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Studies from Court and Cloister: being essays, historical and literary dealing mainly with subjects relating to the XVIth and XVIIth centuries online

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Italy - that they will soon be sent to his house without being shown to
any other, and that then I shall see them forthwith. And further, that
this Signor expects a little parcel of Greek MSS., not yet arrived."
Three weeks later he again wrote: -

"This morning I went to Mr. Mattaire, with whom I saw fifteen old Latin
MSS., or fragments of MSS., belonging now to Signor Zamboni, but
formerly to the Dutch Professor Graevius.

He opened a negotiation, and after some months wrote thus: -

"Signor Zamboni, sending a very kind letter to me, desiring to visit
me, either here or at my lodgings, I desired he would please to call
here, my lodgings being out of order, by reason of my maid's being
married yesterday. Signor Zamboni came hither about 2, and I showed him
many more of my Lord's MSS. to his great satisfaction. At length he
desired that I would go along with him to an ordinary, where he was to
dine with some foreign persons of distinction. I complied with his
request, as thinking I might do my Lord some service; and after dinner
was over, and the rest of the company gone, he assured me that as to
the price of the MSS. which he hath sent hither, he will leave it
entirely to my regulation, and accept of whatever I shall think an
equitable price for them; only, he desires a dispatch as speedy as may
be, lest the owner should send for them back. He further said that the
owner chiefly values the two volumes of learned men's Letters, the
Saxon Spieghel, and the Prayerbook of Solyman the Magnificent."

Three days later, 27 September 1725, the Diary further records: -

"Yesterday Signor Zamboni came to me, and was entertained to his own
content and satisfaction. He conferred with me about the MSS. here in
my custody, and will stand to my award, between my Lord and him. He
says that as to the things my Lord formerly had of him, that he was no
gainer, but that in one of the parcels, he of himself lowered the price
twenty pounds less than his commission ran for. I hope I shall be able
to separate the two volumes of Letters, the Saxon Spieghel and
Solyman's Prayer-book, although they are very curious and valuable
things, and so my Lord may have the others very cheap. This done, I
believe that the same Letters and two MSS. may in time fall into my
Lord's hands at a price far lower than they are now held up at. Signor
Zamboni, who proves to be a good-natured and is [I believe] an honest
gentleman, mentioned 4000 more original Letters in the possession of
his correspondent, which may soon be brought over into England."

On the 2nd October he added: -

"I waited on Signor Zamboni yesterday, who is daily teased by his Dutch
correspondent about the chest of MSS. lying here."

There was a further delay of nearly a fortnight, and then Wanley wrote
to the rogue Zamboni to the effect that Lord Oxford had at last seen
many of his manuscripts, which he was not unwilling to buy at a
reasonable price, and that he would willingly forego the two volumes of
letters, the Saxon Spieghel and Sultan Solyman's Prayerbook, "if held
up too dear." He asked for the Greek MS. of Hesiod which he formerly
saw among them, but which had since been withdrawn. Ultimately he sent
back some of the books for which "this most greedy Signor" asked "the
most horrible price." Wanley's hope that they might subsequently come
to the library for less money was fulfilled as far as the letters were
concerned; these are now to be found in volumes 4933 4934 4935 and
4936. Among them are a few other letters which were already in the
Harleian library when the Dusseldorf manuscripts were purchased. Wanley
had them all bound up together.

The manuscripts bought by Wanley from Zamboni number eighty-four, and
comprise nearly all the important books mentioned in the Graevius
catalogue. The Hesiod is the only valuable Greek MS. missing, and the
principal Latin MS. of this collection, which did not pass into the
Harleian library, is a Terence. It is also to be regretted that Wanley
did not secure the prayers of Solyman and the celebrated Saxon
Spieghel. Of the eighty-four other MSS., two have a special historical
interest: the Cicero (2682) and the Quintilian (2664), both of which
can be traced to the Cathedral library at Cologne.

