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treasure was not to be found in the Imperial collection at Paris.
Silence followed the address of Mr Evans. On his right hand, leaning
against the wall, stood Earl Spencer; a little lower down, and standing
at right angles with his Lordship, appeared the Marquess of Bland-ford.
Lord Althorp stood a little backward, to the right of his father, Earl

The first movement of the forces gives the historian an opportunity of
dropping a withering sneer at an unfortunate man, so provincial in his
notions as to suppose that a hundred pounds or two would be of any avail
in such a contest.

"The honour of firing the first shot was due to a gentleman of
Shropshire, unused to this species of warfare, and who seemed to recoil
from the reverberation of the report himself had made. 'One hundred
guineas,' he exclaimed. Again a pause ensued; but anon the biddings rose
rapidly to five hundred guineas. Hitherto, however, it was evident that
the firing was but masked and desultory. At length all random shots
ceased, and the champions before named stood gallantly up to each other,
resolving not to flinch from a trial of their respective strengths. _A
thousand guineas_ were bid by Earl Spencer - to which the Marquess added
_ten_. You might have heard a pin drop. All eyes were turned - all
breathing wellnigh stopped - every sword was put home within its
scabbard - and not a piece of steel was seen to move or to glitter except
that which each of these champions brandished in his valorous hand."

But even this exciting sort of narrative will tire one when it goes on
page after page, so that we must take a leap to the conclusion. "Two
thousand two hundred and fifty pounds," said Lord Spencer. "The
spectators were now absolutely electrified. The Marquess quietly adds
his usual _ten_" and so there an end. "Mr Evans, ere his hammer fell,
made a short pause - and indeed, as if by something preternatural, the
ebony instrument itself seemed to be charmed or suspended in the mid
air. However, at last down dropped the hammer."

Such a result naturally created excitement beyond the book-collectors'
circle, for here was an actual stroke of trade in which a profit of more
than two thousand per cent had been netted. It is easy to believe in
Dibdin's statement of the crowds of people who imagined they were
possessors of the identical Venetian Boccaccio, and the still larger
number who wanted to do a stroke of business with some old volume,
endowed with the same rarity and the same or greater intrinsic value.
The general excitement created by the dispersal of the Roxburghe
collection proved an epoch in literary history, by the establishment of
the Roxburghe Club, followed by a series of others, the history of which
has to be told farther on.

Of the great book-sales that have been commemorated, it is curious to
observe how seldom they embrace ancestral libraries accumulated in old
houses from generation to generation, and how generally they mark the
short-lived duration of the accumulations of some collector freshly
deposited. One remarkable exception to this was in the Gordonstoun
library, sold in 1816. It was begun by Sir Robert Gordon, a Morayshire
laird of the time of the great civil wars of the seventeenth century. He
was the author of the History of the Earldom of Sutherland, and a man of
great political as well as literary account. He laid by heaps of the
pamphlets, placards, and other documents of his stormy period, and thus
many a valuable morsel, which had otherwise disappeared from the world,
left a representative in the Gordonstoun collection. It was increased by
a later Sir Robert, who had the reputation of being a wizard. He
belonged to one of those terrible clubs from which Satan is entitled to
take a victim annually; but when Gordon's turn came, he managed to get
off with merely the loss of his shadow; and many a Morayshire peasant
has testified to having seen him riding forth on a sunny day, the shadow
of his horse visible, with those of his spurs and his whip, but his
body offering no impediment to the rays of the sun. He enriched the
library with books on necromancy, demonology, and alchemy.

