough knowledge, to pick up for
trifles. Stories of his goings about among ancient
New England farm-houses and the dusky book-
stalls of Boston and New York were many and
quaint. Had he left a diary of these bibliographi-
cal tours, it would have furnished most entertaining
reading. Mr. Brinley collected books before the
prospective value of Americana had been foreseen.
He often obtained permission in farm-houses to see
" any old books " that might be stored away in chests
and barrels, in barns and garrets. For small sums
or by an exchange for modern popular authors, he
many times secured treasures literally worth their
weight in gold.

This is the most remarkable American library ever
sold in this country. In the matter of price the
next highest total was obtained for the Brayton Ives
collection, which fetched $124,235. Mr. Ives is the
well-known banker of New York, and has been presi-
dent of the Stock Exchange. The average for single
works in the Ives collection was much higher than
in the Brinley sale, being $107.75 as against $13.38.
In fact, the Ives average is the highest that any

Menzies was afterward telling this story to a friend, he was asked,
" Did you ever charge your customer with that book in your bill ? "
To which he replied, " Many times."


collection has ever secured at auction in New York.
Mr. Ives's library, therefore, in uniform choiceness
might be called the finest ever sold here. But it
may be doubted if his collection, were it now to be
sold again (it was first sold in 1891), would show the
same advance that the Brinley collection would
show. Competent judges have estimated that the
Brinley books, were they sold to-day, would bring
somewhere near $250,000 dollars. But this would
still leave the high average maintained by Mr. Ives's
collection intact.

Would a man buy books on which his heirs may
reap a substantial profit, let him buy Americana.
They are as certain to rise in value as is any sort of
possession a man can have. When the Deane
books were sold in Boston a few years ago, they
brought several thousand dollars more than they
would have brought when Mr. Deane died. Of all
American libraries, the greatest in the country
is owned in Providence. It was gathered many years
ago by John Carter Brown, when Americana were
not costly. Its auction value to-day has been placed
as high as $1,000,000, and it might even sell for
$250,000 more. These figures made me once remark
to a bibliographer that it must be the most valuable
collection in the country. " Oh, no," said he, " there
is one more valuable, and it is owned here in New
York." But that collection is not so specially devoted
to Americana. It is owned by Robert Hoe.

Among Americana the most costly book sold in


America at auction is the first edition of the " Letter
of Columbus," published in Rome in 1493— one of
the smallest of Americana extant, comprising as it
does only four leaves of thirty-four lines to the page.
Only five copies are known, and for one of these in
1 890 the sum of $2900 was paid in New York. A
book of much higher price, however, is Hariot's
"Virginia " (1588), which is so rare that no copy has
been sold at auction in nearly a century. The only
perfect copy known is now in a private library. The
owner is understood to have paid for it in the neighbour-
hood of $4000. Another extremely rare American book
is " The Bay Psalm Book " of 1640. Only two copies
have been sold in this country. One of them in 1875
brought $1025; the otherin 1879, $1200, the purchaser
in the latter case being Cornelius Vanderbilt. Put
up at auction to-day " The Bay Psalm Book " would
bring far more than either of these prices. Good
judges estimate its value at about $5000.

Mr. Arnold's recent sales have forcibly shown
what profits may still be made in collecting when
good judgment is brought to the pursuit. He began
to collect long after the demand for first editions
of modern authors had become keen, and when
many cautious souls believed the days of bargains
had forever gone by. Mr. Arnold's copy of Haw-
thorne's " Fanshawe " cost him $200, and he sold it
for S410; 1 his copy of Goldsmith's "Deserted Vil-

1 It may be proper to add here that some twenty years ago a copy
of Hawthorne's first book in the original edition, bound in boards,


lage," $33-33, and he sold it for $190; the original
manuscript of Emerson's " Threnody," $26.40, and it
sold for $300; a copy of Chapman's " Homer," with
notes by Coleridge, $110, and he sold it for $635;
the proof sheets of Browning's " Ring and the
Book," with corrections, $72.88, and it sold for
$680; a presentation copy of Keats's poems, $71, and
it realized $500 ; a copy of Milton's " Paradise
Lost," $200, and it sold for $830; a copy of
Shelley's " Adonais," in the original covers, $150,
and he sold it for $510.