Graevius borrowed the Cicero in 1663 from the authorities, but never
returned it. The elector, Johann Wilhelm, bought it among other books
which were sold at his death. It consists of a folio of 192 leaves of
coarse vellum written in a German hand of the latter part of the
eleventh century, and has been the subject of much learned criticism.
It was collated by Mr. A. C. Clark, but until he identified it as one
of the books that had formed part of the Graevius collection, very
little attention had been paid to it. There is no trace of it before
the sixteenth century, beyond the fact that its first collator was
Modius of Cologne, who was allowed to use the Cathedral library, to
which the Cicero then belonged. The acquisition of these manuscripts
was the last important purchase made by Wanley; he died a few months
later, aged fifty-three.

Besides the above-mentioned treasures from the Dusseldorf library the
Harleian possesses, among other Greek classical manuscripts, some that
are unique in character. Sir Edward Thompson, in his "Catalogue of
Ancient Greek MSS. in the British Museum," calls attention to three in
the Harleian collection which appear to him to be of superior merit.
These are: (1) The Greek-Latin glossary of the seventh century. This
manuscript is of singular interest both for language and palaeography,
and consists of 277 leaves of vellum varying in thickness, some of it
being very coarse. At the end, on a fly-leaf is some scribbling in what
is described as "a Merovingian hand." (2) The Greek MS. of the ninth or
tenth century, imperfect in the beginning, and in several other places,
described by Wanley as the Codex Prusensis. The initial letters, some
of which are ornamented, are generally red. (3) A volume numbered 5694
in the catalogue, and containing a part of Lucian's works, on 134
leaves of fine vellum of the tenth century. On the second fly-leaf are
these words in an Italian fifteenth-century hand: "Libro de Jo.
Chalceopylus, Constantinopolitanus," and at the bottom of the page,
"Antonii Seripandi ex Henrici Casolle amici optimi munere." Wanley says
that this MS. was supposed to have been carried from the old imperial
library at Constantinople to the monastery of Bobi near Naples. He
considered it "the finest old Greek classical MS. now in England." The
library of Seripandus was preserved in the Augustinian monastery of St.
John of Carbonara at Naples, but a part of it was sold to Jan de Witt,
who took it to Holland, and this manuscript was among the number, and
was included in the sale catalogue of De Witt's library in 1701. It was
bought by Jan van der Mark of Utrecht, and on this account it is
described in the Amsterdam edition of the work as the Codex Marcianus.
Later on it came into the possession of John Bridges of
Northamptonshire, who sold it to the second Lord Oxford.

The earliest Latin MS. in the Harleian library is a copy of the four
Gospels of the sixth or seventh century - No. 1775. It was bought by the
founder of the library from Jean Aymon, who stole it, together with
eight other manuscripts, from the Bibliothique Royale in Paris, in
1707. It still bears on folio 2 its original press-mark. Another MS. in
Lord Oxford's possession having been identified as one of these, was
restored to its rightful owners in 1729. This relic of early Christian
times consists of 35 leaves of the Epistles of St. Paul, the canonical
Epistle, and the Apocalypse, written in gold letters on vellum. The
adventure through which it found itself in the Harleian library
together with the precious No. 1775, may be thus briefly related:

Jean Aymon was a renegade French priest who had retired to the Hague,
married, and become a Lutheran pastor. He enjoyed a considerable
reputation for learning and piety among the Dutch; but wearying of his
monotonous, uneventful life, he resolved on returning to France under
pretext of offering to Monsieur Clement, the king's sub-librarian, a
certain book which he had discovered. He accordingly wrote to Clement
asking him to procure him a passport, in order that he might present
the book in question, and reveal some important matters to the king.
Clement obtained the passport, and Aymon returned to France, where, in
order to ingratiate himself with the librarian, he declared that he
wished to be restored in religion. He was advised to retire for a time
to the seminary of Foreign Missions, in order to study his position and
to prepare for his rehabilitation as a priest. But he complained
bitterly of the treatment which he received at the seminary, and paid
frequent visits to Clement, who, with astounding simplicity, allowed
him to remain for hours, often quite alone, in the Royal library. Here
he employed himself in making selections from priceless manuscripts,
sometimes cutting out pages from the middle of a volume where the theft
would be less easily detected. When he had gathered in a considerable
harvest, he cleverly obtained another passport, and escaped back to the
Hague with his ill-gotten gains. He accounted for his absence by saying
that he had been to seek documents, important for the defence of
religion, and made no secret of having brought back rich trophies. It
was thus through public rumour that Clement first became aware that the
king's library had been robbed. But Aymon's method of pilfering had so
far succeeded that it was some time before it could be ascertained what
number of manuscripts he had carried off. By degrees, however, the list
was completed and sent to Holland. The Abbe Bignon was the king's
librarian at the time when it was discovered that one at least of the
stolen treasures was in the Harleian library. As soon as Edward, Lord
Oxford became aware of the fact, he hastened to restore it, and
received in exchange a very polite acknowledgement of his courtesy from
Cardinal Fleury on behalf of the king.*

