Gertrude Burford Rawlings.

The British museum library online

. (page 10 of 13)
Online LibraryGertrude Burford RawlingsThe British museum library → online text (page 10 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

bodies, arranged according to towns and rendered


easy to consult by the provision of an index. This
heading was invented by Panizzi, and has been the
subject of a good deal of adverse criticism. It
harbours some inconsistencies, but it would be
difficult to suggest a heading for the purpose which
did not.

Bible. A large and complete class-section com-
prising Bibles and parts of Bibles in all languages.

Directories. Arranged according to professions,
trades or places.

Encyclopaedias. Comprising all anonymous works
of this kind.

Ephemerides. Almanacks and kindred publica-

Liturgies. A large and complete class-section,
comprising liturgical works of all branches of the
Christian Church and sects ; with an Index.

Periodical Publications. English and foreign
periodical publications of all kinds (exclusive of
newspapers) arranged under places ; with an Index.

There are other special heads under which are
grouped items not directly referable to any particular
author, such as England, comprising only official
or anonymous works and therefore unlike Bible
or Liturgies, for example not a complete class-
section. All of these are provided with Indexes.

The Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts
have always been catalogued by themselves and not
with the general library, although they were not
made into a separate department until 1892. The


Catalogue of the Chinese Books and Manuscripts (1877),
compiled by the late Sir R. K. Douglas, then Senior
Assistant in the Department of Printed Books, is
believed to be " the first Catalogue ever published
in Europe of an extensive Chinese library."

The Music and the Maps are also catalogued

The official description of the General Catalogue,
as given in its own pages, is as follows :


General Catalogue of Printed Books : edited 1881-
1889 by R. Garnett ; 1890-1900, by A. W. K.
Miller. 393 pt. 1881-1900. fol. L.R.
Supplement. [Containing titles of all books
added to the Library 1882-1889 which were
not incorporated in the General Catalogue
during the process of printing. Ed. A. W. K.
Miller.] 44 pt. 1900-1905. fol. L.R.

[Another copy. Interleaved and containing

the titles of all books added to the Library
since the General Catalogue was printed.]
n.d. Reading-room Circles.

The press-mark L.R., which no doubt is awaiting
its turn for revision, signifies that the first-named
copy, and its Supplement, are kept in the library
formerly known as the Large Room. The latter and
interleaved copy is, of course, the great looo-volume


catalogue in the Reading-room, which is continually
being augmented and kept up to date. The catalogue
is thus always complete, but will never be finished.
And while it must inevitably share the imperfection
attaching to all human handiwork, we can proudly
say that it is the largest and most perfect catalogue
in the world.


THE reader will have gathered that a subject catalogue
is an ideal much to be desired, but in practice a
matter of considerable difficulty, unless confined
within more or less narrow limits, and that it has not
yet seemed applicable to the whole contents of the
Museum library.

When Dr G. K. Fortescue became Superintendent
of the Reading-room, in 1884, the lack of any kind
of subject catalogue was constantly brought home
to him by the inquiries made by readers. The first
question he was asked was : " What is the best guide
to Madeira ? " He was able to answer that Brown's
Guide was the standard work on Madeira, but he
could not give Brown's initials, nor did he know
whether it was Browne with an e or Brown without
an e. The entries in the catalogue under Brown
filled two volumes. On the same day he was asked
for books on Bulgaria, on Cremation, on Diseases of
Sheep, and on Land-tenure in Scotland. And the
inquirers generally demanded the newest books on
their respective subjects.

Dr Fojrtgscue accordingly made a plan for helping
such readers, and for supplying them with a subject



index. He rendered his task possible by setting to
it certain hard and fast limits. In the first place,
he dealt only with works published between January,
1880, and August, 1885. In the second, he omitted
novels, poems, plays and miscellaneous essays.

