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common excitement among the denizens of the place. On one of these
occasions a succession of valuable fragments of early English poetry
brought prices so high and far beyond those of ordinary expensive books
in the finest condition, that it seemed as if their imperfections were
their merit; and the auctioneer, momentarily carried off with this
feeling, when the high prices began to sink a little, remonstrated thus,
"Going so low as thirty shillings, gentlemen, - this curious book - so low
as thirty shillings - and _quite imperfect_!"

Those who frequented this howf, being generally elderly men, have now
nearly all departed. The thunderer's hammer, too, has long been
silenced by the great quieter. One living memorial still exists of that
scene - the genial and then youthful assistant, whose partiality for
letters and literary pursuits made him often the monitor and kindly
guide of the raw student, and who now, in a higher field, exercises a
more important influence on the destinies of literature. I passed the
spot the other day - it was not desolate and forsaken, with the moss
growing on the hearthstone; on the contrary, it flared with many
lights - a thronged gin-palace. When one heard the sounds that issued
from the old familiar spot, the reflection not unnaturally occurred
that, after all, there are worse pursuits in the world than


Perhaps it would be a good practical distribution of the class of
persons under examination, to divide them into private prowlers and
auction-hunters. There are many other modes of classifying them, but
none so general. They might be classified by the different sizes of
books they affect - as folios, quartos, octavos, and duodecimos - but this
would be neither an expressive nor a dignified classification. In
enumerating the various orders to which Fitzpatrick Smart did _not_
belong, I have mentioned many of the species, but a great many more
might be added. Some collectors lay themselves out for vellum-printed
volumes almost solely. There are such not only among very old books, but
among very new; for of a certain class of modern books it frequently
happens that a copy or two may be printed on vellum, to catch the class
whose weakness takes that direction.

It may be cited as a signal instance of the freaks of book-collecting,
that of all men in the world Junot, the hard-fighting soldier, had a
vellum library - but so it was. It was sold in London for about £1400.
"The crown octavos," says Dibdin, "especially of ancient classics, and a
few favourite English authors, brought from four to six guineas. The
first virtually solid article of any importance, or rather of the
greatest importance, in the whole collection, was the matchless Didot
Horace, of 1799, folio, containing the original drawings from which the
exquisite copperplate vignettes were executed. This was purchased by the
gallant Mr George Hibbert for £140. Nor was it in any respect an
extravagant or even dear purchase." It now worthily adorns the library
of Norton Hall.

Some collectors may be styled Rubricists, being influenced by a sacred
rage for books having the contents and marginal references printed in
red ink. Some "go at" flowered capitals, others at broad margins. These
have all a certain amount of magnificence in their tastes; but there are
others again whose priceless collections are like the stock-in-trade of
a wholesale ballad-singer, consisting of chap-books, as they are
termed - the articles dealt in by pedlars and semi-mendicants for the
past century or two. Some affect collections relating to the drama, and
lay great store by heaps of play-bills arranged in volumes, and bound,
perhaps, in costly russia. Of a more dignified grade are perhaps those
who have lent themselves to the collection of the theses on which
aspirants after university honours held their disputations or
impugnments. Sometimes out of a great mass of rubbish of this kind the
youthful production of some man who has afterwards become great turns
up. Of these theses and similar tracts a German, Count Dietrich,
collected some hundred and forty thousand, which are now in this

Those collectors whose affections are invested in the devices or trade
emblems of special favourites among the old printers must not be passed
without a word of recognition.

Men who have had the opportunity of rummaging among old libraries in
their boyhood are the most likely to cultivate pets of this kind. There
is a rich variety of choice in the luxuriantly floral Gothic, the cold
serene classic, and that prolific style combining both, which a popular
writer on the Æsthetics of Art has stigmatised by the term "sensual,"
ordering all his votaries to abjure it accordingly. To intellects not
far enough advanced to acknowledge the influence of such terms, or to
comprehend their application to what we should or should not like and
admire, there is a fortunate element even in their deficiencies. They
can admire the devices of the old printers from association with the
boyish days when they were first noticed, from an absolute liking for
their fantastic fancies, and possibly from an observation in some of
them of the indications of the gradual development of artistic purity
and beauty. In many of them in which the child has seen only an
attractive little picture, the man has afterwards found a touch of
poetic or religious thought.

