John Hill Burton.

The book-hunter, etc. online

. (page 1 of 24)
Online LibraryJohn Hill BurtonThe book-hunter, etc. → online text (page 1 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook













HIS book owes its existence
to a concurrence of accidents.
The Author had the honour
of contributing to Blackwood's Magazine
some sketches of the ways of book-col-
lectors, scholars, literary investigators, de-
sultory readers, and other persons whose
pursuits revolve round books and litera-
ture. Some friendly criticisms having
induced him to reflect on what he had
written, he saw, as will generally happen


in such cases, that were he to go over the
ground again, he would find much that he
would desire to alter, and many things
that might be added. He therefore re-
solved to recast the whole and expand it
to the compass of a thin volume. The
thin volume, however, fattened as it ap-
proached maturity, until it reached the
respectable dimensions in which it now
awaits the appreciation of any reader who
may think it worthy of his attention.

ISoofc = Jguntir*












t E& Ijte

THE HOBBY, ........ 88




PRETENDERS, ........ 150




. %! Club.




SOME BOOK-CLUB MEN, ...... 258

$art 5$. 380ofc-CIu6 JUteraturr.











HE Title under which the discur-
sive contents of the following pages
are ranged, has no better justifica-
tion than that it suited myself. I
hope it may also suit the reader.
If they laid any claim to a scientific character, or
professed to contain an exposition of any estab-
lished department of knowledge, it might have been
their privilege to appear under a title of Greek de-
rivation, with all the dignities and immunities con-
ceded by immemorial deference to this stamp of
scientific rank. I not only, however, consider my


OAvn trifles unworthy of such a dignity, but am. in-
clined to strip it from other productions which
might appear to have a more appropriate claim to
it. ISTo doubt, the ductile inflections and wonder-
ful facilities for decomposition and reconstruction
make Greek an excellent vehicle of scientific pre-
cision, and the use of a dead language saves your
nomenclature from being confounded with your
common talk. The use of a Greek derivative gives
notice that you are scientific. If you speak of an
acanthopterygian, it is plain that you are not dis-
cussing perch in reference to its culinary merits ;
and if you make an allusion to monomyarian ma-
lacology, it will not naturally be supposed to have
reference to the cooking of oyster-sauce.

Like many other meritorious things, however,
Greek nomenclature is much abused. The very
reverence it is held in the strong disinclination on
the part of the public to question the accuracy of
anything stated under the shadow of a Greek name,
or to doubt the infallibility of the man who uses
it makes this kind of nomenclature the frequent
protector of fallacies and quackeries. It is an in-
strument for silencing inquiry and handing over
the judgment to implicit belief. Get the passive
student once into palaeozoology, and he takes your
other hard names your ichthyodorulite, trogon-
therium, lepidodendron, and bothrodendron for
granted, contemplating them, indeed, with a kind
of religious awe or devotional reverence. If it be a


question, whether a term is categorematic, or is of a
quite opposite description, and ought to be described
as swttcategorematic, one may take up a very abso-
lute positive position without finding many people
prepared to assail it.

Antiquarianisni, which used to be an easy-going
slipshod sort of pursuit, has sought this all-powerful
protection and called itself Archaeology. An obli-
terated manuscript written over again is called a pa-
limpsest, and the man who can restore and read it a
paleographist. The great erect stone on the nioor,
which has hitherto defied all learning to find the
faintest trace of the age in which it was erected, its
purpose, or the people who placed it there, seems as
it were to be rescued from the heathen darkness in
which it has dwelt, and to be admitted within the
community of scientific truth, by being christened a
monolith. If there be any remains of sculpture on
the stone, it becomes a lythoglyph or a hieroglyph ;
and if the nature and end of this sculpture be quite
incomprehensible to the adepts, they may term it a
cryptoglyph, and thus dignify, by a sort of title of
honour, the absoluteness of their ignorance. It
were a pity if any more ingenious man should after-
wards find a key to the mystery, and destroy the
significance of the established nomenclature.

The vendors of quack medicines and cosmetics are
aware of the power of Greek nomenclature, and ap-
parently subsidise scholars of some kind or other to
supply them with the article. A sort of shaving soap


used frequently to be advertised under a title which
was as complexly adjusted a piece of mosaic work
as the geologists or the conchologists ever turned
out. But perhaps the confidence in the protective-
power of Greek designations has just at this moment
reached its climax, in an attempt to save thieves
from punishment by calling them kleptomaniacs.