The Index was not at first intended for publication,
but its value was so obvious that it was printed by
order of the Trustees in 1886. In 1891 a second
volume, treating books of the years 1885-1890, was
published ; in 1897, a third volume, treating books
of the years 1891-1895. In 1902-1903 the Index
was issued in a new edition, brought up to the year
1900, under the title of Subject Index of the Modern
Works added to the Library of the British Museum in
the years 1881-1900. 3 vols. 8. 1902-1903. This
edition contains about 155,000 entries in one subject
alphabet, with press-marks. Supplements embody-
ing the additions for 1901-1905, and for 1906-1910,
were published in 1906 and 1911 respectively. By
means of numerous cross-references the index is
very easy to consult. It is not perfect no such book
could be but its utility is unbounded. It is a really
great work, although in bulk it seems trivial beside
the General Catalogue, and it forms the completest
guide available anywhere for modern European
literature outside the classes purposely excluded.

Dr Fortescue died in October, 1912, within a few
days of his impending retirement from the Keeper-
ship of the Printed Books. The carrying on of his
plan, which was to publish a further Supplement in


1916, and in 1921 to incorporate the three Supple-
ments into one Index for 1901-1920, remains for
other hands.

In the spring of 1913 a continuation of the Subject
Index from 1911 was placed in the Reading-room.
It is comprised in 8 vols., interleaved, and lettered:
"Subject Index, 1911- . Temporary Rough List."
It is on the same plan as the General Catalogue-
that is, accessions are allowed for, and the list can
always be kept up to date. The entries consist of
slips as printed for the General Catalogue, arranged
under handwritten subject headings, and thus the
Index is the beginning of the realisation of the scheme
outlined first by Panizzi, and, later, by Dr Garnett.



AN attempt to make a satisfactory selection of some
of the treasures of the national library and to write
it down in anything less dry than mere catalogue
form is almost a hopeless if not a ridiculous under-
taking. But in the belief that the reader who,
perhaps, has no opportunity of visiting the British
Museum in person and of inspecting the exhibition
of manuscripts and books shown in the Grenville
and the King's Libraries, or of making use of the
Reading-rooms, might wish for a glance, even though
a brief one, at some of its riches, I append this
chapter, though perfectly aware of its utter in-

From whatever side the library is approached,
and whatever demands are made upon it, it will be
found marvellously rich and representative. Not
only may it be said that there are few subjects,
or periods, or even names, upon which it does not
offer practically all information which has ever
found its way into print, but in innumerable cases
it offers more it offers the sources and raw material
of further knowledge.


A survey of the treasures begins with the manu-
scripts, and the manuscripts include, naturally,
many examples which are not books. It is puzzling,
perhaps, where manuscripts are concerned, to decide
exactly what a library should or should not contain ;
for instance, it is difficult to find an entirely satis-
factory reason for the exclusion of the Egyptian
Book of the Dead, while such things as seals, brass-
rubbings, and postage-stamps are admitted. But a
line has to be drawn somewhere, and if the Egyptian
hieroglyphic-inscribed papyri are to come within it,
why not the clay tablets and cylinders which bear
the writings of Babylonia and Assyria ? However,
these questions have not been left to us to settle,
and we must take the national library as we find it.

Beginning with the manuscripts, then, we must
notice that besides actual books this collection
possesses also a vast number of charters, records,
State papers, letters, and miscellaneous documents
of enormous historical interest and value. A library
is a perfectly suitable place for the preservation of
such things as these. As a matter of fact, however,
the national records have always formed a large,
and, of course, important category by themselves.
They had been kept from time immemorial in the
Tower, in the Chapter-house at Westminster, and
other places, until they were collected and deposited
in the new Record Office in Chancery Lane, built
specially for their reception and completed in 1857.
Nevertheless, a number of records and State papers


have found their way into the library, more parti-
cularly through the Cotton collection, but whatever
their claim to a place in the archives of the Record
Office, it is unlikely that they will ever be removed
from the custody of the British Museum.

Anticipating a question which naturally arises in
this connection, it may be stated here that Domesday
Book is not in the British Museum. It was formerly
kept among the Exchequer records in the Chapter-
house at Westminster, and so carefully that even
Sir Robert Cotton did not get hold of it. It is now
in the Record Office.

It will be more convenient to deal first with
Manuscript Books, and then with Printed Books,
and to take State papers and miscellaneous historical
and literary documents last.

