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of the body. When he is not of the omnivorous kind, but one who desires
to possess a particular book, and, having got it, dips into the contents
before committing it to permanent obscurity on his loaded shelves, there
is, as we have already seen, a certain thread of intelligent
association linking the items of his library to each other. The
collector knows what he wants, and why he wants it, and that _why_ does
not entirely depend on exteriors, though he may have his whim as to that

He is a totally different being from the animal who goes to all sales,
and buys every book that is cheap. That is a painfully low and
grovelling type of the malady; and, fortunately for the honour of
literature, the bargain-hunter who suffers under it is not in general a
special votary of books, but buys all bargains that come in his
way - clocks, tables, forks, spoons, old uniforms, gas-meters, magic
lanterns, galvanic batteries, violins (warranted real Cremonas, from
their being smashed to pieces), classical busts (with the same testimony
to their genuineness), patent coffee-pots, crucibles, amputating knives,
wheel-barrows, retorts, cork-screws, boot-jacks, smoke-jacks,
melon-frames, bath-chairs, and hurdy-gurdies. It has been said that
once, a coffin, made too short for its tenant, being to be had an
undoubted bargain, was bought by him, in the hope that, some day or
other, it might prove of service in his family. His library, if such it
may be termed, is very rich in old trade-directories, justices of peace
and registers of voters, road-books, and other useful manuals; but there
are very learned books in it too. That clean folio Herodotus was
certainly extremely cheap at half-a-crown; and you need not inform him
that the ninth book is wanting, for he will never find that out. The day
when he has discovered that any book has been bought by another person,
a better bargain than his own copy, is a black one in his calendar; but
he has a peculiar device for getting over the calamity by bringing down
the average cost of his own copy through fresh investments. Having had
the misfortune to buy a copy of Goldsmith's History of England for five
shillings, while a neighbour flaunts daily in his face a copy obtained
for three, he has been busily occupied in a search for copies still
cheaper. He has now brought down the average price of his numerous
copies of this more agreeable than accurate work to three shillings and
twopence, and hopes in another year to get below the three shillings.

Neither is the rich man who purchases fine and dear books by deputy to
be admitted within the category of the genuine book-hunter. He must hunt
himself - must actually undergo the anxiety, the fatigue, and, so far as
purse is concerned, the risks of the chase. Your rich man, known to the
trade as a great orderer of books, is like the owner of the great
game-preserve, where the sport is heavy butchery; there is none of the
real zest of the hunter of the wilderness to be had within his gates.
The old Duke of Roxburghe wisely sank his rank and his wealth, and
wandered industriously and zealously from shop to stall over the world,
just as he wandered over the moor, stalking the deer. One element in the
excitement of the poorer book-hunter he must have lacked - the feeling of
committing something of extravagance - the consciousness of parting with
that which will be missed. This is the sacrifice which assures the
world, and satisfies the man's own heart, that he is zealous and earnest
in the work he has set about. And it is decidedly this class who most
read and use the books they possess. How genial a picture does Scott
give of himself at the time of the Roxburghe sale - the creation of
Abbotsford pulling him one way, on the other his desire to accumulate a
library round him in his Tusculum. Writing to his familiar Terry, he
says, "The worst of all is, that while my trees grow and my fountain
fills, my purse, in an inverse ratio, sinks to zero. This last
circumstance will, I fear, make me a very poor guest at the literary
entertainment your researches hold out for me. I should, however, like
much to have the treatise on Dreams by the author of the New Jerusalem,
which, as John Cuthbertson, the smith, said of the minister's sermon,
'must be neat wark.' The loyal poems by N.T. are probably by poor Nahum
Tate, who was associated with Brady in versifying the Psalms, and more
honourably with Dryden in the second part of Absalom and Achitophel. I
never saw them, however, but would give a guinea or thirty shillings for
the collection."