It is possible that, were I to attempt to dignify
the class of men to whom the following sketches are
devoted by an appropriate scientific title, a difficulty
would start up at the very beginning. As the
reader will perhaps see, from the tenor of my dis-
course, I would find it difficult to say whether I
should give them a good name or a bad to speak
more scientifically, and of course more clearly, whether
I should characterise them by a predicate eulogistic,
or a predicate dyslogistic. On the whole, I am con-
tent with my first idea, and shall stick to the title of
" The Book-Hunter." *

Few wiser things have ever been said than that
remark of Byron's, that " man is an unfortunate
fellow, and ever will be." Perhaps the originality

* To afford the reader, however, an opportunity of noting
at a glance the appropriate learned terms applicable to the
different sets of persons who meddle with books, I subjoin
the following definitions, as rendered in D' Israeli's Curiosities,
from the Chasse aux Bibliographes et A ntiquaires mal advises
of Jean Joseph Rive :

"A bibliognoste, from the Greek, is one knowing in title-
pages and colophons, and in editions ; the place and year


of the fundamental idea it expresses may be ques-
tioned, on the ground that the same warning has
been enounced in far more solemn language, and
from a far more august authority. But there is
originality in the vulgar everyday- world way of put-
ting the idea, and this makes it suit the present pur-
pose, in which, a human frailty having to be dealt
with, there is no intention to be either devout or
philosophical about it, but to treat it in a thoroughly
worldly and practical tone, and in this temper to judge
of its place among the defects and ills to which
flesh is heir. It were better, perhaps, if we human
creatures sometimes did this, and discussed our com-
mon frailties as each himself partaking of them, than
that we should mount, as we are so apt to do, into
the clouds of theology or of ethics, according as
our temperament and training are of the serious or
of the intellectual order. True, there are many of
our brethren violently ready to proclaim themselves
frail mortals, miserable sinners, and no better, in
theological phraseology, than the greatest of crimi-
nals. But such has been my own unfortunate ex-

when printed ; the presses whence issued ; and all the minu-
tiae of a book." "A bibliographe is a describer of books
and other literary arrangements. " " A bibliomane is an in-
discriminate accumulator, who blunders faster than he buys,
cock-brained and purse-heavy." "A bibliophile, the lover
of books, is the only one in the class who appears to read them
for his own pleasure." "Abibliotaphe buries his books, by
keeping them under lock, or framing them in glass cases."


perience in life, that whenever I find a man coming
forward with these self-denunciations on his lips, I
am prepared for an exhibition of intolerance, spiri-
tual pride, and envy, hatred, malice, and all unchari-
tableness, towards any poor fellow- creature who has
floundered a little out of the straight path, and,
being all too conscious of his errors, is not prepared
to proclaim them in those broad emphatic terms
which come so readily to the lips of the censors,
who at heart believe themselves spotless, just as
complaints about poverty, and inability to buy this
and that, come from the fat lips of the millionaire,
when he shows you his gallery of pictures, his stud,
and his forcing-frames.

No ; it is hard to choose between the two. The
man who has no defect or crack in his character
no tinge of even the minor immoralities no fan-
tastic humour carrying him sometimes off his feet
no preposterous hobby such a man, walking straight
along the surface of this world in the arc of a circle,
is a very dangerous character, no doubt ; of such all
children, dogs, simpletons, and other creatures that
have the instinct of the odious in their nature, feel
an innate loathing. And yet it is questionable if
your perfectionised Sir Charles Grandison is quite
so dangerous a character as your "miserable sinner,"
vociferously conscious that he is the frailest of the
frail, and that he can do no good thing of himself.
And indeed, in practice, the external symptoms of
these two characteristics have been known so to


alternate in one disposition as to render it evident
that each is but the same moral nature under a
different external aspect, the mask, cowl, varnish,
crust, or whatever you like to call it, having been
adapted to the external conditions of the man that
is, to the society he mixes in, the set he belongs to,
the habits of the age, and the way in which he pro-
poses to get on in life. It is when the occasion
arises for the mask being thrown aside, or when
the internal passions burst like a volcano through
the crust, that terrible events take place, and the
world throbs with the excitement of some wonder-
ful criminal trial.*

* It has often been observed that it is among the Society
of Friends, who keep so tight a rein on the passions and
propensities, that these make the most terrible work when
they break loose. De Quincey, in one of his essays on his
contemporaries, giving a sketch of a man of great genius
and high scholarship, whose life was early clouded by in-
sanity, gives some curious statements about the effects of
the system of rigid restraint exercised by the .Society of
Friends, which I am not prepared either to support or con-
tradict. After describing the system of restraint itself, he
says : ' ' This is known, but it is not equally known that
this unnatural restraint, falling into collision with two forces
at once the force of passion and of youth not unfrequently
records its own injurious tendencies, and publishes the re-
bellious movements of nature by distinct and anomalous
diseases. And, further, I have been assured, upon most ex-
cellent authority, that these diseases strange and elaborate
affections of the nervous system are found exclusively among
the young men and women of the Quaker Society ; that
they are known and understood exclusively amongst physi-


The present, however, is not an inquiry into the
first principles either of ethics or of physiology.
The object of this rambling preamble is to win from
the reader a morsel of genial fellow-feeling towards
the human frailty which we are going to examine
and lay bare before him, trusting that he will treat
it neither with the haughty disdain of the inimacu-

cians who have practised in great towns having a large
Quaker population, such as Birmingham ; that they assume
a new type and a more inveterate character in the second
or third generation, to whom this fatal inheritance is often
transmitted ; and, finally, that if this class of nervous de-
rangements does not increase so much as to attract public
attention, it is simply because the community itself the
Quaker body- -does not increase, but, on the contrary, is
rather on the wane."