Biblical Manuscripts. No original manuscript of
any part of the Bible has survived, but the
Museum possesses one of the oldest extant copies
of the entire Bible. This is the Codex Alcxandrinns
(Roy. MS. i D. v.-viii.). It is written in Greek
uncials on vellum, and fills four volumes. It was
probably executed at Alexandria in the first half of
the fifth century, and tradition ascribes it to the
penmanship of a noble lady named Thekla. When
Cyril Lucar was transferred, in 1621, from the
Patriarchate of Alexandria to that of Constantinople,
he took this book with him, and in 1627 he presented
it to James I., but it did not reach England until
after the accession of Charles I.


Apart from some few small papyrus fragments,
there are only two Greek Bibles more ancient viz.
the Codex Vaticanus, in the Vatican Library, and the
Codex Siniaticus, found by Tischendorf in a monastery
on Mount Sinai, of which part is at Leipzig and part
at Petrograd. Both are of the fourth century.

It was suggested to Charles I. that the Codex
Alexandrinus should be printed in facsimile from
copper plates, and that such a work would appear
" glorious in history " after his death. " Pish ! "
replied the King ; " I care not what they say of me
in history when I am dead." So no facsimile
appeared until 1816-1821, when the Museum
published one in printed type of the Old Testament,
edited by H. H. Baber, Keeper of the Printed Books.
A full-size autotype facsimile was subsequently
issued in four volumes between 1879 and 1883, and
a reduced facsimile, in collotype, is in progress
(see Appendix, 5).

The oldest Hebrew manuscripts of the Old
Testament are later than the oldest copies of the
Greek, Latin and Syriac versions. The Museum
owns a ninth-century copy of the Pentateuch on
vellum, which is " probably the oldest manuscript
now in existence of any substantial part of the Bible
in Hebrew " (Oriental MS. 4445).

Classical Manuscripts. No original manuscript
of any classical author is known to exist. The
oldest classical Greek manuscripts are on papyrus,
and have been found in Egypt, where the dry climate


has preserved the fragile material, or where the papyri
have been used in the making of the cartonnage
cases in which mummies of the later period are
enclosed. None are known of earlier date than the
latter part of the fourth century B.C.

Apart from a few fragments, the most ancient
Greek classic in the British Museum consists of parts
of Plato's Phaedo, assigned to the first half of the
third century B.C. It was found in a mummy case
(Papyrus 488).

The Museum also possesses the following papyri,
all found in Egypt and all unique :

Hyperides, Oration against Philippides, probably
first century B.C. (Papyrus 134).

Bacchylides, Triumphal Odes and Dithyrambs,
probably first century B.C. (Papyrus 733). The
Museum published this text in 1897, and an autotype
facsimile, now out of print, in 1898.

Aristotle, The Constitution of Athens, written about
A.D. 100, in four rolls, by four different scribes
(Papyrus 131). Apart from this papyrus, this
treatise is unknown except for some small fragments
preserved at Berlin. The Museum published its
third edition of the text in 1892, and issued an
autotype facsimile in 1891.

Herodas, Mimes. First or second century A.D.
(Papyrus 135). This is the only manuscript of
Herodas known. The Museum published the text
in its volume of Greek Classical Texts from Papyri,
1891, and an autotype facsimile in 1892.


Pindar. Paeans. Early second century A.D.
(Papyrus 1842).

Uluminated Manuscripts. The famous illuminated
manuscripts of the Middle Ages are handsomely
represented in the library. The art of illuminating
books on vellum was born in Italy in the first century
of the Christian era, and brought by the Byzantine
and other Continental schools to a high degree of
excellence. The Museum has early examples of this
foreign work in Gospels written in letters of gold,
or in letters of gold on purple-stained vellum. But
some of the most wonderful and beautiful examples
of pencraft were those executed by the scribes and
artists of the Irish monasteries. The great exemplar
of their work, The Book of Kelts, remains in its native
land, the property of Trinity College, Dublin, but
the British Museum holds a volume almost as
wonderful namely, the late seventh-century book
called the Lindisfarne Gospels (Cotton MS. Nero D.

