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side. It will not demand that breadth of charity which even rather rigid
fathers are permitted to exercise by the licence of the existing school
of French fiction.[25] Neither will it exact such extensive toleration
as that of the old Aberdeen laird's wife, who, when her sister
lairdesses were enriching the tea-table conversation with broad
descriptions of the abominable vices of their several spouses, said her
own "was just a gueed, weel-tempered, couthy, queat, innocent, daedlin,
drucken body - wi' nae ill practices aboot him ava!" But all things in
their own time and place. To understand the due weight and bearing of
this feeling of optimism, it is necessary to remember that its happy
owner had probably spent her youth in that golden age when it was deemed
churlish to bottle the claret, and each guest filled his stoup at the
fountain of the flowing hogshead; and if the darker days of dear claret
came upon her times, there was still to fall back upon the silver age of
smuggled usquebaugh, when the types of a really hospitable country-house
were an anker of whisky always on the spigot, a caldron ever on the
bubble with boiling water, and a cask of sugar with a spade in it, - all
for the manufacture of toddy.

[Footnote 25: In the renowned Dame aux Camélias, the respectable, rigid,
and rather indignant father, addresses his erring son thus: "Que vous
ayez une maîtresse, c'est fort bien; que vous la payiez comme un galant
homme doit payer l'amour d'une fille entretenue, c'est on ne peut mieux;
mais que vous oubliez les choses les plus saintes pour elle, que vous
permettiez que la bruit de votre vie scandaleuse arrive jusqu'au fond de
ma province, et jette l'ombre d'une tache sur le nom honorable que je
vous ai donné - voilà ce qui ne peut être, voilà ce qui ne sera pas."

So even the French novelists draw the line "somewhere," and in other
departments of morals they may be found drawing it closer than many good
uncharitable Christians among us would wish. In one very popular novel
the victim spends his wife's fortune at the gaming-table, leaves her to
starve, lives with another woman, and, having committed forgery, plots
with the Mephistopheles of the story to buy his own safety at the price
of his wife's honour. This might seem bad enough, but worse remains. It
is told in a smothered whisper, by the faithful domestic, to the
horrified family, that he has reason to suspect his master of having
indulged, once at least, if not oftener, in brandy-and-water!]

The habits of that age have passed away, and with them the drunken laird
and the widely tolerant wife. The advancing civilisation which has
nearly extinguished this class of frailties among those who have the
amplest means of indulgence in them, is, no doubt, doing for other
frailties, and will come at last to the one in hand, leaving it an
object of admiring and compassionate retrospect to an enlightened
posterity. There are people, however, too impatient to wait for such
results from the mellowing influence of progressive civilisation. Such a
consideration suggests to me that I may be treading on dangerous
ground - dangerous, I mean, to the frail but amiable class to whom my
exposition is devoted. Natural misgivings arise in one who professes to
call attention to a special type of human frailty, since the world is
full of people who will be prepared to deal with and cure it, provided
only that they are to have their own way with the disease and the
patient, and that they shall enjoy the simple privilege of locking him
up, dieting him, and taking possession of his worldly goods and
interests, as one who, by his irrational habits, or his outrages on the
laws of physiology, or the fitness of things, or some other neology, has
satisfactorily established his utter incapacity to take charge of his
own affairs. No! This is not a cruel age; the rack, the wheel, the boot,
the thumbikins, even the pillory and the stocks, have disappeared;
death-punishment is dwindling away; and if convicts have not their full
rations of cooked meat, or get damaged coffee or sour milk, or are
inadequately supplied with flannels and clean linen, there will be an
outcry and an inquiry, and a Secretary of State will lose a percentage
of his influence, and learn to look better after the administration of
patronage. But, at the same time, the area of punishment - or of
"treatment," as it is mildly termed - becomes alarmingly widened, and
people require to look sharply into themselves lest they should be
tainted with any little frailty or peculiarity which may transfer them
from the class of free self-regulators to that of persons under
"treatment." In Owen's parallelograms there were to be no prisons: he
admitted no power in one man to inflict punishment upon another for
merely obeying the dictates of natural propensities which could not be
resisted. But, at the same time, there were to be "hospitals" in which
not only the physically diseased, but also the mentally and _morally_
diseased, were to be detained until they were cured; and when we reflect
that the laws of the parallelogram were very stringent and minute, and
required to be absolutely enforced to the letter, otherwise the whole
machinery of society would come to pieces, like a watch with a broken
spring, - it is clear that these hospitals would have contained a very
large proportion of the unrationalised population.