Not many years ago there was sold in Boston a
shabby old book called " Cushman's Sermon," of
which only five copies were known to exist It had
never before turned up in an auction room, and it
brought $1000. Old sermons are not commonly
regarded as literature. They are seldom interesting
to read. Nor is the name of Cushman famous
among writers of books. Why, then, this value ?
Cushman's sermon happens to be the first New
England sermon that ever got into print. This

was acquired by me for a very small sum. In one of the auction
rooms, tied up with a bit of clothesline, appeared a collection of about
thirty old American books, chiefly of the period 1 820-1 840, which were
to be sold as one lot. By accident I discovered on the back of one
of them the name " Fanshawe," and made a bid for the entire lot at so
much per volume, the total cost to me being about $3. After the sale,
I removed the " Fanshawe " and had the remainder subsequently sold
for $1.50. This copy of " Fanshawe " a few years later, in an unguarded
moment, I parted with for about $50. It was in excellent condition,
quite as good, it seems from the description, as Mr. Arnold's copy,
which brought $410.


fact and the excessive rarity of copies explain the

The romances of book auction rooms indeed would
make a pretty volume, should some one gather and
narrate them well. Along with this Cushman sale
would go another, of which reports came at the same
time, — Fitzgerald's version of " Omar Khayyam."
Originally published in London, it fell as flat as ever
book fell. Some 200 copies long lay on a shelf
unsalable, and even when offered at one penny per
copy the sale was slow. But in 1898, nearly forty
years afterward, Bernard Quaritch, the original pub-
lisher, when seeking a copy of that first edition had
to pay $105 for it at auction. A still higher price
would have to be paid now — probably $300.

One of the choicest private collections ever made
in England was that of Thomas Grenville, who
lived to be ninety-six years of age, and devoted the
last forty years of his life to making it. It comprises
about 20,000 volumes, and is believed to have cost
him all of $270,000. Had it been sold at public auc-
tion, more than that would have been realized for it ;
it is one of the standing regrets of collectors that
these books never came to the block. In 1845, a
year before he died, Grenville gave them in his will
to the British Museum, of which it still forms one of
the brightest ornaments. When the Perkins collec-
tion, comprising only 865 lots, was sold in London, in
1873, it brought $130,000 — an average of more than
$150 per lot. A copy of the Gutenberg, or Mazarin,


Bible, on vellum, sold for $17,000, and another copy,
on paper, for $13,450 — very handsome advance on
the original purchase price.

But the collector must buy with discrimination. In
the number and variety of its volumes, probably no
private collection ever surpassed that of Richard
Heber, brother of the Bishop. It was a miscella-
neous collection in every department of literature,
and had been purchased with little regard to cost.
Heber had mere book hunger, in which taste and
judgment had subordinate place. He is believed
to have possessed in all 110,000 volumes, 30,000 of
which he acquired at a single purchase He had eight
houses filled with books, — two in London, two in the
country, and one each in Paris, Brussels, Antwerp, and
Ghent, besides smaller collections elsewhere. When
sold, in 1834, the books fetched $285,000, which was
a little more than half what they had cost.

In striking contrast with Heber's methods stand
the methods of Bertram, Earl of Ashburnham,
whose collection was sold in London, only a few
years ago, for a sum in excess of $300,000. This
represented a profit, and, in the case of many books,
very large ones. The Earl of Ashburnham in the
main knew what to buy — what books collectors
wanted or were likely to want. In a word, he had
the same foresight that is shown by men who make
money from other investments. He knew how to
buy cheaply the things which would eventually be
worth more. It is with books as with lands, stocks,


bonds, and merchandise. To make a profit one must
buy what can be sold for more than one pays.

