William Carew Hazlitt.

The book collector: a general survey of the pursuit and of those who have engaged in it at home and abroad from the earliest period to the present time. With an account of public and private libraries and anecdotes of their founders or owners and remarks on bookbinding and on special copies of books online

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Online LibraryWilliam Carew HazlittThe book collector: a general survey of the pursuit and of those who have engaged in it at home and abroad from the earliest period to the present time. With an account of public and private libraries and anecdotes of their founders or owners and remarks on bookbinding and on special copies of books → online text (page 6 of 22)
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this minority Sir Andrew Fountaine, Sir David Dundas, and Samuel
Addington may perhaps be accepted as types.

The most interesting, and it may with permission be added, intelligent
type of book-collector, however, seems to be that where, after a
certain measure of preparatory thought and training, one confines
acquisitions for permanent ownership to volumes for which the acquirer
has a genuine personal relish. In general, the principle of forming a
library on this wholesome basis would be found not only more useful,
but more economical, since the rarest and costliest articles are by no
means, on the whole, the most interesting or the most instructive. In
any case, the inconsiderate emulation by one collector of others, who
may have different objects and perhaps ampler resources, is a course
to be avoided. Even here there is more than a single source or ground
of inducement to purchase. Setting aside the mere book of reference,
which has to be multiplied to suit various exigencies, there may be
said to be three classes of literary property which rationally appeal
to our sympathy: (i) the volume which commends itself by its
intrinsic value and charm; (ii) that which has grown dear from
lengthened companionship and possibly hereditary link; (iii) and that
which, unimportant so far as its internal claims and merits are
concerned, bears on its face the evidence of having once belonged to a
favourite of our own or a world's hero.

One persuasive argument in favour of adopting the miscellaneous or
typical course in the choice of a library is the rapid growth of the
difficulty of meeting with the rarer items in all important
specialities. It is the general plan on the part of every follower of
particular lines to commence, very often casually, by bringing home
from time to time a few volumes on a certain topic, or in a given
class of literature, or by one or two of a school of writers; and such
a proceeding succeeds tolerably well, till the owner makes discovery
of volumes positively essential to his object, and unattainable save
by a heavy outlay - perchance not even to be had at any price. It is
nearly always the _lacunæ_ for which we yearn; one or two of our
richer friends have them, and we have not. What we possess anybody can
get in a morning's walk; we find that we have travelled a long
distance, and have come to an _impasse_. It is very seldom indeed that
a man is satisfied with the cheaper and commoner articles in a series,
if he is aware of the existence of those which just constitute the
corner-stones of such a collection as his.

On the contrary, by the process of sampling or picking out here and
there, now and again, a book or a set of books which chance or
circumstances may throw in our path, we may gradually acquire a
caseful of most desirable specimens, against which it is out of the
question to raise any charge of incompleteness, where incompleteness
is the governing aim. Book-buying under these conditions is a humour.
We are at liberty to take or leave. Because we conceive a fancy for a
work by this or that author, we feel under no obligation to
accommodate every scrap which he has printed, or which his friends or
followers have penned. The object of our personal selection suffices
us; and there perhaps we begin and we end. It is our humour.

The auctioneers' and booksellers' catalogues of the present day supply
an instructive demonstration of the gradual withdrawal from the market
of many thousands of articles, in Early English literature more
particularly, which at one time seemed to be of fairly frequent
recurrence. They have been taken up into public collections all over
the world; and the very few copies, not to speak of unique examples,
which time had spared, are beyond the reach of the private purchaser
of to-day. We have only to study with attention the Heber and other
leading records of former libraries existing in this and other
countries to become convinced that the facilities for acquiring an
approximately complete library of the rarer books grow narrower year
by year.

There is, I submit, far too prevalent a tendency in collectors to
follow suit, to attach themselves to leaders of temporary fashions. I
plead for a greater independence of opinion, where the taste is in any
reasonable measure cultivated and developed, or, again, where an
individual knows what pleases himself. By all means, if it happens
that he does not admire Shakespeare and Bacon, Sydney and Jonson,
Dryden and Pope, Byron and Shelley, Scott's novels or Lamb's _Elia_,
let him leave them alone, and make his own free choice, even if it be
to go in for _John Buncle_, the _Adventures of a Guinea_, or
Luttrell's _Letters to Julia_. There is always the room for hope that
he may quit those pastures after a time and seek more fruitful ones.
What is important and desirable, however, is that each person should
be his own caterer. Schools are only useful where some writer of real
genius has been neglected or overlooked, or been boycotted by the
press, and attention to his works is only a fair service to him, or a
becoming, if tardy, tribute to his memory.

