Bookhunting as a Sport
By James Westfall Thompson
A paper read to the Caxton Club of Chicago at the annual meeting, February 16, 1907.
Upon the first appearance in 1809, of that delight of every booklover, Bibliomania; or, Book Madness, a bibliographical romance, Sir Walter Scott wrote to Thomas F Dibdin, its author:
You have contrived to strew flowers over a path which, in other hands, would have proved a very dull one, and all bibliomanes must remember you long as he who first united their antiquarian details with good-humoured raillery and cheerfulness.
We will forgive the Sage of Abbotsford the slip of the pen that made him mix his metaphors for the sake of the book he praised, even as the present writer hopes to be forgiven for his inability to endow this essay in bibliomania with Dibdin’s charm, for the sake of the gentle and noble pastime of which he writes.
To the devotee of rod and gun, bookhunting as a sport may seem to be a tame sort of recreation. Indeed, it may seem to him to be a misnomer to call it a sport at all. How can the bracing air of a crisp October morning in the woods or fields or along the banks of a trout stream be compared with the atmosphere of a library? What thrill can be derived from inert pages comparable to the leap of the pulse when a trout “strikes,” or when the whirr of a woodcock’s wing comes to the ear? To lie hidden behind a willow screen in Chesapeake Bay, hour after hour, watching the panorama of the clouds or the wind dimpling the face of the waters, and then to have the circling flock settle within the compass of your water world,—that is sport—to some who seek their recreation out-of-doors.
Yet, after all, the question is one, not of processes, but of results. The essence of the subject is a moral one. If the end of the true sport is to refresh jaded brain and tired heart, if generous rivalry strengthens the fiber of character, if the will to accomplish gives stimulus, and achievement the sense of power, then whatsoever brings these things to pass, if it be free from sordid lust of gain, is sport. William Smith, the founder of British geology, once said that “the search for a fossil may be considered at least as rational as the pursuit of a hare:’ and the recently published book of Professor E. Ray Lankester, upon Extinct Animals, is a veritable romance of fossil-hunting.
Bookhunting as a sport seems, in the main, to be a masculine interest, although a racy unpublished letter of De Quincey’s daughter Florence to Canon Pinder, about some books which her father and the Canon were seeking, indicates that even great authors do not always stalk their game adroitly. She says:
I write on Papa’s account, to tell you that if you write and send your address to one Mr. John Mudie, Port of Liverpool, you will get the books. And on my own account I beg to offer my congratulations upon the exquisite greenness which you and Papa have shewn in this matter. You left no address and Papa sent none. I think it needed the united genius of the white man to grow such a piece of refreshing verdure.
Judging from the past, bookhunting, like the noble art of falconry, has appealed peculiarly to men of high birth and station. An analysis of Mr. William Young Fletcher’s English Book Collectors‡ discloses the interesting fact that out of about a hundred of the best-known English collectors there were nine bishops and archbishops, five dukes, one marquis, twelve earls, two barons, seven baronets, five knights, five civil servants, seven clergymen, five lawyers, four physicians, eight or ten men of letters, five merchants, two heralds, two poets, one architect, one astrologer (Dr. Dee), one shoemaker (Bagford), and one chandler (Radcliffe). The bishops are well to the front in the first two centuries, including Fisher, Cranmer, Parker, Ussher, Stillingfleet, Williams, Laud, and Moore, but the members of the nobility are scattered impartially over the period since 1500. The fate of these episcopal libraries is interesting. Fisher’s was scattered to the winds; Cranmer’s found lodgment in the British Museum; Parker’s went to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge; Williams’ was bequeathed to St. John’s College, Cambridge; Stillingfleet’s is in the Marsh Library in Dublin; King George I bought Bishop Moore’s library and gave it to Cambridge University; and Ussher’s, curiously enough, was purchased by Cromwell’s Irish Brigade, and rests in Trinity College, Dublin.
It is a truism that a man is known by his friends. Show me a man’s library, and I will tell you what kind of man he is. In his hours of leisure a man comes out of an imposed or acquired environment to which he has become habituated for eight or more hours each day, and his real nature finds expression. His personality ceases to be cramped or conditioned by the artificialities of business or the harassing exigencies of a profession. The banker whose hobby is the collection of Americana or first editions exhibits as true a side of his character after three o’clock as he does in banking hours—perhaps a truer one. The merchant who is interested in Napoleonana or the story of Arctic exploration is as keenly alive to the literature of these subjects as he is to the fluctuations of the market. A man’s literary interests are often the antithesis of his daily pursuits, and may be a closer index to his character. Sometimes the contrast between the two interests is very great. The very limitations that bind a man may lead him to be interested in a subject which he might, save for them, actually enjoy, and not be forced to experience through the imagination merely. I know an invalid person whose keenest delight is to read Alpine and other mountaineering literature. One of the poorest sailors it is my pleasure to know, one who “goes down to the sea in ships” with fear and trembling, and who is seasick most of the time he is aboard, has a rare collection of works upon shipwrecks. One whose daily life may be the dullest of routines finds a fascination in works of adventure and exploration.