There is rather an alarming amount of this sort of communism now among
us, and it is therefore with some little misgiving that one sets down
anything that may betray a brother's weakness, and lay bare the
diagnosis of a human frailty. Indeed, the bad name that proverbially
hangs the dog has already been given to the one under consideration, for
bibliomania is older in the technology of this kind of nosology than
dipsomania, which is now understood to be an almost established ground
for seclusion, and deprivation of the management of one's own affairs.
There is one ground of consolation, however, - the people who, being all
right themselves, have undertaken the duty of keeping in order the rest
of the world, have far too serious a task in hand to afford time for
idle reading. There is a good chance, therefore, that this little book
may pass them unnoticed, and the harmless class, on whose peculiar
frailties the present occasion is taken for devoting a gentle and kindly
exposition, may yet be permitted to go at large.

So having spoken, I now propose to make the reader acquainted with some
characteristic specimens of the class.




A Vision of Mighty Book-Hunters.


As the first case, let us summon from the shades my venerable friend
Archdeacon Meadow, as he was in the body. You see him now - tall,
straight, and meagre, but with a grim dignity in his air which warms
into benignity as he inspects a pretty little clean Elzevir, or a tall
portly Stephens, concluding his inward estimate of the prize with a
peculiar grunting chuckle, known by the initiated to be an important
announcement. This is no doubt one of the milder and more inoffensive
types, but still a thoroughly confirmed and obstinate case. Its parallel
to the classes who are to be taken charge of by their wiser neighbours
is only too close and awful; for have not sometimes the female members
of his household been known on occasion of some domestic emergency - or,
it may be, for mere sake of keeping the lost man out of mischief - to
have been searching for him on from bookstall unto bookstall, just as
the mothers, wives, and daughters of other lost men hunt them through
their favourite taverns or gambling-houses? Then, again, can one forget
that occasion of his going to London to be examined by a committee of
the House of Commons, when he suddenly disappeared with all his money in
his pocket, and returned penniless, followed by a waggon containing 372
copies of rare editions of the Bible? All were fish that came to his
net. At one time you might find him securing a minnow for sixpence at a
stall - and presently afterwards he outbids some princely collector, and
secures with frantic impetuosity, "at any price," a great fish he has
been patiently watching year after year. His hunting-grounds were wide
and distant, and there were mysterious rumours about the numbers of
copies, all identically the same in edition and minor individualities,
which he possessed of certain books. I have known him, indeed, when
beaten at an auction, turn round resignedly and say, "Well, so be
it - but I daresay I have ten or twelve copies at home, if I could lay
hands on them."

It is a matter of extreme anxiety to his friends, and, if he have a
well-constituted mind, of sad misgiving to himself, when the collector
buys his first _duplicate_. It is like the first secret dram swallowed
in the forenoon - the first pawning of the silver spoons - or any other
terrible first step downwards you may please to liken it to. There is no
hope for the patient after this. It rends at once the veil of decorum
spun out of the flimsy sophisms by which he has been deceiving his
friends, and partially deceiving himself, into the belief that his
previous purchases were necessary, or, at all events, serviceable for
professional and literary purposes. He now becomes shameless and
hardened; and it is observable in the career of this class of
unfortunates, that the first act of duplicity is immediately followed by
an access of the disorder, and a reckless abandonment to its
propensities. The Archdeacon had long passed this stage ere he crossed
my path, and had become thoroughly hardened. He was not remarkable for
local attachment; and in moving from place to place, his spoil, packed
in innumerable great boxes, sometimes followed him, to remain unreleased
during the whole period of his tarrying in his new abode, so that they
were removed to the next stage of his journey through life with modified
inconvenience.