The marvellous pencraft of Ireland was carried
by Irish missionaries to Britain. From St Columba's
monastery on the little island of lona, Aidan was
sent, in 635, in answer to the request of Oswald of
Northumbria for a Christian teacher for his people.
To Aidan, Oswald gave Holy Island or Lindisfarne,
and there a monastery was built ; and there was
written the magnificent book known as the Lindis-
farne Gospels, the Book of St Cuthbert, or the Book of
Durham. Cuthbert was made Bishop of Lindisfarne


in 685, and the book was probably begun soon
after his death, five years later. It was written by
Bishop Eadfrith in honour of St Cuthbert, and
Bilfrith, the anchorite goldsmith, made it a costly
case of jewelled gold. It contains the Four Gospels,
with St Jerome's preface, and each Gospel is pre
ceded by a full-page coloured design after the Irish
style, a portrait of the Evangelist, and a calendar
of days on which passages from that Gospel were to
be read. The manuscript shows the art of book-
work in a stage of transition from pure Irish, or
Celtic, to Hiberno-Saxon. The portraits prove
Byzantine influence, which at that time dominated
the Continental books, and another foreign clement
is shown by the calendar, which corresponds with the
liturgical calendar of Naples, but is two hundred
years earlier than any Neapolitan calendar extant,
and about a hundred years earlier than any extant
Roman liturgy. Its presence is probably due to the
visit to Lindisfarne of Archbishop Theodore and
his friend Adrian, formerly abbot of a monastery
near Naples. Both were scholarly men, " well read
in sacred and secular literature, and there daily
flowed from them rivers of knowledge to water the
hearts of their hearers," says Bede. Doubtless it
was from some book of Adrian's that the Lindisfarne
scribe copied the calendar.

When the Danish invasion broke the peace of
Holy Island, the fugitive monks carried away with
them their two treasures the body of St Cuthbert,



and this Book. They took ship for Ireland, but a
storm obliged them to return. The little vessel
pitched so violently that the Book fell overboard and
sank. But thanks to St Cuthbert's good offices,
the monks reached shore in safety, and at low tide
recovered the Book, unhurt. It was taken to
Durham, and entered in the priory rolls as " the
Book of St Cuthbert, which fell in the sea." At the
Dissolution, when so many good books perished, this
one was preserved in some manner unknown, and
a little later was secured by Sir Robert Cotton.

The first English school of illumination grew up
at Winchester under Bishop ^thelwold, in the latter
half of the tenth century, and produced some fine
work, of which several specimens are in the Museum.
One of the earliest is a Latin Psalter (Harley MS.
2904). It is said that the large ornamental B at the
beginning of Psalm i. in this book served as a model
for the beginning of English-written psalters for
about a century afterwards.

Another interesting Winchester volume in the
library is The Register of New Minster, the abbey
founded by King Edgar in 966 (Stowe MS. 944).
The register contains an account of the foundation,
lists of the kings, bishops and others connected with
New Minster ; a transcript of the Life of King Alfred,
and other notes of matters concerning the abbey and
its services. It also has some drawings, in the best
style of English art. One represents Canute placing
on the altar of the church a gift of a gold and jewelled


cross ; the King is accompanied by the Queen.
Above, is a figure of Christ between the Virgin and
St Peter, to whom the abbey was dedicated. Other
drawings show the blessed being admitted by St
Peter into heaven, while the damned are thrust into
the jaws of hell.

Another local school was the East Anglian, which
flourished in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth
centuries. It produced magnificent work, repre-
sented best, unfortunately, by specimens not in
the Museum. The Museum possesses, however, a
breviary of Norwich use, which is a very good
example of the East Anglian book-art (Stowe MS.


At the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the
fourteenth centuries, English illuminated manuscripts
were among the finest in Christendom. A magni-
ficent early fourteenth-century specimen in the
national library is known as Queen Mary's Psalter
(Roy. MS. 2 B. viii.). It is not known when or
by whom it was executed. A note added at the end
relates that one Baldwin Smith, a London customs
officer, intercepted it as it was about to be carried
out of the country, and presented it to Queen Mary
(Tudor), whose name it has since borne. It contains
the Sarum calendar, the Liturgical Psalms, and
Canticles, and is decorated with a series of pen-and-
ink drawings, representing scenes from Old Testament
history, of exceptionally artistic execution. The
calendar, according to the usual custom, is illustrated