Book collecting is both an aspect of culture and a study in personal psychology. Almost every conceivable sort of subject has its votaries—Waltoniana, Cromwelliana, Jacobite history, English fiction of the eighteenth century, folklore, Arctic explorations the prose or poetry of certain epochs, the literature of men of fame, painting, architecture tobacco, travel, memoirs, biography. Every scientific, historical, and literary subject of great magnitude is a province in the realm of books. How familiar are the rubrics of an old-book catalogue to the book collector! He can recite them as glibly as the multiplication table—Africa, America, Angling, Archery, Archaeology, Beekeeping, Bibliography, Byroniana, clear through to Shakespeareana, Shelley, Shipwreck, and the residue of the alphabet. Age cannot wither nor custom stale their infinite variety. Every man of fame is a cult. I have an acquaintance who is a bookkeeper and has been one for thirty-five years. He has but one intellectual interest, but that saves him from commonplaceness. His hobby is the life and death of Marshal Ney, “the bravest of the brave:’ He is not a broad man nor a deep man save in that single subject, but attainment in that one subject brings his nature into relief.
The bouquineur’s thrill when he discovers some rare volume he prizes is akin to the sensation of the astronomer “when a new planet swims into his ken:’ Then ensues that delicious time of expectation until its arrival, the impatience of delay, a fine quality of fear lest another has been before him in securing the coveted treasure, the indulgence of the imagination in fancied possession,—ah! who that knows such feelings would not be the poorer for their loss?
The element of chance in bookhunting invests the subject with double interest. The wondrous tale of him who found Montaigne’s own copy of Plutarch’s Lives, its pages and fly leaves scribbled over by this prince of essayists, in a bookstall along the Seine, and purchased it for a few sous, has lifted up the enthusiasm of many another less fortunate bookhunter along those quays in Paris. So likewise was found Napoleon’s own copy of Caesar’s Commentaries, studied by him in the military school at Brienne.* When Alfred de Musset became a cult, one of his worshipers had the rare fortune to discover one of his youthful productions which even he himself had forgotten, and which none of his friends knew,—a translation of De Quincey’s Opium Eater, made by De Musset when eighteen years of age.† Like the first edition of Poe’s Tamerlane, this thin little brochure is worth its weight in gold. A few years ago the late Camille Couderc, an attaché of the Département des Manuscrits of the Bibliothéque Nationale, who spent his leisure hours along the quays of the Seine, found an example of the fifth and last book of Rabelais’s Pantagruel (1571). His library was made up of pickups of this kind.
A similar piece of luck befell Dr. John Taylor Brown, who picked up a “Kilmarnock Burns” for is. 6d. Be it known to the uninitiated that one associates a Kilmarnock Burns and the First Folio of Shakespeare together. It was found in a North-of-England bookshop, and was without the title page and the first three pages. Some years later, in a batch of old papers, the missing pages were found, and the whole was so perfectly bound that only the eye of the expert could discern the suture. The book thus so strangely remade was sold at Sotheby’s in April, 1903, for £350.
For further illustration of “collector’s luck:’ imagine the delight of the finding of an Irish guidebook with Shelley’s signature on the flyleaf.**
The European bookhunter has a great advantage over his American con frère, for he receives the catalogues of London, Paris, and Leipzig houses from eight to ten days in advance of him. Sometimes this difference in time makes all the difference between getting and missing a desideratum. Let me give an illustration, which also indicates another element in the adventures of a bookhunter, namely, the rare occasion when a provincial bookseller has treasure- trove and is unaware of it.
During the Thirty Years’ War, when Gustavus Adoiphus’ short and
brilliant career was in progress, the eyes of Europe were fixed upon Germany.
At this time an enterprising English printer conceived the thought of
publishing bulletins of events happening abroad as from time to time news from
Germany reached England. This he did during the years 2632—1635, issuing
fourteen pamphlet parts of
The Swedish Intelligencer, wherein, out of the truest and choysest Informations, are the famous Actions of that warlike Prince historically led along; from his Majesties first entring into the Empire.
Some years ago a complete copy of this exceedingly rare work, bound in two stout volumes, was offered for sale by a Dutch bookseller for 300 forms ($120). Last spring, in running down the columns of the catalogue of a provincial English bookseller, I came upon a copy of the Swedish Intelligencer advertised for fifteen shillings. My fears belied my hopes. Long before my cablegram reached its destination, the treasure had been spied by a vigilant book house on the Strand—for these great concerns are not less earnest than the private collector in winnowing the hedge- rows for bargains. I afterward had the poor satisfaction of receiving a catalogue of the house on the Strand in which that identical copy of the Swedish Intelligencer was priced at twenty-one guineas. The law of treasure-trove is liberal in instances like this, but Fortune is a capricious goddess.
Another illustration: A well-known London bookseller had in his shop an original copy of Lady Anne Hamilton’s Secret History of the Court of England, published in 1832. The book was an altogether too salacious account of court life when George IV and William IV were kings for the government to tolerate its circulation. It was suppressed, and very few copies are known to exist. Through the carelessness of a clerk this rare work—so rare that its value is problematic—got among the common stock of secondhand books, and some lucky person purchased it for six- pence. What makes this incident all the more provoking is that it is uncertain whether the fortunate possessor yet knows the value of the book so curiously acquired.