One of the reasons why Dibdin's expatiations among rare and valuable
volumes are, after all, so devoid of interest, is, that he occupied
himself in a great measure in catering for men with measureless purses.
Hence there is throughout too exact an estimate of everything by what it
is worth in sterling cash, with a contempt for small things, which has
an unpleasant odour of plush and shoulder-knot about it. Compared with
dear old Monkbarns and his prowlings among the stalls, the narratives of
the Boccaccio of the book-trade are like the account of a journey that
might be written from the rumble of the travelling chariot, when
compared with the adventurous narrative of the pedestrian or of the
wanderer in the far East. Everything is too comfortable, luxurious,
and easy - russia, morocco, embossing, marbling, gilding - all crowding
on one another, till one feels suffocated with riches. There is a
feeling, at the same time, of the utter useless pomp of the whole thing.
Volumes, in the condition in which he generally describes them, are no
more fitted for use and consultation than white kid gloves and silk
stockings are for hard work. Books should be used decently and
respectfully - reverently, if you will; but let there be no toleration
for the doctrine that there are volumes too splendid for use, too fine
almost to be looked at, as Brummel said of some of his Dresden china.
That there should be little interest in the record of rich men buying
costly books which they know nothing about and never become acquainted
with, is an illustration of a wholesome truth, pervading all human
endeavours after happiness. It is this, that the active, racy enjoyments
of life - those enjoyments in which there is also exertion and
achievement, and which depend on these for their proper relish - are not
to be bought for hard cash. To have been to him the true elements of
enjoyment, the book-hunter's treasures must not be his mere property,
they must be his achievements - each one of them recalling the excitement
of the chase and the happiness of success. Like Monkbarns with his
Elzevirs and his bundle of pedlar's ballads, he must have, in common
with all hunters, a touch of the competitive in his nature, and be able
to take the measure of a rival, - as Monkbarns magnanimously takes that
of Davie Wilson, "'commonly called Snuffy Davie, from his inveterate
addiction to black rappee, who was the very prince of scouts for
searching blind alleys, cellars, and stalls, for rare volumes. He had
the scent of a slow-hound, sir, and the snap of a bull-dog. He would
detect you an old blackletter ballad among the leaves of a law-paper,
and find an _editio princeps_ under the mask of a school Corderius.'"

In pursuing the chase in this spirit, the sportsman is by no means
precluded from indulgence in the adventitious specialties that delight
the commonest bibliomaniac. There is a good deal more in many of them
than the first thought discloses. An _editio princeps_ is not a mere
toy - it has something in it that may purchase the attention even of a
thinking man. In the first place, it is a very old commodity - about four
hundred years of age. If you look around you in the world you will see
very few movables coeval with it. No doubt there are wonderfully ancient
things shown to travellers, - as in Glammis Castle you may see the
identical four-posted bedstead - a very creditable piece of
cabinet-makery - in which King Malcolm was murdered a thousand years ago.
But genuine articles of furniture so old as the _editio princeps_ are
very rare. If we should highly esteem a poker, a stool, a drinking-can,
of that age, is there not something worthy of observance, as indicating
the social condition of the age, in those venerable pages, made to look
as like the handwriting of their day as possible, with their decorated
capitals, all squeezed between two solid planks of oak, covered with
richly embossed hog-skin, which can be clasped together by means of
massive decorated clasps? And shall we not admit it to a higher place in
our reverence than some mere item of household furnishing, when we
reflect that it is the very form in which some great ruling intellect,
resuscitated from long interment, burst upon the dazzled eyes of Europe
and displayed the fulness of its face?

His Achievements in the Creation of Libraries.

So much, then, for the benefit which the class to whom these pages are
devoted derive to themselves from their peculiar pursuit. Let us now
turn to the far more remarkable phenomena, in which these separate and
perhaps selfish pursuers of their own instincts and objects are found to
concur in bringing out a great influence upon the intellectual destinies
of mankind. It is said of Brindley, the great canal engineer,
that, - when a member of a committee, where he was under examination, a
little provoked or amused by his entire devotion to canals, asked him if
he thought there was any use of rivers, - he promptly answered, "Yes, to
feed navigable canals." So, if there be no other respectable function in
life fulfilled by the book-hunter, I would stand up for the proposition
that he is the feeder, provided by nature, for the preservation of
literature from age to age, by the accumulation and preservation of
libraries, public or private. It will require perhaps a little
circumlocutory exposition to show this, but here it is.