Apropos of the increasing difficulty of obtaining certain old books
noted above, the extensive scale on which reproductions of original
editions of Early English literature have of recent years been made is
certainly a boon to literary inquirers, since the presence of such
reissues in our circulating libraries, if we do not choose to buy
them, tends at every step in many branches of work to help us, and to
render our undertakings more complete. It frequently occurs that
volumes and tracts, which are of very slight literary or intrinsic
value, contain valuable allusions and illustrations, which we might
miss in the absence of available copies. It is worth while to take in
one's hand even some puerile trifle by the author of _Adonais_, if one
is not obliged to buy it or asked to become the possessor. One feels a
curiosity to glance for a moment at a volume which, we are constantly
assured in the catalogue, the writer did his utmost to obliterate; and
we sometimes wish that he had fully succeeded.

Any of us, taking in his hands the series of _English Book-Collectors_
in course of issue by Mr. Quaritch (Nos. 1-12), will perceive without
difficulty, if he go no farther, the two distinct camps, so to speak,
into which the collecting fraternity may be, and is, broadly divided
and classifiable. You have, on the one hand, the men who followed
their personal taste, and amused their leisure in late years after a
busy life by purchasing such works or such descriptions of literature
as appealed to them and fell within their resources; again, the
scholar or investigator who assembled round him what illustrated his
studies, not merely with an aim at emulating others; or, once more,
the gentleman of fortune, who evolved from his school-day acquisitions
a feeling or a passion for higher things, and made it the business of
his maturer time - even made it his career - to carry out on a scale and
on lines dictated and governed by circumstances the predilection
formed in boyhood. On the contrary, there are for our consideration
and instruction the libraries which owed their existence to less
interesting motives, to the vague and untrained pursuit of rare and
expensive books and MSS., on the judgment of others in rivalry of
others, and the enterers into the field of competition with a
practical eye and a financial side-look. Of all these great divisions
there are varieties naturally arising from personal character; but of
the collector pure and simple of the older school, that type, we avow,
most warmly and potently attracts us which limited itself to the small
and unpretentious book-closet, with just those things which the master
loved for their own sakes or for the sakes of the donors - where the
commercial element was wanting, and where the library was not viewed
in the same light as railway or mining stock. It is a famous principle
to invest money prudently and well; but happy is he who is wise enough
to keep his library within narrow limits, and rich enough to leave it,
such as it may be, out of the category of realisable assets.

Mr. Quaritch's project possesses in our eyes the incidental merit of
providing us with personal accounts in a succinct form of many of the
past proprietors of English and American libraries, and enables us to
see at once how varied and fortuitous were the conditions under which
the task was begun and accomplished, with what different measures of
success and financial means; and in what a preponderance of instances
it was an individual rather than an hereditary trait. Broadly
speaking, we recognise two varieties of collector from all time: the
one who confers his name on a library, and the other whose library
confers a name on him.

Even the family of genuine book-lovers - neither virtuosos nor
speculators - presents more than a single type to our notice. We have
the student who takes a subject for treatment, and forms a small
gathering of the literary material necessary for his purpose, shooting
it back perchance into the market, his immediate task accomplished.
There is the man like Coleridge, who regarded the volumes which fell
in his way as casual and welcome visitors, of whom he asked questions,
or who answered his, and whose margins gave themselves up to his
untiring habit of registering whatever occurred to him, before the
passing - possibly borrowed - volume went on its way again. There is
Lamb, who was less addicted to annotating his acquisitions, but who
gave them a permanent home, if they had come to him _jure emptionis_,
and were of the elect - not presentation - copies, cold and crude,
thrust into his hand by some well-meaning acquaintance. There is
Edward Fitzgerald, dissimilar from all these, yet so far cognate that
he bought only the books which struck him as worth reading, if not
turning to some practical account. Nor should we in strict fairness
refuse admittance within this highest circle even to such as Selden,
Burton, Pepys, and others who might be easily enumerated, who may
have been little more than curiosity-hunters, but who had a genuine
relish for pieces of old popular literature, the greatest rarities in
the language inclusive, when there was barely any competition for
them. The man of the old school, who ransacked the shops and the
stalls, and even attended the auction, may have been a faddist and a
superficial student; but his was an honest sort of zeal and affection;
there was no vanity or jealousy; and we meet with cases where one
collector would surrender to another an acquisition which the latter
happened to have missed, and to want very badly indeed. So Isaac Reed
gave up to George Steevens Marlowe's _Dido_, and so George III.
enjoined his agent not to bid for him against a student or a scholar.