Sometimes a book, not rare and yet not
common, is given new dignity by a discovery pertaining to it. This is true, for
example, of Edward Grimeston’s
A generall Historic of France, written by John de Serres Unto the year 1598. Much augmented and continued to this present. London, 1611,
which has new value since Mr. Sidney Lee’s discovery of Chapman’s large indebtedness to this work for his play upon the conspiracy of Marshal Biron.
The pleasure derived from an old-book catalogue is as varied as the books themselves. Therein every man may ride his hobby; for fortunately there are many more species of hobbyhorses than are found in the natural equine world.
If you are interested in the quaint and
curious, your eye will be attracted by such titles as these:
Tooke (Giles): The Map of Misery and the Sinner’s Plea, a Poem of o Stanzas of 6 lines each. Lond. R. Harper, 1650.
Said to be unique, and is unknown to all bibliographers.
A Nosegay of Rank-smelling Flowers, such as grow in Mr. John Goodwin’s Garden; gathered upon occasion of his late lying Libell against Thos. Edwards, which he himself fitly stiled Cretensis for the foule lies therein contained, etc.
This singular work contains a fine portrait of the author, with a ship in full sail, and a coat of arms. The author was a London merchant of the Puritan period.
The merchants of the Middle Ages, no matter how wealthy they might have become, were forbidden to wear heraldic insignia, thereby demeaning the gentry. Accordingly, it was a common practice for them to adopt symbolic devices to distinguish their business and add dignity to their position.*** The attentive tourist, especially in England, must sometimes have found himself puzzled by the ingenious tracery he observed upon some old tomb or in the decoration of a church window
The Martin Mar-prelate tracts, “printed far from the bouncing priests:’ are every one of them singular and rare.
The reply to them was
Priest’s Marriages—Defence of Priestes Marriages, stablysched by the Imperiall Lawes of the Realme of England, agaynst a Civilian namyng himselfe Thomas Martin, doctour of the Civile Lawes, goyng about to disprove the saide marriages, is lawfull by the eternall worde of God, and by the High Court of Parliament, etc. 4to, black letter, Richard Jugge, 1555.
This book, dedicated to Philip II and Bloody Mary, is believed to have been written by John Ponet, Bishop of Rochester, and is even rarer than the Martin Mar-prelate tracts which I have just mentioned.
If Nicotiniana—the literature of tobacco—interests you, this
item will have a certain appeal:
An Oration upon Tobacco, by Mynheer Van Reckhard, Professor of the University of Smokeburgh, 1732.
Of course if you are a devotee of the weed, you must know or at least have read of
A Covnter Blaste to Tobacco, Imprinted at London by R.B., Anno. 1604,
that famous monograph from the pen of the royal pedant, James I. Therein this philosopher upon a throne expatiates in thirty-two pages of diatribe upon “this filthie noveltie’ concluding with this thunderclap:
A custome loathsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigean smoke of the pit that is bottomeless.
The original edition of this ponderous diatribe of the first Stuart is an exceedingly rare pamphlet
pamphlet—how much more expressive is the German word Flugschrift—is
a peculiar and most interesting form of literature. Its fugitive nature
gives it a quality not possessed by the printed and bound book. As Miles Davies
observed in the Icon libellorum (1715):
From Pamphlets may be learned the genius of the age, the debates of the learned, follies of the ignorant, the bévues of government, and the mistakes of courtiers. Pamphlets are as modish ornaments to gentlewomen’s toilets as to gentlemen’s pockets, they carry their reputation of wit and learning to all that make them their companions.
Pamphlets upon isolated or recondite subjects are continually making their appearance. But any epoch-making age, like the Reformation or the Puritan movement or the French Revolution, is always rich in pamphlet literature. Carlyle compared the pamphlets of the Revolutionary epoch to the mines of PotosI. One of Dr. Johnson’s most interesting writings is On the Origin and Importance of Fugitive Pieces, in which he says:
Pamphlets and small Tracts [are] a very important part of an English library, nor are there any pieces upon which those who aspire to the reputation of judicious Collectors of Books, bestow more attention or greater expense; because many advantages may be expected from the perusal of these small productions, which are scarcely to be found in that of larger works
you happen to be interested in the literature of travel, there is a fascinating
world open before you. First of all, there is that rarest poem of imaginary
Poems by a Young Nobleman of Distinguished Abilities, lately deceased, particularly the State of England, and the once flourishing City of London, in a Letter from an American Traveller, dated from the Ruinous Portico of St. Paul’s, in the year 2199, to a friend settled in Boston, the Metropolis of the Western Empire.
This poem, which was the original creation of Macaulay’s celebrated New Zealander, was written by the second Lord Lyttleton, that famous roué of the Georgian period, in 1771. It is a poem of fifty-five pages, wherein he seems to catch a foregleam of the French Revolution and the Spanish loss of America (the French in his own time had lost India and America), and he describes the visit of a New Zealand nobleman to look upon the ruins of the once great city of London in the year 2199.
Every cultivated person has read the adventures of Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville. The Hakluyt Society some years ago published the logbooks and journals of those hardy pioneers, “with empires in their brains;’ of the Elizabethan period. But one does not need to penetrate the heart of Asia with Marco Polo, or cross the Atlantic to follow the footsteps of Captain John Smith or the brave Marquette or the ill-starred La Salle. Europe itself in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was a fascinating continent. Germany was in the throes of religious and political strife; Austria was being beset by the Turk, who barely succeeded in capturing Vienna; Spain’s light of empire was waning; Italy was the theater of decadent renaissance, commercial, and religious forces.