by miniatures showing typical occupations for the
several months, and scenes introducing the appro-
priate signs of the zodiac. Thus the miniatures for
April, for example, show (i) maidens gathering
flowers and making garlands ; (2) women driving
cows and a bull (Taurus). The Psalter contains
large miniatures of scenes from the Life of Christ,
sometimes divided into four compartments, and
mostly within a Gothic framework, together with a
series of incongruous drawings of secular scenes.
These last are particularly interesting. Ladies of
the period go rabbiting, and one puts in a ferret
at one side of a hillock, while her companion nets
the rabbit on the opposite side. Two champions tilt
at each other, not from horses, but from boats.
Men shoot small captive birds with large arrows.
Boys whip tops with three-lashed whips. And so
on. Hawking and hunting and all the fashionable
sports are delightfully depicted. Finally, there are
drawings illustrating the miracles of the Virgin.
In 1912 the Museum published a facsimile of this
book, with an introduction by Sir George Warner,
late Keeper of the Manuscripts.

The invention of printing did not at once put an
end to the production of books in manuscript. These
were still valued and admired as works of art, and
some late fifteenth and early sixteenth century
examples are very beautiful. One such is a Book
of Hours exhibited in the Grenville Gallery (Huth
Bequest. Add. MS. 38,126). This exquisite piece


of work was probably executed at Bruges about 1500.
It is written on vellum, with floral and scroll borders,
and large and small miniatures, and no description
can convey any idea of the careful perfection of
detail, the daintiness of execution, and the elegant
beauty of this Flemish masterpiece. The artist
was a nature-lover. In the borders, birds, flowers
and fruit are minutely delineated. One of the most
beautiful of the smaller miniatures is inserted in the
text of the Mass of All Angels, and shows a naked
soul led by the hand of its guardian angel through
the fields of Paradise, among flowers and trees.

The calendar usual in books of this class has floral
or scroll borders containing medallions about the
size of a crown piece, illustrating country and
pastoral scenes typical of the months represented.
There are also a number of pictures of saints, such
as St Veronica with the Vernicle ; St Nicholas bless-
ing three boys in a tub on restoring them to life after
their murder ; St Catherine with the wheel ; and the
martyrdom of St Apollonia.

But it is the manner rather than the matter of this
manuscript which makes it " one of the most perfect
examples of Flemish illumination of the period."

Early Printed Books. Special pains have been
taken to make the British Museum collection of
incunabula that is, of books printed in the fifteenth
century, while the art of printing was yet in its
infancy as complete as possible, and it is now one of
the finest, if not the finest, in existence. One of its


chief glories is its copy of the Gutenberg, Mazarin,
or Mainz Bible, printed probably at Mainz, perhaps
by John Gutenberg, c. 1455, 2 vols. folio (King's
Library, C. 9. d. 3, 4), exhibited in the King's

The traditions respecting the invention of printing
from movable types are contradictory, and nothing
is certainly known of this momentous event. Fifteen
different Continental cities claim to have produced
the pioneer printing-press, but the first tangible
evidence comes from Mainz, in the form of some
Indulgences printed in 1454 and 1455. These were
granted by Pope Nicholas V. to all Christians who
supported the King of Cyprus against the Turks.
Each Indulgence consists of a single piece of vellum
containing either thirty or thirty-one lines of print.
The thirty-line example is partly in the type of the
Gutenberg Bible, and the thirty-one-line example
partly in the type of another early Bible of un-
certain provenance. The Museum has specimens of
the 1455 Indulgences.

These are the earliest examples of typography
bearing a definite date. But the first printed book
is generally believed to be the Mainz Bible, perhaps
the work of John Gutenberg, who also very probably
printed the earlier, at least, of the Indulgences, before
executing this magnificent book. The Mainz Bible
illustrates the remarkable fact that the art of print-
ing was born practically perfect, for its workmanship
has never been excelled even by the most skilful


printer and the most elaborate machinery of modern
times. The date to be assigned for its beginning is
not earlier than 1450, and it is known, on the testi-
mony of a manuscript colophon in the Paris copy, to
have been completed in 1456. Some examples are
on paper ; others, like the Museum specimen, on
vellum. The type is a bold, clear gothic or black-
letter, modelled on the handwriting used for the
Bibles and devotional books of the Middle Ages.
As is the case with all the earliest printed books,
there is no title-page, and place, printer and date
are not mentioned.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13

Online LibraryGertrude Burford RawlingsThe British museum library → online text (page 10 of 13)