The only collection of books ever sold at auction
xjr a larger sum than the Ashburnham collection
was the Beckford library, gathered originally by
the author of " Vathek," that brilliant Englishman,
son of an alderman in London, who, in dying, made
William Beckford " England's wealthiest son."
Beckford was the builder of the famous Gothic pile
called Fonthill Abbey, which had an enormous tower,
that fell of its own weight while in process of con-

Lord Ashburnham was a late survivor of those
noblemen who, in the early years of this century,
strove with each other in the book-shops and
auction rooms. Dibdin chronicled their exploits,
Dr. Ferriar sang their praises, voicing the delights
their pastime afforded. Chief among their combats
was the sale of the Valdarfer Boccaccio. Another
event was the founding of the Roxburghe club; a relic
of that club still surviving is the binding to which it
gave a name. Great among the greatest of those
mighty book hunters was Lord Spencer. All their
passions for books, all their tastes and judgment,
were inherited by Lord Ashburnham.

Lord Ashburnham collected through life. The
passion had indeed been born in him while a boy
at school, and it lasted until he died. Not in any
fine additions to his ancient home, in pictures
gathered, in political leadership, in aristocratic sport,


was fame sought, or the duty of his rank observed ;
but in collecting books. It is common testimony
that he brought to this pursuit sound judgment,
unerring taste, and unwearied patience — that great-
est, as it is the rarest, quality in any collector,
whether of books or money. All his life he had
sought in vain for a perfect and clean copy of the
Wycliffe Bible in manuscript, and one of the very
last books he bought was a copy of that work.
Anecdotes of his conquests multiplied after his
death. He once bought at a Pall Mall shop for
;£6oo three books afterward disposed of for great
sums: one privately for ^3000, another at auction
for ^1500, and the third at auction for ^IOOO — in
all, $27,500 for books that cost $3000.

Lord Ashburnham, when he had given an order
to an agent to buy a certain book, meant that no
limit was imposed ; the book was to be bought,
whatever the price : his wrath was certain to de-
scend upon the head of a man who failed to remember
this fact. He once gave a commission to buy a second
folio Shakespeare, a clean copy in the original bind-
ing. Second folios were not then in much demand
and were estimated in value at about £1$. His
agent kept bidding until the price ran to £60, when
he dared not go any further and lost the book, to the
Earl's lasting displeasure. Years afterward this in-
cident was recalled in proof of the Earl's foresight.
That copy of the second folio sold in 1864 for ^146,
and again, in 1896, for ^540-


But here we are to remember that not only the
value of books, but values in all things, have enor-
mously advanced since Lord Ashburnham's time.
His were among the rarest of all books, and no
library of first editions, proportionately so extensive
and choice, had before come to that pulpit over
which sways the hammer of the auctioneer.

Supreme among rare books has been one for
which in our time has been paid the highest price a
book ever sold for at auction, the Gutenberg Bible.
It has made a record for all countries. A noble
copy was sold in London a few years ago for about
$20,000. This sum is in excess of any price yet paid
for the work in this country, but this in part is due
to the superior condition and character of the copy
sold in London. In the Brinley sale of 1880, a copy
brought $8000. Eleven years afterward it was put
up in the Ives sale, when it brought $14,800.

Most specimens of early printing have fallen some-
what in price. The exceptions are the rarest and
finest specimens, as well as those which are first
editions of ancient authors. It is remarkable how
few essential changes have been made in the art of
printing since those early specimens were produced.
The steam engine has vastly increased the rapidity
with which impressions are made, but the methods
now in use for the work of setting up and arranging
type are practically the same as those employed at
Mentz, Strasburg, and Venice four centuries ago.
Alongside this curious fact exists the no less remark-


able one that books printed by Gutenberg and the
Alduses were typographically the equals of the best
that have ever been made since. Persons who have
seen a page of Gutenberg's Bible must have been
impressed with the truth of this. It may be said
that there is not a printer in the world to-day who
could make a handsomer page. Lovers of old books
maintain, indeed, that this is not only the first book
ever printed with movable types, but that it is the
most perfect.