I have not yet quite done with this aspect of the matter. I have to
speak of the personages who have thought fit to impose on themselves a
chronological or a financial limit, who drew the line at a given year,
or would not go beyond a certain figure. Mr. Henry Pyne laid down 1600
as the latest date which he would admit, and rarely exceeded a
sovereign or two for a single article (Dr. Doran gave me to understand
that fourpence was _his maximum_). It may appear strange to suggest
that the higher the sum paid for a book (assuming it to be worth the
money), the slighter the risk grows of the purchase proving
pecuniarily unprofitable. Yet at the same time outlay on a library is
a relative term, and one individual may account himself as frugal in
expending £30,000 in the course of a lifetime, as another may do in
expending £300. The late Earl of Ashburnham bought in chief measure
during the forties and fifties, when the reaction from the bibliomania
still more or less sensibly prevailed, and considering his Lordship's
position and resources, he was not much more lavish than the
above-mentioned Mr. Pyne, or indeed any other amateur of average
calibre, while he was to the full extent as genuine a follower of the
pursuit for its mere sake as anybody whom we could name - as the Duke
of Roxburghe, Mr. Heber, Mr. Corser, or Mr. Crossley.

In my _Rolls of Collectors_ I specify a type under the designation of
_Book-Recipients_, and I instance such cases as Dickens and Thackeray;
but in fact there are many who would never go in pursuit of anything
of the kind beyond a work of reference, and whose utmost exploit is
the payment of a friendly subscription. The only title to admittance
into my category of such doubtful enthusiasts is the sentimental
enhancement of value arising from the transformation of the margins of
a common-place volume into a repository for manuscript remarks or
graphic embellishments, which may send it back into the market some
day a three-figure item in a catalogue.

In attempting to indicate in a sort of tentative manner the
publications to which a private collection might be advantageously and
comfortably limited, one does not contemplate the shelf or so of mere
works of reference, which have to be obtained even by such as are not
amateurs in this direction, and, moreover, there is an obvious
difficulty in prescribing for persons of infinitely varied ideas and
prepossessions. Now, as to volumes for reference, the class and extent
of course depend on individual requirements, and the books outside
this radius are apt to be subject in their selection to local
circumstances, since a man associated with a district or county
naturally contracts a sympathy with its special history or its
archæological transactions, as well as any miscellaneous monographs
relating to particular places or celebrated persons. With such
specialities and preferences we cannot presume to interfere; but, as a
rule, the aggregate body comprised in them need not be large or very
expensive, and in catholic or general literature it becomes almost
surprising when we have taken the pains to winnow from literary
remains of real and permanent interest the preponderant mass, of which
the facilities for occasional examination at a public library ought to
suffice, how comparatively slender the residuum is.




CHAPTER VI

The safest course - Consideration of the relative value and
interest of books in libraries - The intrinsic and extrinsic
aspects - Consolation for the less wealthy buyer - The best books
among the cheapest - A few examples - Abundance of printed matter
in book-form - Schedule of Books which are Books - Remarks on
English translations of foreign literature.