Fynnes Moryson’s Itinerary is a view of Shakespeare’s Europe, in which the reader will be delighted to meet with Chancellor Rosencranz in Denmark, and find the Prince of Denmark a fellow student of Moryson’s at Wittenberg. Moryson was a Cambridge scholar who for five years, between 1591 and 1596, traveled through the Low Countries, Germany, Bohemia, Poland, Italy, and France, recording everything that he saw in sonorous Cambridge Latin (subsequently translated into seventeenth-century English), although as a cultured Englishman of those days he spoke fluently French, German, and Italian. This rare work has been for more than three hundred years the delight of the curious booklover. Who can fail to be interested in this description of winter sport in Holland, from which it is evident that Moryson knew not the art of skating nor even the name of that article of sport:
Upon the broadest waters [they] slyde together upon the yce.To which purpose they putt upon theire shooes Pattens of wood, with a long sharpe Iron in the bottoms to Cutt the yce, Continually mooving and frigging theire feete VP and downe, forwardes, or in Circle, which motion mee thought was not very modest for wemen.
Quite as interesting is Coryat’s Crudities, the original edition (1611) of which is one of the rarest and most sought- for books of travel known. Starting from London in May 1,16o8, Coryat traveled through France and Italy, by way of Paris, Lyon, Milan, and Padua, to Venice, and returned by way of Switzerland and the Rhine.
Another work of travel with as perennial an interest is Montaigne’s Journal of Travels in Italy by way of Switzerland and Germany in 1581. The precious manuscript of this book was unknown until a learned historian of Pengord, the Canon Prunis, in the second half of the eighteenth century, discovered it in a chest in the Château de Montaigne, then in possession of the Comte de Segur, a descendant of the brilliant essayist’s daughter.
The lore of the traveler and the fisherman meet in the restless George Sandys’s adventurous wanderings,
A Relation of a Journey Begun An. Dom. i6io, Foure Bookes containing a Description of the Thrkish Empire, of Aegypt, of the Holy Land. of the remote parts of Italy, and Islands adjoyning. London, 1627.
In this work the author gives an account of the pigeon carrier-service between Aleppo and Babyion,—a service with which the Crusaders became familiar in the twelfth century,—which so excited the interest of Izaak Walton that he made allusion to the subject in the curious lore to be found in the pages of The Compleat Angler (Pt. I, ch. i).
George Sandys was a sort of seventeenth-century George Borrow, combining the habits and inclinations of a student with a passion for travel and adventure. After returning from the East he settled down for some years at his desk, and began a translation of Ovid’s Metamorphosis Englished, Mythologiz’d and Represented in Figures. But before it was finished, the wanderlust overcame him again. In April, 1621, he took ship for America, and finished the translation while in Virginia. This probably gives Virginia a claim to classical honors in advance of any other spot in America. Sandys’s fame as a man of letters chiefly rests upon this work. While the Latin poet suffers somewhat from undue compression, because the translator was determined to accomplish his task within the same number of lines as the original, Sandys’s Ovid, nevertheless, is something of a landmark in the history of English versification. Sandys’s metrical and rhyming ability was considerable, and he undoubtedly influenced the structure and development of the heroic couplet. Dryden and Pope both acknowledged their indebtedness to him in the use of this measure. In his later years, Sandys directed his rhyming abi li ties upon the Psalms, and in 1638 issued A Paraphrase upon the Divine Poems, with musical notations. The first edition was accompanied by a commendatory poem by Wailer. Besides being one of the parent books of English psalmody,—as long ago as 1854 the first edition sold for £4 4s.,—this rare work enjoys the distinction of being one of three books which comforted Charles I when he was confined in Carisbrooke Castle.
Speaking of Shakespeare and Montaigne, whom one inevitably associates together, both as contemporaries and in intellectual kinship, reminds one of the latter’s English translator, John Florio. Some time ago, I clipped this alluring item from a London catalogue:
Florio G.): A Worlde of Wordes: or Most Copious and exact Dictionarie in Italian and English, First Edition, Sm. 4to, old calf, original binding; London, A. Hatfield, for Edw. Blount, 1598.
What a mine for
a student of Shakespeare’s English! A copy of the dictionary undoubtedly
familiar to the Bard of Avon! A fellow of the same sort, a rare and curious
volume written by a soldier who had served in the Low Countries, named John Wodroethe, is:
The Marrow of the French Tongue, containing Rules for the True Pronunciation of every Letter written or spoken, an exact Grammar, Dialogues fitted to all kinds of Discourse for Courtiers, Citizens, or Countrymen, Phrases, Letters, Missive Sentences, Proverbs, Theames, etc., in both Languages. 1652.
Of even greater interest than these is Mery Tayls, the earliest English jest book, printed by Rastell in 1526, a unique copy of which is in the library at Gottingen.
