Bookhunting in London

This is taken from W. Roberts' The Book-Hunter in London.

It would be quite as great a fallacy to assume that a rich man is also a wise one, as to take for granted that he who has accumulated a large library is necessarily a learned man. It is a very curious fact, but none the less a fact, that just as the greatest men have the shortest biographies, so have they been content with the smallest libraries. Shakespeare, Voltaire, Humboldt, Comte, Goethe had no collection of books to which the term library could fairly be applied. But though each preferred to find in Nature and in Nature's handiworks the mental exercise which less gifted men obtain from books, that did not prevent them from being ardent book-lovers. Shakespeare—to mention one only—must have possessed a Plutarch, a Stowe, a Montaigne, and a Bible, and probably half a dozen other books of less moment. And yet, with this poor show, he was as genuine a book-lover as Ben Jonson or my Lord Verulam. Lord Burleigh, Grotius, and Bonaparte are said to have carried their libraries in their pockets, and doubtless Shakespeare could have carried his under his arm.

If all great men have not been book-collectors in the manner which is generally understood by the phrase, it is certain that they have, perhaps without a single exception, been book-lovers. They appear, for the most part, to have made a constant companion of some particularly favourite book; for instance, St. Jerome slept with a copy of Aristotle under his pillow; Lord Clarendon had a couple of favourites, Livy and Tacitus; Lord Chatham had a good classical library, with an especial fondness for Barrow; Leibnitz died in a chair with the 'Argenis' of Barclay in his hand; Kant, who never left his birthplace, Königsburg, had a weakness in the direction of books of travel. 'Were I to sell my library,' wrote Diderot, 'I would keep back Homer, Moses, and Richardson.' Sir W. Jones, like many other distinguished men, loved his Caesar. Chesterfield, agreeing with Callimachus, that 'a great book is a great evil,' and with La Fontaine—

'Les longs ouvrages me font peur
Loin j'épuiser une matière
Il faut n'en prendre que la fleur'—

hated ponderous, prosy, pedantic tomes. Garrick had an extensive collection on the history of the stage, but Shakespeare was his only constant friend. Gibbon was a book-collector more in the sense of a man who collects books as literary tools than as a bibliophile. But it is scarcely necessary just now to enter more fully into the subject of great men who were also book-lovers. Sufficient it is, perhaps, to know that they have all felt the blessedness of books, for, as Washington Irving in one of his most lofty sentences has so well put it, 'When all that is worldly turns to dross around us, these the comforts of a well-stored library only retain their steady value; when friends grow cold, and the converse of intimates languishes into vapid civility and commonplace, these only continue the unaltered countenance of happier days, and cheer us with that true friendship which never deceived hope nor deserted sorrow.'

It is infinitely easier to name those who have collected books in this vast and unwieldy London of ours, than it is to classify them. To adopt botanical phraseology, the genus is defined in a word or two, but the species, the varieties, the hybrids, and the seedlings, how varied and impossible their classification! Most men have bought books, some have read a few, and others many; but beyond this rough grouping together we shall not attempt anything. One thing, however, the majority of book-collectors agree in, and that is in regarding their own generation as a revolution—they have, as Butler has described it in his picture of an antiquary, 'a great value for that which is past and gone, like the madman that fell in love with Cleopatra.'

Differing in many, and often material, points as one book-collector does from another, the entire passion for collecting may be said to focus itself into two well-defined grooves. A man either collects books for his own intellectual profit, or out of pure ostentatious vanity. In the ensuing pages there will be found ample and material facts in regard to the former, so that we may say here all that we have to say regarding the latter. The second type of book-enthusiast has two of the most powerful factors in his apparently reckless career—his own book-greed, and the bookseller who supplies and profits by him.

'What do you think of my library?' the King of Spain once asked Bautru, the French wit, as he showed him the collection at the Escurial, at that time in the charge of a notoriously ignorant librarian.

'Your Majesty's library is very fine,' answered Bautru, bowing low; 'but your Majesty ought to make the man who has charge of it an officer of the Treasury.'

'And why?' queried the King.

'Because,' replied Bautru, 'the librarian of your Majesty seems to be a man who never touches that which is confided to him.'