There is the hand pouring oil into a lamp of pure Etruscan shape,
symbolical of the nutriment supplied to the intellectual flame. In
another, the gardener carefully plants the seedlings which are to bear
the fruit of knowledge to the coming generations; in another, the sun
rising bright over the eastern sea signifies the dawn of the restoration
of classical learning to the European nations.

Other interpretations of the kind, called quaint conceits, can be read
from these printers' devices. There is Gesner's Bibliotheca swarming
with frogs and tadpoles like a quagmire in honour of its printer, a
German Frog, latinised Christopherus Froshoverus. The _Quæ Extant_ of
Varro, printed at Dort, are adorned with many lively cuts of bears and
their good-humoured cubs, because the printer's name is Joannis
Berewout. So the Aulus Gellius, printed by Gryphius of Lyons, more than
a hundred years earlier, begins and ends with formidable effigies of
griffins. The device of Michael and Phillip Lenoir is a jet-black
shield, with an Ethiopian for crest, and Ethiopians for supporters; and
Apiarius has a neat little cut representing a bear robbing a bee's nest
in a hollow tree. Most instructive of them all, Ascensius has bequeathed
to posterity the lively and accurate representation, down to every nail
and screw, of the press in which the great works of the sixteenth
century were printed, with the brawny pressman pulling his proof.

Collectors there have been, not unimportant for number and zeal, whose
mission it is to purchase books marked by peculiar mistakes or errors of
the press. The celebrated Elzevir Cæsar of 1635 is known by this, that
the number of the 149th page is misprinted 153. All that want this
peculiar distinction are counterfeits. The little volume being, as
Brunet says, "une des plus jolies et plus rares de la collection des
Elsevier," gave a temptation to fraudulent imitators, who, as if by a
providential arrangement for their detection, lapsed into accuracy at
the critical figure. How common errors are in editions of the classics,
is attested by the one or two editions which claim a sort of
canonisation as immaculate - as, for instance, the Virgil of Didot, and
the Horace of Foulis. A collector, with a taste for the inaccurate,
might easily satiate it in the editions so attractive in their deceptive
beauty of the great Birmingham printer Baskerville.

The mere printers' blunders that have been committed upon editions of
the Bible are reverenced in literary history; and one edition - the
Vulgate issued under the authority of Sixtus V. - achieved immense value
from its multitude of errors. The well-known story of the German
printer's wife, who surreptitiously altered the passage importing that
her husband should be her lord (Herr) so as to make him be her fool
(Narr), needs confirmation. If such a misprint were found, it might
quite naturally be attributed to carelessness. Valarian Flavigny, who
had many controversies on his hand, brought on the most terrible of them
all with Abraham Ecchellensis by a mere dropped letter. In the rebuke
about the mote in thy brother's eye and the beam in thine own, the first
letter in the Latin for eye was carelessly dropped out, and left a word
which may be found occasionally in Martial's Epigrams, but not in books
of purer Latin and purer ideas.[29]