The largest book-sale probably that ever was in the world, was that of
Heber's collection in 1834. There are often rash estimates made of the
size of libraries, but those who have stated the number of his books in
six figures seem justified when one looks at the catalogue of the sale,
bound up in five thick octavo volumes. For results so magnificent,
Richard Heber's library had but a small beginning, according to the
memoir of him in the Gentleman's Magazine, where it is said, that
"having one day accidentally met with a little volume called The Vallie
of Varietie, by Henry Peacham, he took it to the late Mr Bindley of the
Stamp-office, the celebrated collector, and asked him if this was not a
curious book. Mr Bindley, after looking at it, answered, 'Yes - not
very - but rather a curious book.'" This faint morsel of encouragement
was, it seems, sufficient to start him in his terrible career, and the
trifle becomes important as a solemn illustration of the _obsta
principiis_. His labours, and even his perils, were on a par with those
of any veteran commander who has led armies and fought battles during
the great part of a long life. He would set off on a journey of several
hundred miles any day in search of a book not in his collection.
Sucking in from all around him whatever books were afloat, he of course
soon exhausted the ordinary market; and to find a book obtainable which
he did not already possess, was an event to be looked to with the
keenest anxiety, and a chance to be seized with promptitude, courage,
and decision. At last, however, he could not supply the cravings of his
appetite without recourse to duplicates, and far more than duplicates.
His friend Dibdin said of him, "He has now and then an ungovernable
passion to possess more copies of a book than there were ever parties to
a deed or stamina to a plant; and therefore I cannot call him a
duplicate or a triplicate collector." He satisfied his own conscience by
adopting a creed, which he enounced thus: "Why, you see, sir, no man can
comfortably do without three copies of a book. One he must have for a
show copy, and he will probably keep it at his country-house; another he
will require for his own use and reference; and unless he is inclined to
part with this, which is very inconvenient, or risk the injury of his
best copy, he must needs have a third at the service of his friends."

This last necessity is the key-note to Heber's popularity: he was a
liberal and kindly man, and though, like Wolsey, he was unsatisfied in
getting, yet, like him, in bestowing he was most princely. Many scholars
and authors obtained the raw material for their labours from his
transcendent stores. These, indeed, might be said less to be personal
to himself than to be a feature in the literary geography of Europe.
"Some years ago," says the writer in the Gentleman's Magazine, "he built
a new library at his house at Hodnet, which is said to be full. His
residence at Pimlico, where he died, is filled, like Magliabechi's at
Florence, with books, from the top to the bottom - every chair, every
table, every passage containing piles of erudition. He had another house
in York Street, leading to Great James's Street, Westminster, laden from
the ground-floor to the garret with curious books. He had a library in
the High Street, Oxford, an immense library at Paris, another at
Antwerp, another at Brussels, another at Ghent, and at other places in
the Low Countries and in Germany."



The Hobby.

Having devoted the preceding pages to the diagnosis of the book-hunter's
condition, or, in other words, to the different shapes which the
phenomena peculiar to it assume, I now propose to offer some account of
his place in the dispensations of Providence, which will probably show
that he is not altogether a mischievous or a merely useless member of
the human family, but does in reality, however unconsciously to himself,
minister in his own peculiar way to the service both of himself and
others. This is to be a methodical discourse, and therefore to be
divided and subdivided, insomuch that, taking in the first place his
services to himself, this branch shall be subdivided into the advantages
which are purely material and those which are properly intellectual.

And, first, of material advantages. Holding it to be the inevitable doom
of fallen man to inherit some frailty or failing, it would be difficult,
had he a Pandora's box-ful to pick and choose among, to find one less
dangerous or offensive. As the judicious physician informs the patient
suffering under some cutaneous or other external torture, that the
poison lay deep in his constitution - that it must have worked in some
shape - and well it is that it has taken one so innocuous - so may even
the book-hunter be congratulated on having taken the innate moral malady
of all the race in a very gentle and rather a salubrious form. To pass
over gambling, tippling, and other practices which cannot be easily
spoken of in good society, let us look to the other shapes in which man
lets himself out - for instance to horse-racing, hunting, photography,
shooting, fishing, cigars, dog-fancying, dog-fighting, the ring, the
cockpit, phrenology, revivalism, socialism; which of these contains so
small a balance of evil, counting of course that the amount of pleasure
conferred is equal - for it is only on the datum that the book-hunter has
as much satisfaction from his pursuit as the fox-hunter, the
photographer, and so on, has in his, that a fair comparison can be
struck? These pursuits, one and all, leave little or nothing that is
valuable behind them, except, it may be, that some of them are conducive
to health, by giving exercise to the body and a genial excitement to the
mind; but every hobby gives the latter, and the former may be easily
obtained in some other shape. They leave little or nothing behind - even
the photographer's portfolio will bring scarcely anything under the
hammer after the death of him whose solace and pursuit it had been,
should the positives remain visible, which may be doubted. And as to the
other enumerated pursuits, some of them, as we all know, are immensely
costly, all unproductive as they are.