WHEN we inspect a great library, filling three or four apartments
lined with cases, the first impression is that the possession of such
an assemblage of literary monuments is a privilege reserved for the
very wealthy; and to some extent so it is. But certain elements enter
into the constitution of all extensive accumulations of property of
any kind, whether it be books, prints, medals, or coins, which
inevitably swell the bulk and the cost without augmenting in anything
approaching an equal ratio the solid value. Not to wander from our
immediate field of inquiry and argument, the literary connoisseur,
starting perhaps with a fairly modest programme, acquires almost
insensibly an inclination to expand and diverge, until he becomes,
instead of the owner of a taste, the victim of an insatiable passion.
He not merely admits innumerable authors and works of whom or which he
originally knew nothing, but there are variant impressions, copies
with special readings or an unique _provenance_, bindings curious or
splendid; and nothing at last comes amiss, the means of purchase
presumed.

Yet, at the same time, he does not substantially possess, perhaps,
much more than the master of a _petite bibliothèque_, on which the
outlay has not been a hundredth part of his own. A considerable
proportion of his shelf-furniture are distant acquaintances, as it
were, and those acquisitions with which he is intimate are not
unlikely to prove less numerous than the belongings of his humbler and
less voracious contemporary.

Even where the object and ruling law are strict practical selections
of what pleases the buyer, the range of difference is very wide. One
man prefers the modern novelists, prose essayists, or verse writers; a
second, collections of caricatures and prints in book-form; a third,
topography; a fourth, the occult sciences, and so forth. I offer no
objection to these partialities; but I entertain an individual
preference for volumes chosen from nearly all branches of the _belles
lettres_, each for its own sake. I do not vote of necessity in all
cases for a book because it is rare, or because it is old, or because
it is the best edition; but I do not think that I should like any
scholar my friend to have the opportunity of pointing out to me (as he
would, wouldn't he?) that I lacked any real essential, as the child
tried to satisfy Longfellow that his shelves were not complete without
a copy of the undying romance of Jack the Giant-killer.

It cannot fail to strike any one opening such books as Bacon's _Sylva
Sylvarum_ or Markham's _Way to Get Wealth_, for how comparatively,
indeed absolutely, small a consideration it is possible to obtain two
works so brimful of interest and curiosity on all subjects connected
with gardening, agriculture, and rural pursuits or amusements. But
both these works long remained - the Bacon yet does so - outside the
collector's pale and cognisance, and the real cause was that they were
alike common; they had been the favourites of successive generations;
edition upon edition had been demanded; and the survival of copies was
too great to suit the book-hunter, who aims at shyer quarry.

Take again, as a sample, a noble old work like the English Bayle, five
substantial folios; it was a question of more than a five-pound note
to become the master of a good, well-bound copy; one in morocco or
russia by Roger Payne twice that amount could once scarcely have
brought down; and now it is _articulo mortis_. The connoisseur finds
it too bulky, and he hears that its matter has been superseded. At any
rate, it is no longer the _mode_, and the mill begins to acquire
familiarity with it. Let the taste return for such big game, and
copies will be as Caxtons are. Most part of the editions will ere then
have been served up again in the form of cheap book-drapery.

The _ne plus ultra_ of interest and respect seems to us to centre in
such collections of books as those of Samuel Pepys, Narcissus
Luttrell, the Rev. Henry White of Lichfield, and Charles Lamb, where
the volumes reflect the personal tastes of their owners, and are, or
have been, objects to them of personal regard. What is to be thought
or said of the man who simply buys works which happen to be in the
fashion for the moment, and for which he competes with others as wise
as himself, till the prices become ridiculous? English and American
millionaires acquire specimens of early typography, poetry, binding,
or what not, because they hear that it is the thing to do. One
gentleman will give £100 more for a copy, because he is credibly
informed that it is three-eighths of an inch taller than any other
known; and a second will take something from the vendor on the
assurance that no library of any pretensions is complete without it.
This sort of child's-play is not Book-Collecting. The true book-closet
and its master have to be kinsfolk, not acquaintances introduced by
some bookseller in waiting. Humanly speaking, the poor little
catalogue made by Hearne of his own books and MSS. comes nearer home
to our affections than those of Grenville and Huth.