[Footnote 29: A traditional anecdote represents the Rev. William
Thomson, a clergyman of the Church of Scotland, as having got into a
scrape by a very indecorous alteration of a word in Scripture. A young
divine, on his first public appearance, had to read the solemn passage
in 1st Corinthians, "Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all
sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an
eye, at the last trump." Thomson scratched the letter _c_ out of the
word changed. The effect of the passage so mutilated can easily be
tested. The person who could play such tricks was ill suited for his
profession, and being relieved of its restraints, he found a more
congenial sphere of life among the unsettled crew of men of letters in
London, over whom Smollett had just ceased to reign. He did a deal of
hard work, and the world owes him at least one good turn in his
translation of Cunningham's Latin History of Britain from the Revolution
to the Hanover Succession. The value of this work, in the minute light
thrown by it on one of the most memorable periods of British history, is
too little known. The following extract may give some notion of the
curious and instructive nature of this neglected book. It describes the
influences which were in favour of the French alliance, and against the
Whigs, during Marlborough's campaign. "And now I shall take this
opportunity to speak of the French wine-drinkers as truly and briefly as
I can. On the first breaking out of the Confederate war, the merchants
in England were prohibited from all commerce with France, and a heavy
duty was laid upon French wine. This caused a grievous complaint among
the topers, who have great interest in the Parliament, as if they had
been poisoned by port wines. Mr Portman Seymour, who was a jovial
companion, and indulged his appetites, but otherwise a good man; General
Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough's brother, a man of courage, but a
lover of wine; Mr Pereira, a Jew and smell-feast, and other hard
drinkers, declared, that the want of French wine was not to be endured,
and that they could hardly bear up under so great a calamity. These were
joined by Dr Aldridge, who, though nicknamed the priest of Bacchus, was
otherwise an excellent man, and adorned with all kinds of learning. Dr
Ratcliffe, a physician of great reputation, who ascribed the cause of
all diseases to the want of French wines, though he was very rich, and
much addicted to wine, yet, being extremely covetous, bought the cheaper
wines; but at the same time he imputed the badness of his wine to the
war, and the difficulty of getting better. Therefore the Duke of
Beaufort and the Earl of Scarsdale, two young noblemen of great interest
among their acquaintance, who had it in their power to live at their
ease in magnificence or luxury, merrily attributed all the doctor's
complaints to his avarice. All those were also for peace rather than
war. And all the bottle-companions, many physicians, and great numbers
of the lawyers and inferior clergy, and, in fine, the loose women too,
were united together in the faction against the Duke of
Marlborough." - ii. 200.]

Questions as to typographical blunders in editions of the classics are
mixed up with larger critical inquiries into the purity of the
ascertained text, and thus run in veins through the mighty strata of
philological and critical controversy which, from the days of Poggio
downwards, have continued to form that voluminous mass of learning which
the outer world contemplates with silent awe.

To some extent the same spirit of critical inquiry has penetrated into
our own language. What we have of it clusters almost exclusively around
the mighty name of Shakespeare. Shakespearian criticism is a branch of
knowledge by itself. To record its triumphs - from that greatest one by
which the senseless "Table of Greenfield," which interrupted the
touching close of Falstaff's days, was replaced by "'a babbled of green
fields" - would make a large book of itself. He who would undertake it,
in a perfectly candid and impartial spirit, would give us, varied no
doubt with much erudition and acuteness, a curious record of blundering
ignorance and presumptuous conceit, the one so intermingling with the
other that it would be often difficult to distinguish them.[30]

[Footnote 30: Without venturing too near to this very turbulent arena,
where hard words have lately been cast about with much reckless
ferocity, I shall just offer one amended reading, because there is
something in it quite peculiar, and characteristic of its literary
birthplace beyond the Atlantic. The passage operated upon is the wild
soliloquy, where Hamlet resolves to try the test of the play, and says -

"The devil hath power
T' assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps,
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me."

The amended reading stands -

"As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me too - damme."]

The quantity of typographical errors exposed in those pages, where they
are least to be expected, and are least excusable, opens up some curious
considerations. It may surely be believed that, between the compositors
who put the types together and the correctors of the press, the printing
of the Bible has generally been executed with more than average care.
Yet the editions of the sacred book have been the great mine of
discovered printers' blunders. The inference from this, however, is not
that blunders abound less in other literature, but that they are not
worth finding there. The issuing of the true reading of the Scripture is
of such momentous consequence, that a mistake is sure of exposure, like
those minute incidents of evidence which come forth when a murder has
been committed, but would never have left their privacy for the
detection of a petty fraud.