The accomplished sometime ambassador of France to the United States, ‘Jules Jusserand, was the author of a valuable contribution to the literature pertaining to Shakespeare, entitled Shakespeare in France. But he did not discover, in his researches, the remarkable similarity between Scudery’s La Mort de César, published at Toulouse in 1636, and dedicated to Cardinal Richelieu, and Shakespeare’s tragedy. It is a historical tragedy of exactly the same kind as Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, employing almost the same set of characters, even to the small part of Artemidorus, the soothsayer. There is the same plot leading up to the assassination of Caesar, but instead of the dying reproach, “Et tu, Brute!” of Caesar, in Shakespeare’s play, we have “Et toy, mon fils aussi:’ In each play the great feature is the funeral oration of Antony over the body of Caesar. It will be remembered that in Shakespeare’s play the rhetorical method used to alienate the sympathy of the people from the conspirators is the repetition of the phrase “honourable men” until it has an ironical significance.The same effect is aimed at in this play by the reiteration of the line, “C’est le sang de César, Romains, qui pane a vous’
Many exemplary people revel in the
literature of piracy and thieves. The life of the thief is being idealized
today. Such persons may covet François de Galvi’s
Histoire Generale des Larrons, contenant les cruantez et meschancez des Voll’’ir: Ruses et subtiliez des Couppeure de Pourses; Finesses,Tromp
The following title is of a rare and curious work which appeared in Shakespeare’s last days, and which probably in its time had more readers than Shakespeare’s plays. Like Milton’s dragon, it swinges an awful tail:
Lives, Apprehensions, Arraignements and Executions of the 19 late Pyrates, namely, Capts. Harris,Jennings, Longcastle, Downes, Haulsey, and their companies, as they were severally indited on St. Margaret’s Hill, in Southwarke, on the 22nd of December last, and executed the Friday following. Black letter. John the Elder, about 16o6.
This tract, of which only three copies are known, one in the possession of a private collector, one in the British Museum, the other in the Huth Collection, belongs to a period when the buccaneer was rampant, when Shakespeare makes Shylock speak of “land thieves and water thieves:’
The worst penny dreadful, however, and one which is true and not fiction, is the
Bloody Journal, kept by William
Davidson, on board a Russian Pirate, in the year 1789, 8vo, calf, 21 leaves.
Mediterranean, printed on board His Majesty’s Ship Caledonia, 1812.
Were it not for the circumstantial account of the way in which this Journal was procured, and the details given concerning the writer, it would be impossible to give credence to the facts narrated therein. Davidson was a seaman on board the Saint Dinnan, a Russian Privateer, which sailed from Leghorn on 3rd of December, 1788, and more barbarous proceedings I should think have never been recorded as taking place on board Ship before or since. The Pirates (they cannot be called by any other name) made prize of all the Thrkish and Greek Vessels they came across, plundering the valuables, sometimes murdering the entire crews and sinking or burning the vessells, but that was not always done, for it is constantly narrated that after taking out of the captured vessells the best of everything, they were sunk “prisoners and all together:’ The following extract will give some idea of the callousness of the Ship’s proceedings:—.
“The 20th it blew fresh; no sail seen that day. Next
day we anchored in Theano, where they were very glad
for to see us come, as there was a Turkish galley on the other side of the
Island going to plunder them. In the night at one o’clock we sent the tender
after her, and at three in the morning she took her without the least defence; she had on board 85 hands, which we took on board
with us and confined them in the hold until the next day, then they were called
up one by one, and had their heads cut off in the same manner as we cut off
Duck’s heads at home, and then we threw them overboard; and this being the
first time, we were obliged to take it by turns to put them to death. The
Englishmen when they were called for at first refused it, but as the Captain
told them they were cowards, or people that were afraid of their enemies, he
could not believe that they were Englishmen; then they went and did the same as
the rest, and afterwards was worse than themselves, for they [i.e., the writer and his
fellow-Countrymen), would always be first when such work was going on, and at
last got quite used to it; for some time we had three or four of a day to put
to death for one man’s share:’
The writer was on board from 1st December, 1788, to 6th September, 1789, and says that besides his wages he received £230 as his share of the plunder.
This work is of the utmost rarity, there being but one other copy recorded, and that in the library of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Davidson was also a seaman on board the Niger, commanded by Sir Richard Keats. Having on two occasions incurred punishment for assault and insubordination, he attempted suicide, and whilst confined in prison this journal was discovered. He acknowledged it to be an authentic account of the cruise of the privateer, and a narration of the enormities committed by the crew, Davidson and his fellow-countrymen being the most active leaders. The Admiralty were informed, but took no steps in the matter, and the journal became famous with British seamen, amongst whom manuscript copies were circulated. Sir Walter Scott heard of its existence, and, thinking it might form the subject of a poem, procured a copy, in 1811. On perusal, however, he pronounced it too horrible for versification, and contented himself with publishing portions of it in the “Edinburgh Annual Register:’ The “Dictionary of National Biography” speaks of the book as “extremely rare:’ and an account of it is to be found in “Martin’s Privately Printed Books” and “Cotton’s Typographical Gazetteer’ all those authorities knowing of no other copy beyond the one in Corpus Christi College. In all probability only a very small edition was printed, for presentation to naval officers. Sir Edward Pellew, whose name is on the fly-leaf, is, of course, the heroic admiral who took the first frigate in the French war, destroyed the Dutch fleet in the East Indies, 18o7, and at the time this book was printed was commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean, being subsequently created Viscount Exmouth.