There exist many good stories which have for their point
the passions of the natural man breaking forth, in members
of this persuasion, in a shape more droll than distressing.
One of the best of these is a north- country anecdote pre-
served by Francis Douglas in his description of the east
coast of Scotland. The hero was the first Quaker of that
Barclay family which produced the apologist and the pugil-
ist. He was a colonel in the great civil wars, and had seen
wild work in his day ; but in his old age a change came
over him, and, becoming a follower of George Fox, he re-
tired to spend his old age on his ancestral estate in Kin-
cardineshire. Here it came to pass that a brother laird
thought the old Quaker could be easily done, and began to
encroach upon his marches. Barclay, a strong man, with
the iron sinews of his race, and their tierce spirit still burn-
ing in his eyes, strode up to the encroacher, and, with a
grim smile, spoke thus : ' ' Friend, thou knowest that I
have become a man of peace and have relinquished strife,
and therefore thou art endeavouring to take what is not


late, nor the grim charity of the "miserable sinner:"
that he may even, when sighing over it as a failing,
yet kindly remember that, in comparison with many
others, it is a failing that leans to virtue's side. It
Avill 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.*

thine own, but mine, because thou believest that, having
abjured the arm of the flesh, I cannot hinder thee. And yet,
as thy friend, I advise thee to desist ; for shouldst thou suc-
ceed in rousing the old Adam within me, perchance he may
prove too strong, not only for me, but for thee." There
was no use of attempting to answer such an argument.

* In the renowned Dame aux Camelias, the respectable,
rigid, and rather indignant father, addresses his erring son
thus : "Que vous ayez une maitresse, c'est fort bien ; que
vous la payiez comme un galant homme doit payer 1'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 jus-
qu'au fond de ma province, et jette 1'ombre d'une tache sur
le nom honorable que je vous ai donng voilS, ce qui ne
peut etre, voila 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 vic-
tim spends his wife's fortune at the gaming-table, leaves
her to starve, lives with another woman, and, having com-
mitted 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 !


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 con-
versation with broad descriptions of the abominable
vices of their several spouses, said her own " was just
a gueed, weel-tempered, couthy, queat, innocent, daed-
lin, 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 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
usquebah, 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 boil-
ing water, and a cask of sugar with a spade in it,
all for the manufacture of toddy.

But, in truth, the feeling that in some quarters
might be raised by this cool way of treating such
social phenomena, excites some misgivings about
calling attention to any kind of human frailty or
folly, since the world is full of people who are pre-
pared 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 satis-
factorily 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 tlmmbikins,
even the pillory and the stocks, have disappeared ;
death - punishment is dwindling away, and if con-
victs 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 ad-
mitted 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 de-
tained 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 un-
rationalised population.

There is rather au 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 it, 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 manage-
ment 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 read-
ing. There is a good chance, therefore, that this
little book may pass them unnoticed, and the harm-
less 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 speci-
mens of the class.

Wteian of

S the first case, let us summon from
the shades my venerable friend Arch-
deacon 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 search-
ing for him 011 from bookstall unto bookstall, just
as the mothers, wives, and daughters of other lost
men hunt them through their favourite taverns?
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 disap-
peared with all his money in his pocket, and re-


turned penniless, followed by a waggon containing
372 copies of rare editions of the Bible 1 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 watch-
ing 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 pos-
sessed 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 mis-
giving 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 de-
ceiving himself, into the belief that his previous
purchases were necessary, or, at all events, service-
able for professional and literary purposes. He now
becomes shameless and hardened ; and it is observ-
able 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 abandon-
ment to its propensities. The Archdeacon had long
passed this stage ere he crossed my path, and had
become thoroughly hardened. He was not remark-
able 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 re-
solved, at least once in his life, to part with a con-
siderable proportion of his collection better to
suffer the anguish of such an act than endure the
fretting of continued restraint. There was a won-
drous sale by auction accordingly ; it was something
like what may have occurred at the dissolution of
the monasteries at the Eeformation, or when the
contents of some time-honoured public library were

Online LibraryJohn Hill BurtonThe book-hunter, etc. → online text (page 1 of 24)