A great library cannot be constructed - it is the growth of ages. You may
buy books at any time with money, but you cannot make a library like one
that has been a century or two a-growing, though you had the whole
national debt to do it with. I remember once how an extensive publisher,
speaking of the rapid strides which literature had made of late years,
and referring to a certain old public library, celebrated for its
affluence in the fathers, the civilians, and the medieval chroniclers,
stated how he had himself freighted for exportation, within the past
month, as many books as that whole library consisted of. This was likely
enough to be true, but the two collections were very different from each
other. The cargoes of books were probably thousands of copies of some
few popular selling works. They might be a powerful illustration of the
diffusion of knowledge, but what they were compared with was its
concentration. Had all the paper of which these cargoes consisted been
bank-notes, they would not have enabled their owner to create a
duplicate of the old library, rich in the fathers, the civilians, and
the medieval chroniclers.

This impossibility of improvising libraries is really an important and
curious thing; and since it is apt to be overlooked, owing to the
facility of buying books, in quantities generally far beyond the
available means of any ordinary buyer, it seems worthy of some special
consideration. A man who sets to to form a library will go on
swimmingly for a short way. He will easily get Tennyson's
Poems - Macaulay's and Alison's Histories - the Encyclopædia
Britannica - Buckle on Civilisation - all the books "in print," as it is
termed. Nay, he will find no difficulty in procuring copies of others
which may not happen to be on the shelves of the publisher or of the
retailer of new books. Of Voltaire's works - a little library in
itself - he will get a copy at his call in London, if he has not set his
mind on some special edition. So of Scott's edition of Swift or Dryden,
Croker's edition of Boswell's Johnson, and the like. One can scarcely
suppose a juncture in which any of these cannot be found through the
electric chain of communication established by the book-trade. Of
Gibbon's and Hume's Histories - Jeremy Taylor's works - Bossuet's
Universal History, and the like, copies abound everywhere. Go back a
little, and ask for Kennet's Collection of the Historians - Echard's
History, Bayle, Moreri, or Father Daniel's History of France, you cannot
be so certain of immediately obtaining your object, but you will get the
book in the end - no doubt about that.

Everything has its caprices, and there are some books which might be
expected to be equally shy, but in reality, by some inexplicable
fatality, are as plentiful as blackberries. Such, for instance, are
Famianus Strada's History of the Dutch War of Independence - one of the
most brilliant works ever written, and in the very best Latin after
Buchanan's. There is Buchanan's own history, very common even in the
shape of the early Scotch edition of 1582, which is a highly favourable
specimen of Arbuthnot's printing. Then there are Barclay's Argenis, and
Raynal's Philosophical History of the East and West Indies, without
which no book-stall is to be considered complete, and which seem to be
possessed of a supernatural power of resistance to the elements, since,
month after month, in fair weather or foul, they are to be seen at their
posts dry or dripping.

So the collector goes on, till he perhaps collects some five thousand
volumes or so of select works. If he is miscellaneous in his taste, he
may get on pretty comfortably to ten or fifteen thousand, and then his
troubles will arise. He has easily got Baker's and Froissart's and
Monstrelet's Chronicles, because there are modern reprints of them in
the market. But if he want Cooper's Chronicle, he may have to wait for
it, since its latest form is still the black-letter. True, I did pick up
a copy lately, at Braidwood's, for half-a-guinea, but that was a
catch - it might have caused the search of a lifetime. Still more
hopeless it is when the collector's ambition extends to The Ladder of
Perfection of Wynkin de Worde, or to his King Rycharde Cure de Lion,
whereof it is reported in the Repertorium Bibliographicum, that "an
imperfect copy, wanting one leaf, was sold by auction at Mr Evans's, in
June 1817, to Mr Watson Taylor for £40, 19s." "Woe betide," says
Dibdin, "the young bibliomaniac who sets his heart upon Breton's
Flourish upon Fancie and Pleasant Toyes of an Idle Head, 1557, 4to; or
Workes of a Young Wyt trussed up with a Fardell of Pretty Fancies!!
Threescore guineas shall hardly fetch these black-letter rarities from
the pigeon-holes of Mr Thorpe. I lack courage to add the prices for
which these copies sold." But he has some comfort reserved for the
hungry collector, in the intimation that The Ravisht Soul and the
Blessed Weaper, by the same author, may be had for £15.[51] It creates a
thrilling interest to know, through the same distinguished authority,
that the Heber sale must have again let loose upon the world "A merry
gest and a true, howe John Flynter made his Testament," concerning which
we are told, with appropriate solemnity and pathos, that "Julian Notary
is the printer of this inestimably precious volume, and Mr Heber is the
thrice-blessed owner of the copy described in the Typographical