From the invention of printing, books have been made or unmade by the favor or frown of Government or the Church. One of Milton’s lesser writings,
The History of Britain, that Part especially now called England; from the first traditional Beginning, continued to the Norman Conquest; in six books. London, 1670,
if of interest to the bibliomaniac because the fate of the little work was singularly connected with the vicissitudes of the poet himself, and the changing fortunes of Charles II. Milton wrote this work in early life, probably in the first half of the reign of Charles I. It is somewhat crude writing—for John Milton. He did not publish it for many years, and perhaps never would have published it if it had not been for the misfortunes of his later life. The great fire of London, in i666, seriously reduced Milton’s circumstances, and this, united with his blindness, at last induced him to draw forth the History of Britain from a pigeonhole and give it to the world. He was then famous as the author of Paradise Lost, and undoubtedly hoped to mend his circumstances by this publication. But times had changed since Milton wrote it. It was the period of the Restoration in England, when press censorship returned with Charles II. “Of this history:’ says Lowndes, “the first. . . copies were mutilated,. . . several passages. . . were understood as a concealed satire upon the bishops in the reign of Charles II
Francis Quarles: The Loyall Convert. Oxford. Printed by Herman Lichileld, Printer to the University, 1643,
is an exceedingly rare work, thanks to the suppressive measures of the Protector’s government. The pronounced loyalist views expressed in this tract brought on the author the animosity of the Parliamentarians, who had his library searched and his manuscripts destroyed. This “stuck him so to the heart” that he never recovered.
Sometimes accident, as fire, confers the collector’s crown upon a book. Complete copies of Sir Henry Spelmann’s
Concilia, Decreta Leges, Constitutiones in Re Ecclesiarum Orbis Brit. annici, viz., Panabritannica, Pananglica, Scotica, Hibernica, Cambrica, etc. ab Initio Christianae ibidem Religionis ad exutum Papam, A. D. 1531, 2 vols. folio,
are very rare, the greater part of the second volume having been destroyed in the fire of London in 1666
The same fate befell Nasmyth’s edition of Bishop Tanner’s history of the English monasteries
Notitia Monastica, an Account of all the Abbeys, Priories, Houses of Friars, etc. in England and Wales, enlarged by Nasmyth, 1787,
the greater part of this edition being destroyed by fire at the offices of the printer.
First editions, as some might surmise, are not always the ones most prized. This is true of Oliver Goldsmith’s
Life of Richard Nash, Esq., Late Master of the Ceremonies at Bath. Printed for J. Newberry. London, 1762.
Edmund Gosse, in his delightful Gossip in a Library, cautions the inexperienced book collector:
There are cases, not known to every collector of books, where it is not the first which is the really desirable edition of a work, but the second. One of these rare examples of the exception which proves the rule is the second edition of Goldsmith’s Life of Beau Nash. Disappointment awaits him who possesses only the first,—it is in the sec. ond that the best things originally appeared... . The wise bibliophile, therefore, will eschew it (the first edition), and try to get the second edition, issued a few weeks later in the same year.
Absolutely unique books, whether from authorship or association or untoward fate, are a class apart. I have elsewhere told the story of the copy of Montesquieu’s Grandeur des Romains that once belonged to Frederick the Great.**** Another book which I hope but do not expect ever to find is Jean Ribaut’s Histoire de l’expédition francaise en Floride, published in 1563. Its author was a Norman sailor who commanded Admiral Coligny’s ill-starred Huguenot expedition for the settlement of Florida in 1562. The whole colony, it will be remembered, was wiped out by the Spaniards. No copy of the book is known. Perhaps the bookstalls of the Latin Quarter may some day bring this livre introuvable into light. Who knows?
In 1769 the Reverend James Granger, an
Anglican clergyman, published a
Biographical History of England, from Egbert the Great, to the Revolution, consisting of Characters disposed in different Classes and adapted to a Methodical Catalogue of engraved British Heads.
Thenceforward extra-illustrated books became the rage.
The Grangerite is a formidable specimen of the vermis bibliothecalis. He is an Ishmaelite in the land of books, a Vandal in literature. His hobby is extra-illustrated books, and in order to gain possession of valuable plates, portraits, and engravings he will tear to pieces a volume which men adore, and mayhap even the angels. His interest has its culture value, certainly, for he who has turned the pages of an extra-illustrated volume of the author he loves knows the rapture of those moments; but as the aigrette of my lady’s hat costs the life of the heron, so the deeds of the Grangerite destroy the life of a book. I say life, for what booklover will deny that there is a soul in books and immortality in some of them. The difference between an immortal book and the common mass of printed and bound pages is like the difference between man and lower animals. One “speaks a various language”; the others are dumb and dull.
From of old, the world has known of the thinker who was devoted to one book. It is a familiar fact that the English Bible has been a great source of literary inspiration to many men. Emerson’s one book was Montaigne’s Essays. Cotton’s translation of these—and, by the way, Cotton was the lifelong friend of Izaak Walton, and wrote the second part of The Compleat Angler—moulded not only Emerson’s thought, but his style as well. His habit of beginning a paragraph with “ ‘T is:’ instead of “It is;’ was a trick derived from the seventeenth-century version of Montaigne. So, too, Mr. William Morton Payne has recently pointed out the great debt the late Mr. E. L. Godkin owed to Burke.*****
It is not to be forgotten, however, that
the quality of the reader matters more than the nature of the book. It may be
the Bible or Homer or Tacitus or Shakespeare or Bacon or Montaigne or Burke or
Emerson; but to be a man of one book, it is not enough that the book be great.