Cruel as it may seem, I must yet notice another and a peculiar vagary of
his malady. He had resolved, at least once in his life, to part with a
considerable proportion of his collection - better to suffer the anguish
of such an act than endure the fretting of continued restraint. There
was a wondrous sale by auction accordingly; it was something like what
may have occurred on the dissolution of the monasteries at the
Reformation, or when the contents of some time-honoured public library
were realised at the period of the French Revolution. Before the affair
was over, the Archdeacon himself made his appearance in the midst of the
miscellaneous self-invited guests who were making free with his
treasures, - he pretended, honest man, to be a mere casual spectator,
who, having seen, in passing, the announcement of a sale by auction,
stepped in like the rest of the public. By degrees he got excited,
gasped once or twice as if mastering some desperate impulse, and at
length fairly bade. He could not brazen out the effect of this escapade,
however, and disappeared from the scene. It was remarked by the
observant, that an unusual number of lots were afterwards knocked down
to a military gentleman, who seemed to have left portentously large
orders with the auctioneer. Some curious suspicions began to arise,
which were settled by that presiding genius bending over his rostrum,
and explaining in a confidential whisper that the military hero was in
reality a pillar of the Church so disguised.

The Archdeacon lay under what, among a portion of the victims of his
malady, was deemed a heavy scandal. He was suspected of reading his own
books - that is to say, when he could get at them; for there are those
who may still remember his rather shamefaced apparition of an evening,
petitioning, somewhat in the tone with which an old schoolfellow down in
the world requests your assistance to help him to go to York to get an
appointment - petitioning for the loan of a volume of which he could not
deny that he possessed numberless copies lurking in divers parts of his
vast collection. This reputation of reading the books in his collection,
which should be sacred to external inspection solely, is, with a certain
school of book-collectors, a scandal, such as it would be among a
hunting set to hint that a man had killed a fox. In the dialogues, not
always the most entertaining, of Dibdin's Bibliomania, there is this
short passage: "'I will frankly confess,' rejoined Lysander, 'that I am
an arrant _bibliomaniac_ - that I love books dearly - that the very sight,
touch, and mere perusal - - ' 'Hold, my friend,' again exclaimed
Philemon; 'you have renounced your profession - you talk of _reading_
books - do _bibliomaniacs_ ever _read_ books?'"

Yes, the Archdeacon read books - he devoured them; and he did so to full
prolific purpose. His was a mind enriched with varied learning, which he
gave forth with full, strong, easy flow, like an inexhaustible perennial
spring coming from inner reservoirs, never dry, yet too capacious to
exhibit the brawling, bubbling symptoms of repletion. It was from a
majestic heedlessness of the busy world and its fame that he got the
character of indolence, and was set down as one who would leave no
lasting memorial of his great learning. But when he died, it was not
altogether without leaving a sign; for from the casual droppings of his
pen has been preserved enough to signify to many generations of students
in the walk he chiefly affected how richly his mind was stored, and how
much fresh matter there is in those fields of inquiry where compilers
have left their dreary tracks, for ardent students to cultivate into a
rich harvest. In him truly the bibliomania may be counted among the many
illustrations of the truth so often moralised on, that the highest
natures are not exempt from human frailty in some shape or other.

Let us now summon the shade of another departed victim - Fitzpatrick
Smart, Esq. He, too, through a long life, had been a vigilant and
enthusiastic collector, but after a totally different fashion. He was
far from omnivorous. He had a principle of selection peculiar and
separate from all other's, as was his own individuality from other
men's. You could not classify his library according to any of the
accepted nomenclatures peculiar to the initiated. He was not a
black-letter man, or a tall copyist, or an uncut man, or a rough-edge
man, or an early-English-dramatist, or an Elzevirian, or a broadsider,
or a pasquinader, or an old-brown-calf man, or a Grangerite, or a
tawny-moroccoite, or a gilt-topper, a marbled-insider, or an _editio
princeps_ man; neither did he come under any of the more vulgar
classifications of collectors whose thoughts run more upon the
usefulness for study than upon the external conditions of their library,
such as those who affect science, or the classics, or English poetic and
historical literature. There was no way of defining his peculiar walk
save by his own name - it was the Fitzpatrick-Smart walk. In fact, it
wound itself in infinite windings through isolated spots of literary
scenery, if we may so speak, in which he took a personal interest. There
were historical events, bits of family history, chiefly of a tragic or a
scandalous kind, - efforts of art or of literary genius on which, through
some hidden intellectual law, his mind and memory loved to dwell; and it
was in reference to these that he collected. If the book were the one
desired by him, no anxiety and toil, no payable price, was to be grudged
for its acquisition. If the book were an inch out of his own line, it
might be trampled in the mire for aught he cared, be it as rare or
costly as it could be.

