the benefit of students and scholars as much as possible of the lore
and erudition of past ages.
The correspondence between Harley and Defoe, preserved at Welbeck
Abbey, and now published by the Historical MSS. Commission, reveals the
intimate relations which existed for public purposes between these two
Of Edward, second Earl of Oxford, much praise and very little blame
have been recorded. He has been quaintly described as " indeed rich but
thankful, charitable without ostentation, and that in so good-natured a
way as never to give pain to the person whom he obliged in that
respect." He was, in truth, indolent and extravagant, faults which did
not, however, detract from his popularity. He was the prey of
adventurers, and the providence of impecunious poets such as Pope and
Swift. All the literati of the day were allowed access to his library.
Oldys drew therefrom the materials for his Life of Sir Walter Raleigh;
Joseph Ames and Samuel Palmer had recourse to it in their black-letter
studies. Pope was his adored friend and kept up a lively correspondence
with him; Swift was always welcome at his table. He had many tastes, of
which book-collecting was not the least expensive, and of the fortune
of 500,000 pounds which his wife brought him, the greater part is said
to have been sacrificed to "indolence, good-nature, and want of worldly
In 1740 he was obliged to sell his estate of Wimpole, in order to clear
off a debt of 100,000 pounds, a sacrifice which failed to appease his
creditors, and a prey to carking care, he found the downward path from
conviviality to inebriety a rapid one.
It was during the lifetime of the second Lord Oxford that the Rev.
Thomas Baker bequeathed his works in manuscript to the Harleian
library. A memorandum prefixed to these papers states that, in
consideration of one guinea (to satisfy
an original copy of Baston's verses on the battle of Bannockburn; a
fine one of the Chronicle of Mailros; the Life of King David, written
by the Abbot of Rievaulx; copies of charters between Scottish and
French kings; and transcripts overlooked by Rymer and John Harding
touching the lordship of England over Scotland. A contemporaneous
document relates to the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to the Dauphin,
and there are various letters from the same queen. We also notice Papal
Bulls, enjoining the Scottish bishops to render obedience to the
Archbishop of York as their metropolitan, and the king's recognition of
that archbishop's rights; besides many other important papers too
numerous to mention. Wales and Ireland are also well represented.
But like the Cottonian, the Harleian library spread its borders far
beyond the limits of British history. As early as 1697 it had been
Wanley's opinion that it would conduce very much to the welfare of
learning in this country if some fit person or persons were sent abroad
to make it their business to visit the libraries of France, Italy, and
Germany, and to give a good account of the most valued manuscripts in
them. "The Papists," he adds in his memorandum to this effect, "are
communicative enough, for love or money, of any book that does not
immediately concern their controversies with Protestants,"* a somewhat
cryptic utterance which Wanley does not concern himself to explain,
controversy not being one of the sciences to which his attention was
turned. But his letter of instructions to Mr. Andrew Hay, who was
commissioned by Lord Oxford 1720 to proceed to France and Italy in
order to purchase MSS. for him, shows such an intimate knowledge of the
contents of the great continental libraries, that long as it is we
cannot forbear transcribing the whole: -
"Mr. Andrew Hay, you being upon your departure towards France and Italy
by my noble Lord's order, I give you this commission, not now expecting
that you can execute every part of it in this journey, but yet hoping
that you will dispatch those articles which are of the greatest
importance, and put the others into a proper posture against the time
of your next return thither.
*Marl. MS., Harl. M.S., vol. 5911, f. 2.
"In Paris Fr. Bernard Montfaucon has some Coptic, Syriac, and other
MSS. worth the buying. Among them is an old leaf of the Greek
Septuagint, written in uncial or capital letters. Buy these and the
leaden book he gave to Cardinal Bouillon if he can procure it for you
or direct you to it. In the archives of the Cistercian monastery of
Clervaulx, I am told there are some original letters or epistles
written by the hand of St. Hierome upon phylira or bark. One or more of
these will be acceptable if not too outrageously valued. The Duke of
Savoy has many Greek MSS., as also the Egyptian board or table of Isis,
adorned with hieroglyphics, being those which have been explained by
Pignorius, Richerus, etc. Let me have some account of these.