* L. V. Delisle, Le Cabinet des Manuscrits de la Bibliotheque Imperiale.


In 1725 Wanley enumerated the Greek MSS. in the Harleian collection as
173. Among the illuminated ones, that which bears the number 1810
demands special attention. It is an Evangelia executed in Greece in the
twelfth century, and written in black and red characters on the finest
vellum. Some of the miniatures have suffered woefully, the paint having
cracked in parts, but the faces are still full of beauty and life. One
of the least damaged represents the death of the Blessed Virgin. The
apostles surround the bed on which she lies extended; the aged St.
Peter lifts up his hands in an attitude of grief; St. John is leaning
over her left side; another bends forward and embraces her feet. In a
lozenge-shaped medallion on a gold background our Lord holds her soul
in His arms, in the form of a little child. A crowd of people form the
background, and a figure at the head of the bed swings a censer. Three
women contemplate the scene from a small window.

Another remarkable miniature, the last in the volume, is a good deal
cracked, but still extremely interesting for the force and delicacy of
touch which it displays. Our Lord appears to the apostles after His
Resurrection. St. Thomas is in the act of placing his finger in the
wounded side. The print of the nails is seen in the hands and feet. Sir
Edward Thompson distinguishes this manuscript with his by no means
frequent encomium, "very good."

The Greek Evangelium of the ninth or tenth century (5787), with its
ornamental initials and borders, and St. Jerome's Latin version of the
Psalter (2793), with a preface addressed to Sophronius, and written in
a tenth-century hand, should not be passed over.

Another Psalter (2904), executed in England at the end of the tenth or
beginning of the eleventh century, has a fine drawing of the
Crucifixion, and grand initial letters. Westwood, in his Facsimiles and
Miniatures, considers this drawing to be the finest of the kind, and
the initial B (Beatus vir qui non abiit in consilio impiorum), the
noblest with which he is acquainted. This manuscript has most of the
characteristics of the later Anglo-Saxon school-the hunched-up
shoulders to express grief, the attenuated lower limbs, and the manner
in which prominence is given to the central figure by drawing the
others much smaller. On a scroll which St. John holds are the words,
"Hic est discipulis qui testimonii perhibet." The arrangement of
Pilate's superscription - "Hic est Nazaren IHC rex judaeor" - is unusual
but not without precedent.

The Harleian library contains no fewer than 300 MSS. of the Bible or
parts of the Bible, written and illuminated between the seventh and the
fourteenth centuries. Of the later copies we may note one of the whole
Bible, written in the thirteenth century, and described in the
"Catalogue of Ancient MSS. in the British Museum," as remarkable; and a
Psalter, written before 1339, splendidly illuminated, and further
interesting as having belonged to Philippa of Hainault, and as bearing
the arms of England without those of France.

There is also a fine series of Talmudical and Rabbinical books; nearly
200 volumes of Fathers of the Church, as well as liturgical books of
the different Latin and Greek rites.