It was difficult, almost impossible, for others to predicate what would
please this wayward sort of taste, and he was the torment of the
book-caterers, who were sure of a princely price for the right article,
but might have the wrong one thrown in their teeth with contumely. It
was a perilous, but, if successful, a gratifying thing to present him
with a book. If it happened to hit his fancy, he felt the full force of
the compliment, and overwhelmed the giver with his courtly thanks. But
great observation and tact were required for such an adventure. The
chances against an ordinary thoughtless gift-maker were thousands to
one; and those who were acquainted with his strange nervous temperament,
knew that the existence within his dwelling-place of any book not of his
own special kind, would impart to him the sort of feeling of uneasy
horror which a bee is said to feel when an earwig comes into its cell.
Presentation copies by authors were among the chronic torments of his
existence. While the complacent author was perhaps pluming himself on
his liberality in making the judicious gift, the recipient was pouring
out all his sarcasm, which was not feeble or slight, on the odious
object, and wondering why an author could have entertained against him
so steady and enduring a malice as to take the trouble of writing and
printing all that rubbish with no better object than disturbing the
peace of mind of an inoffensive old man. Every tribute from such _dona
ferentes_ cost him much uneasiness and some want of sleep - for what
could he do with it? It was impossible to make merchandise of it, for he
was every inch a gentleman. He could not burn it, for under an acrid
exterior he had a kindly nature. It was believed, indeed, that he had
established some limbo of his own, in which such unwelcome commodities
were subject to a kind of burial or entombment, where they remained in
existence, yet were decidedly outside the circle of his household gods.

These gods were a pantheon of a lively and grotesque aspect, for he was
a hunter after other things besides books. His acquisitions included
pictures, and the various commodities which, for want of a distinctive
name, auctioneers call "miscellaneous articles of vertu." He started on
his accumulating career with some old family relics, and these, perhaps,
gave the direction to his subsequent acquisitions, for they were all,
like his books, brought together after some self-willed and peculiar law
of association that pleased himself. A bad, even an inferior, picture he
would not have - for his taste was exquisite - unless, indeed, it had some
strange history about it, adapting it to his wayward fancies, and then
he would adopt the badness as a peculiar recommendation, and point it
out with some pungent and appropriate remark to his friends. But though,
with these peculiar exceptions, his works of art were faultless, no
dealer could ever calculate on his buying a picture, however high in
artistic merit or tempting as a bargain. With his ever-accumulating
collection, in which tiny sculpture and brilliant colour predominated,
he kept a sort of fairy world around him. But each one of the mob of
curious things he preserved had some story linking it with others, or
with his peculiar fancies, and each one had its precise place in a sort
of _epos_, as certainly as each of the persons in the confusion of a
pantomime or a farce has his own position and functions.

After all, he was himself his own greatest curiosity. He had come to
manhood just after the period of gold-laced waistcoats, small-clothes,
and shoe-buckles, otherwise he would have been long a living memorial of
these now antique habits. It happened to be his lot to preserve down to
us the earliest phase of the pantaloon dynasty. So, while the rest of
the world were booted or heavy shod, his silk-stockinged feet were
thrust into pumps of early Oxford cut, and the predominant garment was
the surtout, blue in colour, and of the original make before it came to
be called a frock. Round his neck was wrapped an ante-Brummelite
neckerchief (not a tie), which projected in many wreaths like a great
poultice - and so he took his walks abroad, a figure which he could
himself have turned into admirable ridicule.