But the book-hunter may possibly leave a little fortune behind him. His
hobby, in fact, merges into an investment. This is the light in which a
celebrated Quaker collector of paintings put his conduct, when it was
questioned by the brethren, in virtue of that right to admonish one
another concerning the errors of their ways, which makes them so chary
in employing domestic servants of their own persuasion. "What had the
brother paid for that bauble [a picture by Wouvermans], for instance?"
"Well, £300." "Was not that then an awful wasting of his substance on
vanities?" "No. He had been offered £900 for it. If any of the Friends
was prepared to offer him a better investment of his money than one that
could be realised at a profit of 200 per cent, he was ready to alter the
existing disposal of his capital."

It is true that amateur purchasers do not, in the long-run, make a
profit, though an occasional bargain may pass through their hands. It
is not maintained that, in the general case, the libraries of collectors
would be sold for more than they cost, or even for nearly so much; but
they are always worth something, which is more than can be said of the
residue of other hobbies and pursuits. Nay, farther; the scholarly
collector of books is not like the ordinary helpless amateur; for
although, doubtless, nothing will rival the dealer's instinct for
knowing the money-value of an article, though he may know nothing else
about it, yet there is often a subtle depth in the collector's educated
knowledge which the other cannot match, and bargains may be obtained off
the counters of the most acute.

A small sprinkling of these - even the chance of them - excites him, like
the angler's bites and rises, and gives its zest to his pursuit. It is
the reward of his patience, his exertion, and his skill, after the
manner in which Monkbarns has so well spoken; and it is certain that, in
many instances, a collector's library has sold for more than it cost

No doubt, a man may ruin himself by purchasing costly books, as by
indulgence in any other costly luxury, but the chances of calamity are
comparatively small in this pursuit. A thousand pounds will go a great
way in book-collecting, if the collector be true to the traditions of
his pursuit, such as they are to be hereafter expounded. There has been
one instance, doubtless, in the records of bibliomania, of two thousand
pounds having been given for one book. But how many instances far more
flagrant could be found in picture-buying? Look around upon the world
and see how many men are the victims of libraries, and compare them with
those whom the stud, the kennel, and the preserve have brought to the
Gazette. Find out, too, anywhere, if you can, the instance in which the
money scattered in these forms comes back again, and brings with it a
large profit, as the expenditure of the Duke of Roxburghe did when his
library was sold.

But it is necessary to arrest this train of argument, lest its tenor
might be misunderstood. The mercenary spirit must not be admitted to a
share in the enjoyments of the book-hunter. If, after he has taken his
last survey of his treasures, and spent his last hour in that quiet
library, where he has ever found his chief solace against the wear and
worry of the world, the book-hunter has been removed to his final place
of rest, and it is then discovered that the circumstances of the family
require his treasures to be dispersed, - if then the result should take
the unexpected shape that his pursuit has not been so ruinously costly
after all - nay, that his expenditure has actually fructified - it is
well. But if the book-hunter allow money-making - even for those he is to
leave behind - to be combined with his pursuit, it loses its fresh
relish, its exhilarating influence, and becomes the source of wretched
cares and paltry anxieties. Where money is the object, let a man
speculate or become a miser - a very enviable condition to him who has
the saving grace to achieve it, if we hold with Byron that the
accumulation of money is the only passion that never cloys.