A great author will not fill a shallow mind with ideas. Inspiration depends
upon him who reads more than upon what is read. Moral vigor is an impalpable
and eternal force. Only a great soul may claim kinship with Titans.
In this connection, the sale catalogues of the private libraries of men of eminence afford interesting evidence of the mental make-up of their possessors. Daniel Webster’s library was astonishingly small, and seems to have been indiscriminately formed. Sale catalogues, especially when someone has taken care to enter the prices received, form interesting reading to those who like to follow the fluctuations of literary taste, or the increasing value of the world’s masterpieces. It drives one almost to distraction to learn in these that King Lear (i6o8), which last year realized £900, was sold less than a century ago for £8 i8s. 6d., and Midsummer Night’s Dream (1600) for £4 14S. 6d.!******
A catalogue of old books is almost inexhaustible in its possibilities. I have never especially followed the subject of bookplates and bindings,—not for lack of sympathy with persons who are so interested, however,—save with one exception. This was with respect to books imprinted with the arms of the President de Thou.
Jacques-Auguste de Thou was one of the most learned men of that age of erudition, the sixteenth century. He was an intimate friend of L’Hôpital, Estienne, Theodore Beza, and King Henry IV, President of the Parlement of Paris, a man of state and of letters in one. When the Edict of Nantes brought tranquillity to France after the long series of civil wars, De Thou wrote a history of his own times (i 6—i 608) in eight monumental Latin tomes. This work was translated into French (sixteen volumes) in 1734, and in 1740 this version was pirated by a Dutch publisher, who issued an eleven-volume edition, with an imposing dedication two pages long to the Empress Anne of Russia, who was a niece of Peter the Great. This pompous bit of homage is a curious reminiscence of Peter’s western travels, and is so fulsome in its flattery that one turns to the immortal dedication of Tristram Shandy as to a tonic:
Made for no one Prince, Prelate, Pope, or Potentate, Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount, or Baron, of this or any other realm in Christendom; nor has it yet been hawked about, or offered publicly or privately, directly or indirectly, to any one person or personage, great or small; but is honestly a true Virgin Dedication, untried on, upon any soul living. ... Every author has a way of his own in bringing his points to bear; for my own part, I hate chaffering and higgling for a few guineas in a dark entry. . . . If, therefore, there is any one Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount, or Baron in these his Majestys dominions, who stands in need of a tight, genteel Dedication, and whom the above will suit (for, by the bye. unless it suits in some degree, I will not part with it)—lt is much at his service for fifty guineas—which, I am positive, is twenty guineas less than it ought to be afforded for, by any man of genius.
Then follows a minute estimate of the book’s worth, after the manner of judging a picture: so many “points” for drawing, composition, color, etc.; “and besides;’ says the author, “there is an air of originality in the tout ensemble" The rest is dedicated “to the Moon, who, by the bye, of all the Patrons or Matrons I can think of, has most power to set my book a-going, and make the world run mad after it’ The world has been happily moonstruck, indeed.
Even before the appearance of the French version of De Thou in 1729, the Reverend Bernard Wilson, vicar of Newark-upon-Trent, had begun the translation of De Thou in English. But he received little encouragement, and the work languished after two volumes had appeared. Now, being the lucky possessor of the original Latin version, the two French editions, and the English translation, and having observed that books with De Thou’s binding and arms were sometimes offered for sale, I conceived the thought of trying to acquire an approximate idea of the nature and extent of De Thou’s library, by clipping the titles of books that were advertised to have his arms or bookplate, as I came upon them. It was a pleasant though not exciting interest, which, however, came to a sudden termination when I discovered in the Dupuy Collection at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris a manuscript catalogue of the entire library, made in the reign of Louis XIII.
Such another man as De Thou, in his love of books and the valuable collection he made of them, was Lord Harley, Earl of Oxford, who was Queen Anne’s prime minister. Bookbindings with his arms are not rare, and the reconstruction of his library might easily be made a task of pleasure, as well as of advantage to the history of letters, by some enthusiast in that period. Mr. Julian Sharman in 1889 so reconstructed by title the library of Mary Queen of Scots, and more recently Petrarch’s library has been similarly restored by M. Pierre de Nolhac.
Somewhere in central Africa are seventy-six volumes enclosed in tin cases which Henry M. Stanley, the African explorer, carried with him on one of his expeditions and was compelled to abandon.
They will be kept as fetiches [said Stanley on his return] until some African antiquarian will pick them up, a century hence, and wonder how on earth Jane Eyre, printed in 1870, came to be at Iturn, or Thackeray’s Esmond came to be preserved among the Lubari of Gamabararga.
Certainly one of the greatest “association” books is that historic tome with which Dr. Johnson indignantly felled Osborne when he was rude to him. Osborne had employed Johnson to catalogue the famous library of Edward Harley, the second Earl of Oxford. The volume was a Septuagint of ‘594 and was exhibited at a bookseller’s in 1812. Years ago I came upon a book—price five shillings—which was a relic of the battle of Waterloo. It was an example of the Almanac imperiale (1805). On the flyleaf was written:
In July, 1815, the English army halted in the neighbourhood of Garge, which village was completely plundered, a magnificent library was torn to pieces and thrown into the gardens and ponds adjoining— all around was strewed with books, leaves, covers, etc. From amongst these I picked up this volume, and have no doubt that others as well as myself will think It not an uninteresting relic. [Signed:] A. C. Mercer.