The value to literature of a pure Shakespearian text, has inspired the
zeal of the detectives who work on this ground. Some casual detections
have occurred in minor literature, - as, for instance, when Akenside's
description of the Pantheon, which had been printed as "serenely great,"
was restored to "severely great." The reason, however, why such
detections are not common in common books, is the rather humiliating one
that they are not worth making. The specific weight of individual words
is in them of so little influence, that one does as well as another.
Instances could indeed be pointed out, where an incidental blunder has
much improved a sentence, giving it the point which its author failed to
achieve - as a scratch or an accidental splash of the brush sometimes
supplies the painter with the ray or the cloud which the cunning of his
hand cannot accomplish. Poetry in this way sometimes endures the most
alarming oscillations without being in any way damaged, but, on the
contrary, sometimes rather improved. I might refer to a signal instance
of this, where, by some mysterious accident at press, the lines of a
poem written in quatrains got their order inverted, so that the second
and fourth of each quatrain changed places. This transposition was
pronounced to operate a decided improvement on the spirit and
originality of the piece, - an opinion in which, unfortunately, the
author did not concur; nor could he appreciate the compliment of a
critic, who remarked that the experiment tested the soundness of the
lines, which could find their feet whatever way they were thrown

[Footnote 31: One curious service of printers' blunders, of a character
quite distinct from their bibliological influence, is their use in
detecting plagiarisms. It may seem strange that there should be any
difficulty in critically determining the question, when the plagiarism
is so close as to admit of this test; but there are pieces of very hard
work in science, tables of reference, and the like, where, if two people
go through the same work, they will come to the same conclusion. In such
cases, the prior worker has sometimes identified his own by a blunder,
as he would a stolen china vase by a crack. Peignot complains that some
thirty or forty pages of his Dictionnaire Bibliographique were
incorporated in the Siècles Littéraires de la France, "avec une
exactitude si admirable, qu'on y a precieusement conservé toutes les
fautes typographiques."]

There have been, no doubt, cruel instances of printers' blunders in our
own days, like the fate of the youthful poetess in the Fudge family: -

"When I talked of the dewdrops on freshly-blown roses,
The nasty things printed it - freshly-blown noses."

Suchlike was the fatality which suddenly dried up the tears of those who
read a certain pathetic ode, in which the desolate widow was printed as
"dissolute;" and the accident which destroyed a poetic reputation by
making the "pale martyr in his sheet of fire" come forward with "his
shirt on fire." So also a certain printer, whose solemn duty it was to
have announced to the world that "intoxication is folly," whether
actuated by simplicity of soul or by malignity, was unable to resist the
faint amendment which announced the more genial doctrine that
"intoxication is jolly."[32]

[Footnote 32: See this and other cases in point set forth in an amusing
article on "Literary Mishaps," in Hedderwick's Miscellany, part ii.]