[Footnote 51: Library Companion, p. 699.]

Such works as the Knightly Tale of Galogras, The Temple of Glas, Lodge's
Nettle for Nice Noses, or the Book of Fayts of Armes, by Christene of
Pisa, or Caxton's Pylgremage of the Sowle, or his Myrrour of the Worlde,
will be long inquired after before they come to the market, thoroughly
contradicting that fundamental principle of political economy, that the
supply is always equal to the demand.

He, indeed, who sets his mind on the possession of any one of these
rarities, may go to his grave a disappointed man. It will be in general
the consolation of the collector, however, that he is by no means the
"homo unius libri." There is always something or other turning up for
him, so long as he keeps within moderate bounds. If he be rich and
ravenous, however, there is nothing for it but duplicating - the most
virulent form of book-mania. We have seen that Heber, whose collection,
made during his own lifetime, was on the scale of those public libraries
which take generations to grow, had, with all his wealth, his
liberality, and his persevering energy, to invest himself with
duplicates, triplicates - often many copies of the same book.

It is rare that the private collector runs himself absolutely into this
quagmire, and has so far exhausted the market that no already
unpossessed volume turns up in any part of the world to court his eager
embraces. The limitation constitutes, however, a serious difficulty in
the way of rapidly creating great public libraries. We would obtain the
best testimony to this difficulty in America, were our brethren there in
a condition to speak or think of so peaceful a pursuit as
library-making. In the normal condition of society there - something
like that of Holland in the seventeenth century - there are powerful
elements for the promotion of art and letters, when wealth gives the
means and civilisation the desire to promote them. The very absence of
feudal institutions - the inability to found a baronial house - turns the
thoughts of the rich and liberal to other foundations calculated to
transmit their name and influence to posterity. And so we have such
bequests as John Jacob Astor's, who left four hundred thousand dollars
for a library, and the hundred and eighty thousand which were the
nucleus of the Smithsonian Institution. Yes! Their efforts in this
direction have fully earned for them their own peculiar form of
laudation as "actually equal to cash." Hence, as the book-trade and
book-buyers know very well, the "almighty dollar" has been hard at work,
trying to rear up by its sheer force duplicates of the old European
libraries, containing not only all the ordinary stock books in the
market, but also the rarities, and those individualities - solitary
remaining copies of impressions - which the initiated call uniques. It is
clear, however, that when there is but one copy, it can only be in one
place; and if it have been rooted for centuries in the Bodleian, or the
University of Tubingen, it is not to be had for Harvard or the Astorian.
Dr Cogswell, the first librarian of the Astorian, spent some time in
Europe with his princely endowment in his pocket, and showed himself a
judicious, active, and formidable sportsman in the book-hunting world.
Whenever, from private collections, or the breaking-up of public
institutions, rarities got abroad into the open market, the collectors
of the old country found that they had a resolute competitor to deal
with - almost, it might be said, a desperate one - since he was in a
manner the representative of a nation using powerful efforts to get
possession of a share of the literary treasures of the Old World.

In the case of a book, for instance, of which half-a-dozen copies might
be known to exist, the combatants before the auctioneer would be, on the
one side, many an ambitious collector desiring to belong to the
fortunate circle already in possession of such a treasure; but on the
other side was one on whose exertions depended the question, whether the
book should henceforth be part of the intellectual wealth of a great
empire, and should be accessible for consultation by American scholars
and authors without their requiring to cross the Atlantic. Let us see
how far, by a brief comparison, money has enabled them to triumph over
the difficulties of their position.