The polite literature of the Middle Ages is admirably represented,
among other examples by the famous Roman de la Rose, with its brilliant
fourteenth-century miniatures, its wonderful figures gorgeously
dressed, its broad borders richly decorated with fruit, birds, insects,
and flowers, of which the rose is the most salient feature. One
fascinating miniature shows -

Comment Narcissus se mira
A la fontaine et souspira";

and after a long but delightful pilgrimage by flowery meads and limpid
streams, amid curious mediaeval gardens

"La conclusion du rommant
Est que vous voiez ez lemant
Qui prent la rose a son plaisir
En qui estait tout son desir."

This glimpse of the treasures of the Harleian library will at least
account for the great celebrity it attained within a comparatively
short time of its foundation. Wanley was careful to enter into his
Diary the names of visitors, and any interesting details connected with
them, and their motives for an inspection. On the 15th January 1719/20
he observed: -

"Dr.Fiddes came, and communicated to me his intention of writing the
life of Cardinal Wolsey at large; and desired me to transcribe for him
all such materials in this library as I should find for his purpose. I
showed him divers things here, and gave him notice of many others in
the Cottonian library, etc., but as to transcribing for him, begged his
excuse, etc."

On the 22nd December 1721,

"Mr. Bowles, the Bodleian library-keeper, came, and I spent most of the
time showing him some of the rarities here, to his great wonder and
satisfaction."

And on the 28th

"Mr. Bowles came and saw more of the rarities here."

Two more visits from Mr. Bowles are chronicled, when he saw "yet more
of the curious books, papers, and parchments here"; and shortly after
Wanley wrote, "many come and tarry long." A visit from David Casley,
keeper of the Cottonian and Royal libraries, on the 4th November 1725,
is suggestive of a certain amount of friction between the two rival
librarians. It is nearly the last entry in Wanley's record: -

"Mr. Casley came to collate my Lord's MSS. of Titus Livius for Mr.
D'Orville, by my Lord's order. I am civil to him, but when just now he
offered me a South Sea bond as security to let him carry one of the
said MSS. home to collate it there, I would by no means hearken to such
a proposal."

Perhaps Wanley would have regarded him with still greater suspicion if
he had known that Casley was to be his successor in cataloguing the
MSS. which he kept with so jealous a care. The talents of the two men
were very different, as the catalogue itself shows. That part of it for
which Wanley was responsible contains a description and an abstract of
each manuscript. Casley, whose knowledge of the age of manuscripts has
never been surpassed, contented himself with fixing their dates without
any reference to their contents.

The work of building up the library does not seem to have flagged or
deteriorated after Wanley's death. The search for precious MSS. was
still actively carried on, and copies of a large collection of
original, royal, and other letters and State Papers in the Lansdowne
library furnish us with an example of Lord Oxford's unabated zeal in
the pursuit of books. Appended to these papers is a note written on the
first leaf by Mr. J. West, and dated 2nd May 1742: -

"Mem. I went with Edward, Earl of Oxford, to view these MSS. at a
barber's shop next door to the Bull Head Tavern, in Lincoln's Inn
Fields, when we were carried up two pair of stairs, and an old woman
asked 300 pounds for the MSS., which was thought exorbitant, but which
would have been given, if she would have declared any lawful title to
us as owner of them."

After Casley, Hocker, deputy-keeper of the records in the Tower,
undertook to continue the catalogue, but only completed it as far as
the number 7355. When the collection was brought to the British Museum,
after the death of the second Lord Oxford, Dr. Brown, Professor of
Arabic at Oxford, and Dr. Kennicott, Fellow of Exeter College, added
titles to such of the Arabic and Hebrew MSS. as needed them. Gomez, a
learned Jew, was employed to do the same for the rabbinical books that
were without titles. In 1800 the Rev. Robert Nares was appointed to
continue and revise the catalogue. In a letter to Bishop Percy, dated
British Museum, 19th January 1801, Nares wrote: -

"I am just now deep in old MSS., correcting all that part of the
Harleian catalogue which was left unfinished by Humphrey Wanley, and
very imperfectly executed by Mr. Casley."

The work done by Nares was supplemented by Stebbing Shaw, and Douce.
The Rev. T. Hartwell Horne added a series of indexes, and published the
catalogue in 1812.*

* Nichol's Literary Illustrations, vol. vii., p. 591.