A solid scholar there was, who, had he been called to his account at a
certain advanced period of his career, might have challenged all the
world to say that he had ever used a false quantity, or committed an
anomaly in syntax, or misspelt a foreign name, or blundered in a
quotation from a Greek or Latin classic - to misquote an English author
is a far lighter crime, but even to this he could have pleaded not
guilty. He never made a mistake in a date, or left out a word in copying
the title-page of a volume; nor did he ever, in affording an intelligent
analysis of its contents, mistake the number of pages devoted to one
head. As to the higher literary virtues, too, his sentences were all
carefully balanced in a pair of logical and rhetorical scales of the
most sensitive kind; and he never perpetrated the atrocity of ending a
sentence with a monosyllable, or using the same word twice within the
same five lines, choosing always some judicious method of circumlocution
to obviate reiteration. Poor man! in the pride of his unspotted purity,
he little knew what a humiliation fate had prepared for him. It happened
to him to have to state how Theodore Beza, or some contemporary of his,
went to sea in a Candian vessel. This statement, at the last moment,
when the sheet was going through the press, caught the eye of an
intelligent and judicious corrector, more conversant with shipping-lists
than with the literature of the sixteenth century, who saw clearly what
had been meant, and took upon himself, like a man who hated all
pottering nonsense, to make the necessary correction without consulting
the author. The consequence was, that people read with some surprise,
under the authority of the paragon of accuracy, that Theodore Beza had
gone to sea in a _Canadian_ vessel. The victim of this calamity had
undergone minor literary trials, which he had borne with philosophical
equanimity; as, for instance, when inconsiderate people, destitute of
the organ of veneration, thoughtlessly asked him about the last new
popular work, as if it were something that he had read or even heard of,
and actually went so far in their contumelious disrespect as to speak to
him about the productions of a certain Charles Dickens. The "Canadian
vessel," however, was a more serious disaster, and was treated
accordingly. A charitable friend broke his calamity to the author at a
judicious moment, to prevent him from discovering it himself at an
unsuitable time, with results the full extent of which no one could
foresee. It was an affair of much anxiety among his friends, who made
frequent inquiries as to how he bore himself in his affliction, and what
continued to be the condition of his health, and especially of his
spirits. And although he was a confirmed book-hunter, and not
unconscious of the merits of the peculiar class of books now under
consideration, it may be feared that it was no consolation to him to
reflect that, some century or so hence, his books and himself would be
known only by the curious blunder which made one of them worth the
notice of the book-fanciers. Consequences from printers' blunders of a
still more tragic character even than this, have been preserved - as for
instance, the fate of Guidi the Italian poet, whose end is said to have
been hastened by the misprints in his poetical paraphrase of the
Homilies of his patron, Clement XI.

An odd accident occurred to a well-known book lately published,
called Men of the Time. It sometimes happens in a printing-office that
some of the types, perhaps a printed line or two, fall out of "the
forme." Those in whose hands the accident occurs generally try to put
things to rights as well as they can, and may be very successful in
restoring appearances with the most deplorable results to the sense. It
happened thus in the instance referred to. A few lines dropping out of
the Life of Robert Owen, the parallelogram Communist, were hustled, as
the nearest place of refuge, into the biography of his closest
alphabetical neighbour - "Oxford, Bishop of." The consequence is that the
article begins as follows: -

1805. A more kind-hearted and truly benevolent man does not exist. A
sceptic, as regards religious revelation, he is nevertheless an
out-and-out believer in spirit movements."

Whenever this blunder was discovered, the leaf was cancelled; but a few
copies of the book had got into circulation, which some day or other may
be very valuable.

From errors of the press there is a natural transition to the class who
incur the guilt of perpetrating them, and whose peculiar mental
qualities impart to them their special characteristics. That mysterious
body called compositors, through whose hands all literature passes, are
reputed to be a placid and unimpressionable race of practical stoics,
who do their work dutifully, without yielding to the intellectual
influences represented by it. A clause of an Act of Parliament, with all
its whereases, and be it enacteds, and hereby repealeds, creates, it is
said, quite as much emotion in them as the most brilliant burst of the
fashionable poet of the day. They will set you up a psalm or a
blasphemous ditty with the same equanimity, not retaining in their minds
any clear distinction between them. Your writing must be something very
wonderful indeed, before they distinguish it from other "copy," except
by the goodness or badness of the hand. A State paper which all the
world is mad to know about, is quite safe in a printing-office; and, if
report speak truly, they will set up what is here set down of them,
without noting that it refers to themselves. It is said that this stoic
indifference is a wonderful provision for the preservation of the purity
of literature, and that, were compositors to think with the author under
the "stick," they might make dire havoc.

We are not to suppose, however, that they take less interest in, or are
less observant of, the work of their hands than other workmen. The point
of view, however, from which their observation is taken, is not exactly
the same as that of their co-operator, the author whose writing they set
up, nor is their notification of specialties of a kind which would
always be felt by him as complimentary. The tremendous philippic of
Junius Brutus against the scandalous and growing corruptions of the age,
is remembered in the "chapel" solely because its fiery periods exhausted
the largest font of italics possessed by the establishment. The

Online LibraryJohn Hill BurtonThe book-hunter : etc. → online text (page 11 of 33)