"At Venice buy a set of the Greek liturgical books printed there - I
mean a set of the first edition if they may be had; if not let us have
the other. Buy also Thomassini Bibliothecae Venetae in 40. Get a
catalogue of Mr. Smith's MSS. there, and inquire how matters go about
Giustiniani's Greek MSS. In the bookseller's shops, etc., you may
frequently pick up Greek MSS., which the Greeks bring from the Morea
and other parts of the Levant. Remember to get the fragments of Greek
MSS. you left with the bookseller who bought Maffeo's library. The
family of Moscardi at Verona have many valuable antiquities, and among
the rest four instruments of the Emperor Theodosius, junior [now
imperfect] written upon phylira. These must be bought, and especial
care taken of them, etc. The first begins 'dem relectis'; the second
'ius vir in ast'; the third 'ius vir in'; the fourth 'ni Siciliensis.'
At Florence, the Dominicans or Franciscans have a large collection of
Greek MSS. You may see them and get a catalogue of them if you can. Buy
Ernstius or some other catalogue of the Grand Duke's MSS.
"At Milan in the Ambrosian Library is a very ancient Catullus, part of
Josephus in Latin, written upon bark; a Samaritan Pentateuch in octavo,
part of the Syriac Bible in the ancient or Estrangele characters;
divers Greek MSS. in capital letters, being parts of the Bible, with
other books of great antiquity, both Greek and Latin. You may look upon
them and send me some account.
"At Monza [about ten miles from Milan] is an imperfect Antiphonarium
Gregorii Papae. It is all written upon purplecoloured parchment, with
capital letters of gold. Buy this if you can.
"The family of Septata at Milan have a Latin writing upon bark. Buy
this if it will be parted with.
"In the archives of the Church of Ravenna are divers instruments
written upon bark. You may see them.
"At Rome the Greek monks of St. Basil have very many old Greek MSS.
written in capitals, particularly a book of the four Gospels, and some
pieces of St. Gregory Nazianzen upon St. Paul's Epistles. Buy as many
as you can, for I hear they are poor, and therefore, they may sell the
cheaper. They have likewise a Greek charter of Roger, King of Sicily,
in five pieces, with some other instruments in Greek, written upon bark
or vellum. Buy these also if you can.
"The Fathers of the Oratory at Rome have many very ancient MSS., both
Greek and Latin. See them at least, even supposing that they will not
sell. In the Cathedral library at Pisa are many ancient MSS. Let me
have some account of these also.
"The monks of Bovio, near, if not in Pavia, have many very ancient
MSS., and among the rest a book of the Gospels in Latin, wherein St.
Luke is written Lucanus. They have many old deeds in their archives.
Buy what you can.
"At Cava [about a day's journey from Naples], is a Benedictine
monastery. In the archives or treasury is a Greek deed of Roger, King
of Sicily, with his golden seal appendant. Buy this if you can. In the
library are some old MSS.; see these at least, if you cannot buy.
"At Naples, in the library of the Augustin Friars of St. John de
Carbonara is a Greek MS. of the Gospels [or of homilies upon the
Gospels] all written in capitals, with letters of gold upon purple
parchment. This must be bought. There is also a Dioscorides in Greek
capitals, being a large work with figures of the planets, etc. This
must also be bought. There is also a good number of other ancient MSS.,
both Greek and Latin. Among the latter is an Hieronimus de Scriptoribus
Ecclesiasticis, in Saxon letters, and the Gospels in Latin, where St.
Luke is called Lucanus. Buy of these what you can.
"If the Greek MSS. of the monastery of St. Saviour, near Messina in
Sicily, or any of them do remain there yet, or in that neighbourhood,
as it is probable they may, they will doubtless come exceeding cheap.
You will inquire, however, how this matter stands.
"Pray Sir, all along in your journey endeavour to secure what Greek
MSS. and Latin classical MSS. you can, provided they come at reasonable
prices, and let me be favoured with an account of your proceedings as
often as may be convenient."
And he adds:
"Mr. Hay, in executing this commission, my noble Lord cannot give you
positive directions how to bid upon every occasion, by reason of this
his great distance from those parts, and must therefore rely upon your
fidelity, your prudence, your usual dexterity in business, and your
personal affection to him. You will be sure always to buy as cheap as
you can, for I foresee that some of the things his Lordship chiefly
wants or is desirous of, will not come for a small matter. In most of
the monasteries you will be able to buy for ready money; but it may be
at a cheaper rate with the Greek monks at St. Basil's monastery at
Rome, whose MSS. are good, and themselves in want.