It is difficult to know exactly the numerical contents of a library, as
some people count by volumes, and others by the separate works, small or
great; and even if all should consent to count by volumes, the estimate
would not be precise, for in some libraries bundles of tracts and other
small works are massed in plethoric volumes for economy, while in
affluent institutions every collection of leaves put under the command
of a separate title-page is separately bound in cloth, calf, or morocco,
according to its rank. The Imperial Library at Paris is computed to
contain above eight hundred thousand volumes; the Astorian boasts of
approaching a hundred thousand: the next libraries in size in America
are the Harvard, with from eighty thousand to ninety thousand; the
Library of Congress, which has from sixty thousand to seventy thousand;
and the Boston Athenæum, which has about sixty thousand.

There are many of smaller size. In fact, there is probably no country so
well stocked as the States with libraries of from ten thousand to twenty
thousand volumes, - the evidence that they have bought what was to be
bought, and have done all that a new people can to participate in the
long-hoarded treasures of literature which it is the privilege of the
Old World to possess. I know that, especially in the instance of the
Astorian Library, the selections of books have been made with great
judgment, and that, after the boundaries of the common crowded market
were passed, and individual rarities had to be stalked in distant
hunting-grounds, innate literary value was still held an object more
important than mere abstract rarity, and, as the more worthy quality of
the two, that on which the buying power available to the emissary was
brought to bear.

The zeal and wealth which the citizens of the States have thrown into
the limited field from which a library can be rapidly reaped, are
manifested in the size and value of their private collections. A volume,
called The Private Libraries of New York, by James Wynne, M.D., affords
interesting evidence of this phenomenon. It is printed on large thick
paper, after the most luxurious fashion of our book clubs, apparently
for private distribution. The author states, however, that "the greater
part of the sketches of private libraries to be found in this volume,
were prepared for and published in the Evening Post about two years
since. Their origin is due to a request on the part of Mr Bigelow, one
of the editors of the Post, to the writer, to examine and sketch the
more prominent private collections of books in New York."

Such an undertaking reveals, to us of the old country, a very singular
social condition. With us, the class who may be thus offered up to the
martyrdom of publicity is limited. The owners of great houses and great
collections are doomed to share them with the public, and if they would
frequent their own establishments, must be content to do so in the
capacity of librarians or showmen, for the benefit of their numerous and
uninvited visitors. They generally, with wise resignation, bow to the
sacrifice, and, abandoning all connection with their treasures, dedicate
them to the people - nor, as their affluence is generally sufficient to
surround them with an abundance of other enjoyments, are they an object
of much pity.

But that the privacy of our ordinary wealthy and middle classes should
be invaded in a similar shape, is an idea that could not get abroad
without creating sensations of the most lively horror. They manage these
things differently across the Atlantic, and so here we have "over" fifty
gentlemen's private collections ransacked and anatomised. If _they_ like
it, we have no reason to complain, but rather have occasion to rejoice
in the valuable and interesting result.

It is quite natural that their ways of esteeming a collection should not
be as our ways. There is a story of a Cockney auctioneer, who had a
location in the back settlements to dispose of, advertising that it was
"almost entirely covered with fine old timber." To many there would
appear to be an equal degree of verdant simplicity in mentioning among
the specialties and distinguishing features of a collection - the
Biographia and Encyclopædia Britannica, Lowndes's Manual, the Quarterly
and Edinburgh Reviews, Boyle, Ducange, Moreri, Dodsley's Annual
Register, Watt's Bibliotheca, and Diodorus Siculus.

The statement that there is in Dr Francis's collection a "complete set
of the Recueil des Causes Célèbres, collected by Maurice Mejan, in
eighteen volumes - a scarce and valuable work" - would throw any of our
black-letter knight-errants into convulsions of laughter. There are also
some instances of perhaps not unnatural confusion between one merely
local British celebrity and another, as where it is set forth that in Mr
Noyes's collection "there is a fine copy of Sir Robert Walpole's works,
in five large quarto volumes, embellished with plates." But under all

Online LibraryJohn Hill BurtonThe book-hunter : etc. → online text (page 17 of 33)