One of the mysteries about him was, that his clothes, though unlike any
other person's, were always old. This characteristic could not even be
accounted for by the supposition that he had laid in a sixty years'
stock in his youth, for they always appeared to have been a good deal
worn. The very umbrella was in keeping - it was of green silk, an
obsolete colour ten years ago - and the handle was of a peculiar
crosier-like formation in cast-horn, obviously not obtainable in the
market. His face was ruddy, but not with the ruddiness of youth; and,
bearing on his head a Brutus wig of the light-brown hair which had long
ago legitimately shaded his brow, when he stood still - except for his
linen, which was snowy white - one might suppose that he had been shot
and stuffed on his return home from college, and had been sprinkled with
the frowzy mouldiness which time imparts to stuffed animals and other
things, in which a semblance to the freshness of living nature is vainly
attempted to be preserved. So if he were motionless; but let him speak,
and the internal freshness was still there, an ever-blooming garden of
intellectual flowers. His antiquated costume was no longer grotesque - it
harmonised with an antiquated courtesy and high-bred gentleness of
manner, which he had acquired from the best sources, since he had seen
the first company in his day, whether for rank or genius. And
conversation and manner were far from exhausting his resources. He had a
wonderful pencil - it was potent for the beautiful, the terrible, and the
ridiculous; but it took a wayward wilful course, like everything else
about him. He had a brilliant pen, too, when he chose to wield it; but
the idea that he should exercise any of these his gifts in common
display before the world, for any even of the higher motives that make
people desire fame and praise, would have sickened him. His faculties
were his own as much as his collection, and to be used according to his
caprice and pleasure. So fluttered through existence one who, had it
been his fate to have his own bread to make, might have been a great
man. Alas for the end! Some curious annotations are all that remain of
his literary powers - some drawings and etchings in private collections
all of his artistic. His collection, with its long train of legends and
associations, came to what he himself must have counted as dispersal. He
left it to his housekeeper, who, like a wise woman, converted it into
cash while its mysterious reputation was fresh. Huddled in a great
auction-room, its several catalogued items lay in humiliating contrast
with the decorous order in which they were wont to be arranged. _Sic
transit gloria mundi._

Let us now call up a different and a more commonplace type of the
book-hunter - it shall be Inchrule Brewer. He is guiltless of all
intermeddling with the contents of books, but in their external
attributes his learning is marvellous. He derived his nickname, from the
practice of keeping, as his inseparable pocket-companion, one of those
graduated folding measures of length which may often be seen protruding
from the moleskin pocket of the joiner. He used it at auctions and on
other appropriate occasions, to measure the different elements of a
book - the letterpress - the unprinted margin - the external expanse of the
binding; for to the perfectly scientific collector all these things are
very significant.[26] They are, in fact, on record among the craft, like
the pedigrees and physical characteristics recorded in stud-books and
short-horn books. One so accomplished in this kind of analysis could
tell at once, by this criterion, whether the treasure under the hammer
was the same that had been knocked down before at the Roxburghe
sale - the Askew, the Gordonstoun, or the Heber, perhaps - or was
veritably an impostor - or was in reality a new and previously unknown
prize well worth contending for. The minuteness and precision of his
knowledge excited wonder, and, being anomalous in the male sex even
among collectors, gave occasion to a rumour that its possessor must
veritably be an aged maiden in disguise.

[Footnote 26: Of the copy of the celebrated 1635 Elzevir Cæsar, in the
Imperial Library at Paris, Brunet triumphantly informs us that it is
four inches and ten-twelfths in height, and occupies the high position
of being the tallest copy of that volume in the world, since other
illustrious copies put in competition with it have been found not to
exceed four inches and eight, or, at the utmost, nine, twelfths.

"Ces détails," he subjoins, "paroitront sans doute puérils à bien des
gens: mais puisque c'est la grandeur des marges de ces sorts de livres
qu'en détermine la valeur, il faut bien fixer le _maximum_ de cette
grandeur, afin que les amateurs puissent apprécier les exemplaires qui



Online LibraryJohn Hill BurtonThe book-hunter : etc. → online text (page 8 of 33)