"I beseech God to bless and prosper you all along in this so long a
journey, and to bring you back again with safety and good success; and
you may be sure that you will be more welcome to but very few than to,
good Sir, your very hearty well-wisher and most humble servant,
"26th April 1720."*
* Printed in the Preface to the Catalogue of the Harleian MSS.
Mr. Hay's expedition was not entirely successful. Some of the
manuscripts mentioned in the above letter, which Wanley insisted "must
be bought," are clearly not in the Harleian collection, and notably the
Greek and Latin MSS. written in letters of gold upon purple parchment.
For this library contains among its choicest treasures no manuscript
entirely written upon purple vellum, the Codex Aureus being only
partially thus stained. As we have already seen, during the early ages
of Christianity, the Greeks and Romans were in the habit of writing
their most precious books in letters of gold and silver on
purple-stained vellum, that colour being the distinguishing sign of
royalty and greatness. Purple was only worn by princes, and in this
manner of distinguishing the Scriptures was shown the high degree of
reverence in which they were held. The practice was continued during
the fifth and three following centuries, although it was so little
known in England that when, towards the end of the seventh century, St.
Wilfrid, Archbishop of York, gave a copy of the Gospels ornamented in
this manner to York Minster, his biographer described the book as a
thing almost miraculous. Manuscripts entirely composed of leaves of
purple vellum are of the greatest rarity, and many are described by
palaeographers as purple-stained when they are only partially so. The
age of a manuscript may sometimes be determined among other
characteristics by the fineness and whiteness of the vellum, and
sometimes by its purple colour. The MSS. numbered 2788, 2820, and 2821
in the Harleian library are described by Astle as purple-stained,
whereas they are only thus painted in places intended to receive the
golden letters. Frequently, only the most important parts, such as the
title-pages, prefaces, or a few pages at the beginning of each gospel
or the Canon of the Mass, were written on vellum which had been
prepared in this manner.
Wanley, as may be seen from the foregoing letter, added to his
knowledge of manuscripts a certain fondness for driving a bargain. He
was extremely desirous of obtaining the treasures which he describes so
accurately, but he was almost as much bent on getting them cheap as on
getting them at all. This may have been the result of solicitude for
his patron's pocket, for Lord Oxford was ruining himself to enrich his
library; but at all events in this matter nature and grace seem to have
gone amicably hand in hand. Wanley's only comment on the death of the
Earl of Sunderland in 1722 is to the effect that it will make rare old
books more accessible from the fact of their being less in demand, " so
that any gentleman may be permitted to buy an uncommon old book for
less than forty or fifty pounds."
Number 2788 is the wonderful Codex Aureus or Golden Gospels. Its
acquisition by Lord Oxford is chronicled in Wanley's Diary in the year
1720. On the 14th May he wrote:
"Yesterday Mr. Vaillant (a bookseller) brought me a specimen of the
characters of that Latin MS. of the Gospels, which is to be sold at the
approaching auction of Menare's books at the Hague. These characters
are all uncials, gilded over with gold, and appear to be formed in very
elegant manner. Among them I observe A, G, V, M and E so shaped, which
is not commonly seen in the body or text of old MSS., although frequent
in the title or Rubrics. In my opinion this most ancient and valuable
book should be purchased at any rate."
Lord Oxford gave orders for the Golden Manuscript to be secured, and
commissioned Mr. Vaillant to buy it with all secrecy and prudence.
There are several entries in Wanley's Diary concerning the negotiations
for this purchase, and on the 27th June all was brought to a happy
"This day the Codex Aureus Latinus was cleared out of the king's
warehouse, and delivered into my custody." On the 29th its solemn entry
into the Harleian library is recorded, and on the 13th July of the
following year, we find that "Mr. Elliot, having clothed the Codex
Aureus in my Lord's morocco leather, took the same home this day, in
order to work upon it with his best tools, which he can do with much
more conveniency at his own house than here." Wanley makes a note of
this circumstance because of his "speedy journey to Oxford in case any
ill accident should happen."
This celebrated MS. is written throughout in gold letters upon vellum,
with the exception of the first lines of chapters in the Gospels and
the first lines of the subsidiary articles, which are in red ink. The
paintings of the four evangelists are extremely interesting, and the
title-pages are stained purple. This codex is described by Sir Edward
Maunde Thompson as French, of the time of Charlemagne, and we may add
that its position in the Harleian may be compared to that of the Durham
or Lindisfarne Gospels in the Cottonian library.