There are many varieties of the ignorant collector type. The most fruitful source is the nouveau riche. Book-collecting is greatly a matter of fashion; and most of us will remember what Benjamin Franklin said of this prevailing vice: 'There are numbers that, perhaps, fear less the being in hell, than out of the fashion.' The enterprising individual who, on receipt of a catalogue of medical books, wired to the bookseller, 'What will you take for the lot?' and on a price being quoted, again telegraphed, 'Send them along,' was clearly a person who wished to be fashionable. Another characteristically amusing illustration of this type of book-collector is related by an old-established second-hand bookseller, who had bought at a country sale some two or three hundred volumes in a fair condition. But they were principally old sermons, or, what is worse, theology and political economy. He placed a sample lot outside his shop, leaving the bulk of the stock untouched. The little parcel attracted the attention of a stylishly dressed man, who entered the shop and said, 'I'll take these books, and, say, have you any more of this kind with this shield onto them?' pointing to the bookplate attached, which bore the arms and name of a good old county family. 'That box, sir, is full of books from the same house, and probably every book has the same bookplate, but I have not yet had time to examine them.' 'What's yer figger for them, any way? See here, I start back to Chicago to-morrow, and I mean to take these books right back along. I'm goin' to start a libery thar, and these books will just fit me, name and all. Just you sort out all that have that shield and name, and send them round to the Langham at seven sharp. I'll be round to settle up; but see, now, don't you send any without that name-plate, for that's my name, too, and I reckon this old hoss with the daggers and roosters might have been related to me some way.'

'I remember,' says the Marquis d'Argenson, in his 'Mémoires,' 'once paying a visit to a well-known bibliomaniac, who had just purchased an extremely scarce volume, quoted at a fabulous price. Having been graciously permitted by its owner to inspect the treasure, I ventured innocently to remark that he had probably bought it with the philanthropic intention of having it reprinted. "Heaven forbid!" he exclaimed in a horrified tone; "how could you suppose me capable of such an act of folly! If I were, the book would be no longer scarce, and would have no value whatever. Besides," he added, "I doubt, between ourselves, if it be worth reprinting." "In that case," said I, "its rarity appears to be its only attraction." "Just so," he complacently replied; "and that is quite enough for me."'

Another type which borders dangerously near to that which we have been describing is the collector who, not necessarily ignorant, collects for himself alone. The motto which Grolier adopted and acted upon—'Io Grolierii et amicorum'—might have been a very safe principle to go upon in the sixteenth century, but it would most certainly fail in the nineteenth, when one's dearest friends are the most unmitigated book-thieves. But perhaps even the too frequent loss of books is an evil to be preferred to the egoistical meanness of the selfish collector. Balzac gives in his 'Cousin Pons' a vivid delineation of such a person. The hero is a poor drudging music-teacher and orchestra-player, who has invested every franc of his hard-won earnings in the collecting of exquisite paintings, prints, bric-à-brac, and other rare mementoes of the eighteenth century. Despised by all, even by his kindred, trodden upon as a nobody, slow, patient, and ever courageous, he unites to a complete technical knowledge a marvellous intuition of the beautiful, and his treasures are for him pride, bliss, and life. There is no show in this case, no desire for show, no ambition of the despicable shoddy-genteel sort—a more than powerful creation of fiction. A strikingly opposite career of selfishness is suggested by the fairly well-known story of Don Vincente, the friar bookseller of Barcelona, who, in order to obtain a volume which a rival bookseller, Paxtot, had secured at an auction, set fire one night to Paxtot's shop, and stole the precious volume—a supposed unique copy of the 'Furs e ordinacions fetes per los gloriosos reys de Arago als regnicoes del regne de Valencia,' printed by Lambert Palmart, 1482. When the friar was brought up for judgment, he stolidly maintained his innocence, asserting that Paxtot had sold it to him after the auction. Further inquiry resulted in the discovery that Don Vincente possessed a number of books which had been purchased from him by customers who were shortly afterwards found assassinated. It was only after receiving a formal promise that his library should not be dispersed, but preserved in its integrity, that he determined to make a clean breast of it, and confess the details of the crimes that he had committed. In cross-examination, Don Vincente spurned the suggestion that he was a thief, for had he not given back to his victims the money which they had paid him for the books?

'And it was solely for the sake of books that you committed these murders?' asked the judge.

'Books! yes, books! Books are the glory of God!'

Vincente's counsel, in defence of his client, in this desperate strait maintained that there might exist several copies of the books found in his possession, and that it was out of the question to condemn, on his own sham avowal, a man who appeared to be half cracked. The counsel for the prosecution said that that plea could not be urged in the case of the book printed by Lambert Palmart, as but one copy of that was in existence. But the prisoner's counsel retorted by putting in evidence attested affirmation that a second copy was in France.

Up to this moment Vincente had maintained an imperturbable calm; but on hearing his counsel's plea he burst into tears. In the end, Don Vincente was condemned to be strangled, and when asked if he had anything more to urge, all he could utter, sobbing violently, was, 'Ah! your worship, my copy was not unique!'