Let not the collector, therefore, ever, unless in some urgent and
necessary circumstances, part with any of his treasures. Let him not
even have recourse to that practice called barter, which political
philosophers tell us is the universal resource of mankind preparatory to
the invention of money as a circulating medium and means of exchange.
Let him confine all his transactions in the market to purchasing only.
No good ever comes of gentlemen amateurs buying and selling. They will
either be systematic losers, or they will acquire shabby, questionable
habits, from which the professional dealers - on whom, perhaps, they look
down - are exempt. There are two trades renowned for the quackery and the
imposition with which they are habitually stained - the trade in horses
and the trade in old pictures; and these have, I verily believe, earned
their evil reputation chiefly from this, that they are trades in which
gentlemen of independent fortune and considerable position are in the
habit of embarking.

The result is not so unaccountable as it might seem. The professional
dealer, however smart he may be, takes a sounder estimate of any
individual transaction than the amateur. It is his object, not so much
to do any single stroke of trade very successfully, as to deal
acceptably with the public, and make his money in the long-run. Hence he
does not place an undue estimate on the special article he is to dispose
of, but will let it go at a loss, if that is likely to prove the most
beneficial course for his trade at large. He has no special attachment
to any of the articles in which he deals, and no blindly exaggerated
appreciation of their merits and value. They come and go in an equable
stream, and the cargo of yesterday is sent abroad to the world with the
same methodical indifference with which that of to-day is unshipped. It
is otherwise with the amateur. He feels towards the article he is to
part with all the prejudiced attachment, and all the consequent
over-estimate, of a possessor. Hence he and the market take incompatible
views as to value, and he is apt to become unscrupulous in his efforts
to do justice to himself. Let the single-minded and zealous collector
then turn the natural propensity to over-estimate one's own into its
proper and legitimate channel. Let him guard his treasures as things too
sacred for commerce, and say, _Procul, o procul este, profani_, to all
who may attempt by bribery and corruption to drag them from their
legitimate shelves. If, in any weak moment, he yield to mercenary
temptation, he will be for ever mourning after the departed unit of his
treasure - the lost sheep of his flock. If it seems to be in the decrees
of fate that all his gatherings are to be dispersed abroad after he is
gone to his rest, let him, at all events, retain the reliance that on
them, as on other things beloved, he may have his last look; there will
be many changes after that, and this will be among them. Nor, in his
final reflections on his conduct to himself and to those he is to leave,
will he be disturbed by the thought that the hobby which was his
enjoyment has been in any wise the more costly to him that he has not
made it a means of mercenary money-getting.[36]

[Footnote 36: Atticus was under the scandal of having disposed of his
books, and Cicero sometimes hints to him that he might let more of them
go his way. In truth, Atticus carried this so far, however, that he
seems to have been a sort of dealer, and the earliest instance of a
capitalist publisher. He had slaves whom he occupied in copying, and was
in fact much in the position of a rich Virginian or Carolinian, who
should find that the most profitable investment for his stock of slaves
is a printing and publishing establishment.]

The Desultory Reader or Bohemian of Literature.

Having so put in a plea for this pursuit, as about the least costly
foible to which those who can afford to indulge in foibles can devote
themselves, one might descant on certain auxiliary advantages - as, that
it is not apt to bring its votaries into low company; that it offends no
one, and is not likely to foster actions of damages for nuisance,
trespass, or assault, and the like. But rather let us turn our attention
to the intellectual advantages accompanying the pursuit, since the
proper function of books is in the general case associated with
intellectual culture and occupation. It would seem that, according to a
received prejudice or opinion, there is one exception to this general
connection, in the case of the possessors of libraries, who are under a
vehement suspicion of not reading their books. Well, perhaps it is true
in the sense in which those who utter the taunt understand the reading
of a book. That one should possess no books beyond his power of
perusal - that he should buy no faster than as he can read straight
through what he has already bought - is a supposition alike preposterous
and unreasonable. "Surely you have far more books than you can read," is
sometimes the inane remark of the barbarian who gets his books, volume
by volume, from some circulating library or reading club, and reads them
all through, one after the other, with a dreary dutifulness, that he may
be sure that he has got the value of his money.