The manuscripts numbered 2820 and 2821 are further examples of
partially purple-stained vellum, in imitation of earlier work. They are
of German workmanship of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The
execution of the miniatures is condemned by Sir Edward Thompson as
"very rude" and "hard," but with all deference to so great an authority
we must put in a plea for them, on the score of their extreme naivete
A mediaeval roll of immense interest, one of the greatest treasures of
this collection, consists of a series of beautiful outline drawings,
known as the Guthlac Roll, representing scenes from the life of St.
Guthlac. These drawings, which are of the twelfth century, are
contained in eighteen rondeaux, intended, perhaps, as a design for a
stained-glass window in honour of the saint at Croyland. They quaintly
describe, in exquisite delicacy of form and colour, how the young
Guthlac, after taking leave of his parents, renounces the profession of
arms, and receives the tonsure at the hands of Bishop Hedda. Then,
sailing away in a boat to Croyland, he builds an oratory with the help
of two companions, Becelin and Tatwin, and an angel converses with him.
No sooner is he launched on his new career of prayer, good works, and
bodily mortification, than demons assail him, carry him to the roof of
his oratory, and scourge him with knotted cords. But he scares them
away with the white scourge given to him by St. Bartholomew. He is then
ordained priest, instructs Ethelbald in the Christian religion, and
prophecies that he will be king. The last six rondeaux show forth the
death of Guthlac, the burial of his body by his sister Pega, his
appearing to Ethelbald and his attendants who are weeping round his
tomb, and his blissful state in heaven among the benefactors of
Reference has already been made to Wanley's Diary,* a chronicle of the
purchases made by Lord Oxford during the greater part of Wanley's
custodianship, and of the principal events which happened in the
library. It begins on the 2nd March 1714, when Wanley had been
librarian for about six years. Many of the entries are exceedingly
curious, as demonstrating the energy with which old manuscripts were
traced, discovered, and purchased, and the tact and discretion
employed, in order to induce their owners to part with them. A fine
manuscript of part of Bede's Ecclesiastical History in Saxon, and two
other valuable Saxon MSS. - King Alfred's translation of Ossian and a
copy of Aelfrick's Grammar - were discovered in private hands, besides
the Psalterium Gallicanum of St. Jerome "with the * and ./., written
about the time of the last King Ethelred, with the Litany and some
prayers, being one of the most beautiful books that can be seen."
* Lansdowne MSS., 771, 772.
There was, moreover, a constant movement in the library itself. All
those who had any kind of manuscript for sale came to Wanley, and he
notifies in his diary the arrival of books in Chinese, Armenian,
Samaritan, Hebrew, Chaldee, Aethiopic and Arabic (both in Asiatic and
African letters), in Persian, Turkish, Russian, Greek (ancient and
modern), Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, Provencal, High German, Low
German, Flemish, Anglo-Saxon, English, Welsh, and Irish, in all about
"Which is," he remarks, "a great parcel, besides which my Lord hath got
many other MSS. remaining at Wimpole . . . . My Lord hath not only
other MSS. in this room, written in almost all those [languages] above
enumerated, but also in those that follow, which I call to mind on the
sudden-viz., Chinese, Japanese, Sanscrit or Hanscrit, Malabaric,
Syriac, in the Nestorian, as well as in the common characters (some few
specimens of Coptic letters), Slavonian, Wallachian, Hungarian,
Courlandish, Francic or old Teutonic, Biscayan, Portuguese." On another
occasion, a person who had some books for sale, which he was anxious
that Lord Oxford should buy, offered Wanley a douceur, in the hope that
the librarian would press their purchase, "not knowing," he says
simply, "the kind of man I am." Wanley refused the bribe, but advised
his patron to buy the books, which he did.
At another time -
"A French sort of droll came to my lodging, saying he was sent to me by
Mr. Bu-Pis, of Long Acre. He pulled out a 40 paper MS., dedicated to
Maximilian, Duke of Bavaria, treating of Geomancy, and other like
nonsense, being written mostly in German. Monsieur stumped up the value
of it, and often swore it was the finest thing in the world. I asked
him the price of it, and looked grum and gravely, which he saw with
satisfaction; but as soon as his answer of fifty guineas was out, I
replied that was the book mine he should have it for the hundredth part
of a quart d'ecu. The droll would, however, have made remonstrances,
but I would hear none; il ne vaut rien being my word. So I waited on
him downstairs, which he took as a piece of ceremony; but indeed it was
to see him out of the house without stealing something."