There were many causes that led to this perfec-
tion, chief among them the character of the men
who, in the fifteenth century, were printers. They
were scholars, and were commonly esteemed members
of a learned profession. Master printers, as a rule,
were acquainted with the Latin language. In many
cases they were at the head of a band of educated
and enlightened men, who recognized them as
patrons of learning. Eminent scholars were proud
to add their presence to the glory of the establish-
ment of the elder Aldus, by becoming correctors
for his press ; they even acted as compositors.

At Paris, the printer Robert Estienne on a cer-
tain occasion was able to entertain in his own house
ten of the wisest men of his time. He was himself
the author of many books that came from his press,
— some of them books of the greatest value that he
published, — and in knowledge of Latin, Greek, and
Hebrew few contemporaries surpassed him. We are
told that the Latin tongue was spoken familiarly, not


only by himself and his friends, but by his wife and
children. Many enlightened printers have been
known in this century who separated their art from
its commercial side and produced noble work; but
eminent scholars, with a keen sense of beauty and
proportion in type as well as in writing, have not
been associated with them as correctors of the press
in the sense that they were with Aldus and his con-



Parkman, Bancroft, Prescott, Motley, Irving : these
are the historians of past generations in this country
whose writings may be said to remain potent still.
Various have been their fortunes. Motley and Irving
have been the most popular, but Bancroft won the
earliest and highest fame. Parkman rose to his
eminence slowly ; indeed, he scarcely came into his
own until old age had gathered round him, but chief
among them all stands Parkman now. Bancroft
seems already to have been threatened with being
superseded, or at least with remaining no longer
essential. Among all the historians who have
written in English, where, in fact, save to Gibbon,
shall we look for a superior to Parkman, in origi-
nality of research, accuracy of statement, and charm
of style ? Surely not to Macaulay, with his brilliant
fragment steeped in partisanship ; not to Hume, with
his chronic indifference to facts ; not to Green ; not
to Stubbs ; nor to Freeman or Froude.

The biography of Parkman has directed the world's
attention once more to the extraordinary difficulties
under which Parkman accomplished his work. With
eyes so weak that he was virtually unable to use



them at all in reading, and with other physical ail-
ments, which for long periods unfitted him for any
kind of intellectual work, he was able in the course
of a long life to add to American literature its noblest
monument among historical writings. How he ac-
complished so much, it may be doubted if any one
will ever be able fully to understand. The more one
reads his books and discovers the patient research
on which they are based, the more this marvel

Parkman entered a field of historical inquiry in-
vaded by no one before his time. It was absolutely
virgin soil. He constructed his narrative out of
records stored away in the archives of families and
states, foreign as well as American. His field was
not only virgin soil, but of vast importance to any
understanding of the history of America. For more
than a hundred years a conflict was in progress here
between forces which made for Anglo-Saxon civiliza-
tion on the one hand, and for French on the other ;
between what we owe to Magna Charta, the Bill of
Rights, and trial by jury, and what Latin races have
preserved from the laws of Rome.

That conflict began with fur traders. It was con-
tinued by missionaries, — in the first instance, Jesuits ;
in the next, Episcopalians and Presbyterians. It in-
volves the story of Frontenac, the siege of Louisbourg,
the battle of Lake George, and the victory of Wolfe.
It did not completely end until, at Detroit, only a few
years before rebellion became rife in New York and


Boston harbours, the conspiracy of Pontiac was
crushed out. By these events was worked out the
problem whether in North America men should
speak the language of Shakespeare or the tongue
of Voltaire. That moving chronicle makes up the
eleven volumes of Parkman's History.

His books are unrivalled among histories as books
of the finest romance. The events he chronicled
happened on frontiers ; often at mere trading posts ;
sometimes on the shores of lakes, where no one dwelt
except savages ; again in the dense forest, as at Great
Meadows, where Washington won his spurs as a
soldier, and where, in the death of Jumonville, was
fired the shot which, as Parkman says, "set the
world on fire." No volumes have been written by
any historian which Americans ought to read with
more absorbing interest, or with minds more com-
pletely charmed.