It is true that there are some books - as Homer, Virgil, Horace, Milton,
Shakespeare, and Scott - which every man should read who has the
opportunity - should read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. To neglect
the opportunity of becoming familiar with them is deliberately to
sacrifice the position in the social scale which an ordinary education
enables its possessor to reach. But is one next to read through the
sixty and odd folio volumes of the Bollandist Lives of the Saints, and
the new edition of the Byzantine historians, and the State Trials, and
the Encyclopædia Britannica, and Moreri, and the Statutes at large, and
the Gentleman's Magazine from the beginning, each separately, and in
succession? Such a course of reading would certainly do a good deal
towards weakening the mind, if it did not create absolute insanity.

But in all these just named, even in the Statutes at large, and in
thousands upon thousands of other books, there is precious honey to be
gathered by the literary busy bee, who passes on from flower to flower.
In fact, "a course of reading," as it is sometimes called, is a course
of regimen for dwarfing the mind, like the drugs which dog-breeders give
to King Charles spaniels to keep them small. Within the span of life
allotted to man there is but a certain number of books that it is
practicable to read through, and it is not possible to make a selection
that will not, in a manner, wall in the mind from a free expansion over
the republic of letters. The being chained, as it were, to one intellect
in the perusal straight on of any large book, is a sort of mental
slavery superinducing imbecility. Even Gibbon's Decline and Fall,
luminous and comprehensive as its philosophy is, and rapid and brilliant
the narrative, will become deleterious mental food if consumed straight
through without variety. It will be well to relieve it occasionally with
a little Boston's Fourfold State, or Hervey's Meditations, or Sturm's
Reflections for Every Day in the Year, or Don Juan, or Ward's History of

Isaac D'Israeli says, "Mr Maurice, in his animated memoirs, has recently
acquainted us with a fact which may be deemed important in the life of a
literary man. He tells us, 'We have been just informed that Sir William
Jones _invariably_ read through every year the works of Cicero.'" What a
task! one would be curious to know whether he felt it less heavy in the
twelve duodecimos of Elzevir, or the nine quartos of the Geneva edition.
Did he take to it doggedly, as Dr Johnson says, and read straight
through according to the editor's arrangement, or did he pick out the
plums and take the dismal work afterwards? For the first year or two of
his task, he is not to be pitied perhaps about the Offices, or the
Dialogue on Friendship, or Scipio's Dream, or even the capital speeches
against Verres and Catiline; but those tiresome Letters, and the
Tusculan Questions, and the De Natura! It is a pity he did not live till
Angelo Maï found the De Republica. What disappointed every one else
might perhaps have commanded the admiration of the great Orientalist.

But here follows, on the same authority, a more wonderful performance
still. "The famous Bourdaloue reperused every year St Paul, St
Chrysostom, and Cicero."[37] The sacred author makes but a slight
addition to the bulk, but the works of St Chrysostom are entombed in
eleven folios. Bourdaloue died at the age of seventy-two; and if he
began his task at the age of twenty-two, he must have done it over fifty
times. It requires nerves of more than ordinary strength to contemplate
such a statement with equanimity. The tortures of the classic Hades, and
the disgusting inflictions courted by the anchorites of old, and the
Brahmins of later times, do not approach the horrors of such an act of

[Footnote 37: Curiosities of Literature, iii. 339.]

Of course any one ambitious of enlightening the world on either the
political or the literary history of Rome at the commencement of the
empire, must be as thoroughly acquainted with every word of Cicero as
the writer of the Times leader on a critical debate is with the
newly-delivered speeches. The more fortunate vagabond reader, too,
lounging about among the Letters, will open many little veins of curious
contemporary history and biography, which he can follow up in Tacitus,
Sallust, Cæsar, and the contemporary poets. Both are utterly different
from the stated-task reader, who has come under a vow to work so many
hours or get through so many pages in a given time. _They_ are drawn by
their occupation, whether work or play; _he_ drives himself to his. All
such work is infliction, varying from the highest point of martyrdom
down to tasteless drudgery; and it is as profitless as other
supererogatory inflictions, since the task-reader comes to look at his
words without following out what they suggest, or even absorbing their

Online LibraryJohn Hill BurtonThe book-hunter : etc. → online text (page 13 of 33)