One of the most important negotiations chronicled by Wanley relates to
the purchase of the Graevius MSS. in 1724-25. Johann Graevius was a
German classical scholar, born in 1632, and chiefly known by his
Thesaurus Antiquitatum Romanorum, and his Antiquitatum et Historianum
Italia, in 45 volumes. His library, one of the most remarkable in
Europe, was sold at his death in 1703 to the elector, Johann Wilhelm,
for 6000 Reichsthaler. The elector presented all the printed books in
this collection to the University of Heidelberg, but kept the
manuscripts, 110 in number, in his own library at Dusseldorf They were
accounted such treasures, that travellers, interested in antiquities,
were taken to see them. The German scholar Uffenbach, who visited the
elector's library in VI I, says of them:
"Among the few MSS. that were shown to me, the most remarkable was a
beautiful old quarto codex of Horace, which Graevius once lent to Mr.
Bentley, who could not be prevailed on to restore it till forced into
it by the threat that the elector would appeal to the Queen. There were
several volumes of autograph letters from learned men, collected by
Graevius, and several very beautiful breviaries, among which was one in
duodecimo, bound in silver, and containing as many beautiful figures as
I have ever seen in such books. Mr. Le Roy also showed me the 'Officia
Ciceronis,' printed by Scheffer in 1466 - namely the books De Amicitia
The above books, together with others not mentioned by Uffenbach,
subsequently found their way into the Harleian library, and have been
identified by Mr. A. C. Clark, who has made a careful study of them
aided by the dates written in Wanley's hand on the first page.*
* See his interesting paper in the "Classical Review," October 1891,
The Library of J. G. Gravius.
The manner of their disappearance from the elector's library
illustrates the more than questionable dealings to which
book-collectors were often subjected at the hands of their librarians.
There is a curious correspondence preserved in the Bodleian library,
consisting of autograph letters which passed between Buchels, the
elector's librarian at Dusseldorf, and Zamboni, the resident at the
court of Great Britain for the Landgraf of Hessen Darmstadt. In
appearance the correspondence is innocent enough: Zamboni has
manuscripts for sale on behalf of persons abroad. But there is far more
than meets the eye, and the letters contain almost beyond doubt the
disguised and detailed account of how the elector was robbed of his
manuscripts, and how Zamboni defrauded the fraudulent librarian
Buchels. Indeed the whole history of the Graevius manuscripts seems to
be one of peculation, until they came into Lord Oxford's possession.
Graevius himself was by no means irreproachable in the matter of
restoring borrowed books; Buchels, a Latin scholar and bibliograph of
some merit, had a suspicious tendency to appropriate his master's
goods; and Zamboni, had he lived in these days, would certainly have
been prosecuted for criminal bankruptcy, if, indeed, the greater part
of the transaction were not considered too dishonest to risk exposure.
Buchels, in writing to Zamboni, 13th August 1717, maintains an air of
mystery about the books which he offers to him for sale, professing to
get them from various monasteries, and describing the difficulties
which he has in obtaining them. There are English dealers about, too,
who raise the price of everything. By degrees he sends lists of what he
has to dispose of, and shelters himself behind a mysterious friend, who
is obliged to sell such and such a manuscript. Sometimes this friend is
travelling about, sometimes he is in the country, but he is always the
source of difficulties. But Zamboni is not deceived to the extent to
which Buchels wishes to deceive him, and he knows full well that the
manuscripts offered to him all formed part of the Codices Graeviani,
and he tells Wanley so, but does not of course mention Buchels.
Meanwhile there is much bargaining between Buchels and Zamboni; but it
is certain, from the correspondence in the Bodleian library, that
Zamboni never paid for the MSS. which he sold to Lord Oxford in
anything but promises. The bills which he gave were never met, and if
the elector was the loser, his librarian cannot be said to have
profited by the fraud which he undoubtedly committed.
Wanley's part in the transaction, a strictly honourable one, is fully
recorded in the Diary. On the 26th December 1724, he wrote: -
"The last night Mr. Mattaire came to me and said that he had seen
Signor Zamboni, and nine MSS. which are lately come to him from