On the death of Edward, Earl of Oxford, in 1741, his widow,* who is
described as a "dull, worthy woman," cared to retain few of her
husband's treasures. His various curiosities were sold by auction; his
printed books, pamphlets, and engravings were disposed of to Thomas
Osborne, a bookseller of Gray's Inn, for 13,000 pounds - several
thousand pounds less than the cost of their bindings. A selection of
scarce pamphlets found in the library was made by Oldys, and printed in
8 volumes, in 1746, under the title of the "Harleian Miscellany." Dr.
Samuel Johnson wrote a preface to this work. The best edition of the
"Harleian Miscellany" is that of Thomas Park, in 10 volumes, published
between 1808-13.

* She was Lady Henrietta Cavendish Holles, only daughter of John,
fourth Earl of Clare, created Duke of Newcastle.


There still remained the precious manuscripts, and it had been the wish
of Lord Oxford that books so carefully collected might not be
dispersed. In accordance with this wish, Lady Oxford sold them to the
nation in 1753 for the inconsiderable sum of 10,000 pounds. They then
consisted of 7639 volumes, besides 14,236 original rolls, charters,
deeds, and other documents, and these were removed to the British
Museum, where they found a safe and suitable resting-place.

But although fortunately the Harleian MSS. have been preserved from the
fate of so many choice volumes in the Cottonian library, they have
suffered to some extent from the carelessness or dishonesty of
borrowers. The second Lord Oxford was generous to a fault in lending,
with the inevitable result. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the only one of
his literary friends whom Lady Oxford tolerated,* wrote the following
letter to her husband from Avignon in 1745, at the time when probably,
the MSS. having been removed to the British Museum, attention was
directed to the fact that some were missing: -

"I perfectly remember carrying back the manuscript you mention, and
delivering it to Lord Oxford. I never failed returning to himself all
the books he lent me. It is true I showed it to the Duchess of
Montague, but we read it together, and I did not even leave it with
her. I am not surprised in that vast quantity of manuscripts, some
should be lost or mislaid, particularly knowing Lord Oxford to be
careless of them, easily lending and as easily forgetting he had done
it. I remember I carried him once one very finely illuminated that when
I delivered he did not recollect he had lent it to me, though it was
but a few days before. Wherever this is, I think you had need be in no
pain about it."**

* "It is a common remark that people of brilliant parts often have no
objection to relax or REST their understandings in the society of those
whose intellects are a little more obtuse. Here was an instance: the
gods never made anybody less poetical than Lady Oxford; and yet Lady
Mary Wortley, though in general not over tolerant to her inferior's
incapacity, appears upon the whole to have loved nobody so well. And
there was an exception equally striking in her favour; for Lady Oxford,
heartily detesting most of the wits who surrounded her husband, yet
admired Lady Mary with all her might-pretty much as the parish clerk
reverences the rector for his Greek and Hebrew. Lady Bute confessed
that she sometimes got into sad disgrace by exclaiming, 'Dear mama! how
can you be so fond of that stupid woman?' which never failed to bring
upon her a sharp reprimand and a lecture against rash judgments, ending
with 'Lady Oxford is not shining, but she has much more in her than
such giddy things as you and your companions can discern."* - The
Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, edited by her
great-grandson, Lord Whamcliffe, 2nd ed., vol. i., p. 66. Introduction.

** Letters, vol. ii., p. 147.


Two years after the removal of the Harleian library to the British
Museum, Lady Oxford died, leaving an only daughter, Margaret Cavendish,
married to William Bentinck, second Duke of Portland. She was the
"noble, lovely little Peggy" sung by Prior. As she had inherited none
of her father's and grandfather's tastes, it was fitting that the grand
collection of MSS., for the sake of which they had impoverished
themselves, should enrich an innumerable multitude of scholars and
students of all nations and for all time.




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Online LibraryJ.M. StoneStudies from Court and Cloister: being essays, historical and literary dealing mainly with subjects relating to the XVIth and XVIIth centuries → online text (page 28 of 28)