In speaking and thinking of real books, it is necessary again to
distinguish between articulate productions of two classes - between
such a work, for example, as Defoe's _Robinson Crusoe_ and such an one
as Thoreau's _Walden_, or between Gibbon's _Decline and Fall of the
Roman Empire_ and Sir Thomas Browne's _Urn-Burial_. The present is an
enterprise directed toward the indication to collectors of different
views and tastes of the volumes which they should respectively select
for study or purchase. There are millions who have passed through
life unconsciously without having read a book, although they may have
seen, nay, possessed thousands. Those which might have been
recommended to them with advantage, and perused with advantage, were
too obscure, too dull, too cheap, too unfashionable. It is of no use
to read publications with which your acquaintances have no
familiarity, and to the merits of which it might be a hard task to
convert them. But, as we have said, we want space to enter into these
details, and we can only generalise bibliographically, repeating that
literature is broadly classifiable into Books and Things in
Book-Form - Specimens of Paper, Typography and Binding, or counterfeit
illusory distributions of printer's letter into words and sentences
and volumes by the passing favourites of each succeeding age - what
Thoreau call its "tit-men."

We might readily instance masterpieces of erudition or industry which
leave nothing to be desired in the way of information and safe
guidance, and which, at the same time, do not distantly realise our
conception of Books - real _bonâ fide_ Books. They may be the best
editions by the best binders, or they may be antiquarian periodicals
or sets of Learned Transactions, reducing much of the elder lore
cherished and credited by our ancestors to waste-paper; we feel that
it is a sort of superstition which influences us in regarding them;
but we fail to shake off the prejudice, or whatever it may be, and we
hold up, on the contrary, to the gaze of some sceptical acquaintance
a humble little volume in plain mellow sheep - say, a first Walton, or
Bunyan, or Carew, nay, by possibility a Caxton or Wynkyn de
Worde - which a roomful of perfectly gentlemanly books should not buy
from us. It may strike the reader as a heresy in taste and judgment to
pronounce the four Shakespeare folios of secondary interest from the
highest point of view, as being posthumous and edited productions. But
so it is; yet Caxton's first impression of Chaucer's _Canterbury
Tales_, if we were to happen upon it by accident, is a possession
which we should not be easily persuaded to coin into sovereigns, and
such a prize as the Evelyn copy of Spenser's _Faëry Queen_, 1590, with
the Diarist's cypher down the back and his note of ownership inside
the old calf cover, is worth a library of inarticulate printed matter.
So, again, Aubrey, in his _Miscellanies_, _Remains of Gentilism and
Judaism_, _History of Surrey_, and _Natural History of Wiltshire_,
presents us with works very imperfect and empirical in their
character - even foolish and irritating here and there; but between
those undertakings and such as Manning and Bray's or Brayley and
Britton's _Surrey_ there is the difference that the latter are
literary compilations, and the former personal relics inalienably
identified with an individual and an epoch.

It is the same with certain others, ancient as well as modern writers.
Take Herodotus, Athenæus, and Aulus Gellius on the one hand, and
Bishop Kennett's _Parochial Antiquities_, White's _Selborne_, Knox's
_Ornithological Rambles in Sussex_, or Lucas's _Studies in
Nidderdale_ on the other. All these equally tell you, not what some
one else saw or thought, but what they saw or thought themselves, and
in a manner which will never cease to charm.

There are works, again, which, without professing to entertain for the
authors any strong personal regard, we read and re-peruse, as we admire a
fine piece of sculpture or porcelain, an antique bronze or cameo, as
masterpieces of art or models of style. We are perfectly conscious, as we
proceed, that they are not to be trusted as authorities, and perhaps it
is so on the very account which renders them irresistibly attractive.
Some of the most celebrated literary compositions in our language are
more or less strongly imbued with the spirit of partisanship or a leaven
of constitutional bias; yet we like to have them by us to steal
half-an-hour's delight, just as we resort sometimes to alluring but
dangerous stimulants. We have in our mind, not volumes of fiction, not
even the historical novel, but serious narratives purporting to describe
the annals of our country and the lives of our countrymen and
countrywomen. We take them up and we lay them down with pleasure, and it
is agreeable to feel that they are not far away; and they will not do us
greater harm, if we combine an acquaintance with their deficiencies and


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Online LibraryWilliam Carew HazlittThe book collector: a general survey of the pursuit and of those who have engaged in it at home and abroad from the earliest period to the present time. With an account of public and private libraries and anecdotes of their founders or owners and remarks on bookbinding and on special copies of books → online text (page 6 of 22)