Psychologically, there is doubtless a difference between a bibliophile and a bibliomaniac, hut it is one of degree and not of kind. Almost all incunabulists, however, are bibliomaniacs. Lord Spencer remained a year in Rome without visiting the Vatican, St. Peter’s, or the Coliseum. He was looking for early printed books, and left Rome happy when he found the Martial printed by Sweynheym and Pannartz in 1473. Who shall say that he was not well rewarded? Under the spell of this fascination a man otherwise careful and even penurious will expend thousands. The Marquis of Blandford paid £2260 at the Roxburghe Sale in 1812 for a copy of the Decameron of 1471.
The late Professor Karl Witte, of Halle,
has related an experience which illustrates the seriocomic side of bibliomania.
He was in Verona, and visited the library of the Marquis Gianfillippi,
who showed him as his greatest treasure the first edition of a Book of Hours
printed by the elder Aldus at Venice in 1497. While Witte was engaged in
collating some rare old volumes, for which purpose he had come to Verona, the
old man suddenly began to fumble the books on the table with great agitation,
and finally, with a thousand apologies, asked the astonished professor if he
had not slipped the cherished Aldine into his pocket
—as a joke! Professor Witte in great irritation replied in the negative, and declared that he would not leave the room until the precious book was found. Some minutes later the Marquis discovered the book where he had laid it and apologized profusely for his conduct with the naïve explanation that “bibliomaniacs knew no law:’
A French collector in the reign of Louis Philippe was in the habit of pocketing prized books wherever he might be. This practice was known to all the Parisian booksellers and it was the custom to bill him quarterly accounts (or books “missing” from their shelves. He was a man of honor and always paid without protest. Sir Edward Fitzgerald had the same weakness. He was a kleptomaniac when it came to rare books, and his wife regularly searched his pockets for stolen goods when he returned home.
Many a keen competition between rival booklovers at a sale has resulted in the rupture of a friendship.
“I will get it at your sale when you die:’ a disappointed bibliomaniac once said to an erstwhile friend.
Bibliomania has even provoked tragedy. In 1850, a book collector of Barcelona named Vincente murdered a friend who had outbid him at a sale for a copy of the Ordinacions per los gloriosos reys de Arago... de Valentia (1482). It was then believed to be a unique copy. The irony of fate was that the case attracted so much attention that there was a rummaging of old bookstalls throughout Europe, with the result that six copies were discovered. It was proved at the trial that this was not Vincente’s first murder; for he had made way with a German student, a Spanish poet, and nine other persons in order to get possession of coveted volumes which pertained to them. On the scaffold the only clemency he requested was that his collection might be kept intact and given to the public library of Barcelona. In spite of his crimes, no bibliophile would deny that Vincente had the heart of a bookhunter.
Unlike the hunting of feral quarry, bookhunting is a harmless pursuit which inflicts no injury, and there is no “closed” season in its indulgence. Any book is fair game throughout the year. Moreover, there is a lure in the variety of the spoil. Bibliomania may be made a study in the philosophy of rarity, or again a pursuit of the fantastic akin to the Hunting of the Snark in unreality. Perhaps that famous incident is really an allegory on myth-hunting.
The pastime of myth-hunting has as decided and satisfying a charm as any other sport.. . . The tracking of this curious and cross-bred game up hill and down dale, so to speak, across the wilds of history soon becomes quite an exciting occupation.*******
One may go bookhunting between hedgerows in Shakespeare’s England, or along the poplared roads of France, or cross the seas with Hakluyt’s voyagers. One may journey along the main-traveled roads of literature or history or science in search of first editions, or may cross unfamiliar fields of booklore, and wander down narrow lanes. The world of books is as open to the bookhunter as the seven seas to the fishes or as the air to birds.
‡ London, Kegan Paul & Co., ioa.
* Mark Pattison, Essays, 11:322—323
† L’Anglais mangeur d’opium, traduit de l’anglais par A.D.M. [Alfred de Musset] (Paris, Mame et Delaunay-Vallée, 1828).
**Trans. Bib. Soc., VII:2o1.
*** See Williamson, “Traders’ Tokens of the Seventeenth Century’ Proc. Royal Hist. Soc., n.s., IV:i 71. The late Dr. Howard left an unpublished monograph upon this interesting subject. It was sold in London in 1905
**** “Napoleon as a Booklover’ supra, pp. 69—70.
***** “The Man of One Book’ The Dial, XXXIX:[a6ij—a63 (November 1, 1905).
****** Some time ago I came upon the Catalogue des livres de M. Sccousse, the sale catalogue of the private library of Secousse, secretary of the Academic des Inscriptions, and one of the most eminent scholars and antiquaries of the middle of the eighteenth century. The library embraced more than eight thousand items or lots, and covered the whole field of French literature. It was sold at Paris in 1755. The catalogue in my possession has the price of every book or lot entered upon the margin by some faithful attendant at the sale.
******* G. H. Powell, Excursions in Libraria (London, 1896), a fascinating and little-known volume of studies in booklore.