It is not merely the theme which produces all this ;
not the savage martyrdom of Father Jogues, not the
tales Bressani told, not the expedition of Pepperell,
not Wolfe, wishing rather than to win the morrow's
battle that he might have been the author of Gray's
" Elegy" — that memorable scene on that momentous
night before he scaled the heights of Quebec to win
a renown that surely ought to last as well as Gray's.
Parkman's style accounts measurably for the charm
of all his books. While he has the restraint that be-
fits the man of learning, he has elevation of style and
picturesqueness. In the student and man of letters


we see the accomplished artist. Something of grace-
ful dignity always abides with him, and at times
superb grandeur is there. Many pitfalls of style into
which Gibbon fell and for which the world has held
Gibbon blameful, Parkman escaped. If he be not
our hero among men of letters, where shall we find
a better name to fill that place ?

Parkman had no admirer more sincere than John
Fiske, in whom was continued much of the charm of
Parkman as to style. Not that Fiske's style was the
same. It was quite distinctly another kind — more
familiar, for one thing, and more uncertain in its level ;
but there was a pervasive and irresistible attraction in
all the words Fiske ever wrote, whatever might be
his theme. In research he could not rival Parkman.
His sources were often secondary, while Parkman's
were almost always primary. For Fiske the pioneer
ground had been opened already ; for him came the
opportunity to interpret events and movements, to pre-
sent historical pictures, to draw parallels, and to show
the relations of events here with events that were
contemporary with them in the older lands of the
other hemisphere. In these senses John Fiske for
his generation shone as a beneficent force shedding
radiance all around him.

Civilization in America did not begin with the
landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth ; nor does the
history of it begin with the books of Bradford or
Winthrop. Parkman has taught us this. Before
the Pilgrims had reached their rock-bound coast,


before Winthrop had sailed, Jamestown had been
planted, or ever this isle of Manhattan had been sold
to Peter Minuit, Europeans of another race and faith
had gone inland, along great rivers and across great
lakes, to rear aloft in the forests of America the twin
torches of knowledge and faith. These men were
Jesuits from France, and their labours were performed
in many parts of America — for one thing, in Central
New York, but mainly in lands bordering on the
great western Lakes. Educated in European schools,
familiar with the highest life of France and Italy,
known alike in bishops' palaces and at secular courts,
they were accomplished scholars, who took up their
stern tasks in a new and savage land for the glory
of God and the Church. Of what they saw and
performed they made conscientious records, and they
sent their records home, to the chiefs of their order
in Paris and Rome.

The result has been that nowhere else in our histori-
cal literature have we had such exhaustive, well-writ-
ten, altogether striking narratives of life and adventure
from the pens of pioneers. Parkman knew this, and
no man to better purposes ; for without the " Jesuit
Relations " Parkman could never have written some
of his books. Other historians have known it, and
hundreds of scholars as well. Collectors with large
purses have not only known it, but have gladly
parted with considerable sums of money, in order
to acquire copies of any of those scarce books.
James Lenox found in them a corner-stone for his


library, one of whose choicest ornaments they still

No complete collection of the original " Relations "
ever has been made, and only a few collections
of them notable for any suggestion of completeness
anywhere exist. What the new edition, edited by
Reuben Gold Thwaites, aims to accomplish is not
alone completeness. Besides all the printed works
preserved in Europe or here, it embraces others
that existed only in the manuscript state. And
it does something more : it gives on one page the
original French or Latin text, and on the other an
English translation of it. To say that it has been a
boon to American history is to express the merest
truism. There has not occurred in this country, at
any one time, any fact of mere editing and printing
that is comparable in importance to this in histori-
cal literature. The New York documents edited by
Dr. O'Callaghan were of great moment to New
York State, but here are works that have importance
to many states. Here are source books from which
a long procession of books make their start.

In very considerable degree does recorded history
in North America begin in these books. They are
fountains, and the waters they give forth are clear as
crystal, and radiant as sunlight. Their writers had
style, and with it charm. Writing as they often did
in the most squalid surroundings, in Indian huts, or
in the open forest, persecuted by the savages, at best
living under privation, they still wrote as scholars


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Online LibraryFrancis Whiting HalseyOur literary deluge and some of its deeper waters → online text (page 10 of 15)