Cousin Pons and Don Vincente are extreme instances of bibliomaniacs to whom the possession of a book was the supreme happiness of life. The man of Fiction and the man of Fact were at one in this passion of acquisitiveness. Don Vincente was compelled by hunger—mala suada fames—to become a book seller; and if it became a general rule for book-collectors to become booksellers there would, we venture to think, be a very material increase in police-court and, perhaps, criminal cases generally. Mr. G. A. Sala tells us an amusing story of the late Frederick Guest Tomlins, a historian and journalist of repute. In the autumn of his life Tomlins decided to set up as a bookseller. He purposed to deal chiefly in mediæval literature, in which he was profoundly versed. The venture was scarcely successful. A customer entered his shop one day and asked for a particular book, as marked in the catalogue. 'I had really no idea it was there,' meditatively remarked Mr. Tomlins, as he ascended a ladder to a very high shelf and pulled out a squabby little tome. Then he remained about five-and-twenty minutes on the ladder absorbed in the perusal of the volume, when the customer, growing impatient, began to rap on the counter with his stick. Thereupon Mr. Tomlins came down the ladder. 'If you think,' he remarked, with calm severity, to the intending purchaser, 'that any considerations of vile dross will induce me to part with this rare and precious little volume, you are very much mistaken. It is like your impudence. Be off with you!' A not altogether dissimilar anecdote is related by Lord Lytton in that curious novel 'Zanoni,' in which one of the characters is an old bookseller who, after years of toil, succeeded in forming an almost perfect library of works on occult philosophy. Poor in everything but a genuine love for the mute companions of his old age, he was compelled to keep open his shop, and trade, as it were, in his own flesh. Let a customer enter, and his countenance fell; let him depart empty-handed, and he would smile gaily, oblivious for a time of bare cupboard and inward cravings.

À propos of a literary man turning bookseller, the experiment has often been tried, but it has generally failed. Second-hand bookselling seems to be a frequent experiment after the failures of other trades and callings. We have known grocers, greengrocers, coal-dealers, pianoforte-makers, printers, bookbinders, cheap-jacks, in London, adopt the selling of books as a means of livelihood. Sometimes—and several living examples might be cited—the experiment is a success, but frequently a failure. The knowledge of old books is not picked up in a month or a year. The misfortune which seems to dog the footsteps of many men in every move they make, does not fail to pursue them in bookselling. Some of them might almost say with Fulmer, in Cumberland's 'West Indian' (1771): 'I have beat through every quarter of the compass . . .  I have blustered for prerogatives, I have bellowed for freedom, I have offered to serve my country, I have engaged to betray it . . . I have talked treason, writ treason. . . . And here I set up as a bookseller, but men leave off reading, and if I were to turn butcher I believe they'd leave off eating.'

There can be no doubt about the fact that Englishmen as a rule do not attach sufficient importance to book-buying. If the better-class tradesman, or professional man, spends a few pounds at Christmas or on birthday occasions, he feels that he has become a patron of literature. How many men, who are getting £1,000 a year, spend £1 per month on books? The library of the average middle-class person is in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the cruelest possible commentary on his intelligence, and, as a matter of fact, if it contains a couple of volumes worthy of the name of books, their presence is more often than not an accidental one. A few volumes of the Sunday at Home, the Leisure Hour, Cassell's Magazine, or perhaps a few other monthly periodicals, carefully preserved during the twelve months of their issue, and bound up at the end of the year—with such stuff as this is the average Englishman's bookcase filled. Mark Pattison has gone so far as to declare that while the aggregate wealth of the United Kingdom is many times more than it was one hundred and fifty years ago, the circle of book-buyers, of the lovers of literature, is certainly not larger, if it be not absolutely smaller. It may be urged that a person with £1,000 per annum as income usually spends £100 in rent, and that the accommodation which can be got for that amount does not permit of one room being devoted to library purposes. This may be true, but this explanation is not a valid excuse, for a set of shelves, 13 feet by 10 feet 6 inches, placed against a wall will accommodate nearly one thousand octavo volumes—the genius of the world can be pressed into a hundred volumes. An American has advised his readers to 'own all the books you can, use all the books you own, and as many more as you can get.' The advice is good, and it is well to remember that by far the majority of great book-collectors have lived to a ripe old age. The companionship of books is unquestionably one of the greatest antidotes to the ravages of time, and study is better than all medical formulas for the prolongation of life.

The man who has resolved upon getting together a collection of first-class books may not unreasonably be appalled at the difficulties which stand in the way. And what, indeed, it may be asked, will become of the hundreds and thousands of books which are now all the fashion? How many will survive the levelling process of the next half a score of years, and how few will be known, except to bibliographers, half a century hence? The lessons of the past would aid us in arriving at some sort of conclusion as regards the future, if we were inclined to indulge in speculation of this vain character. It will, however, be interesting to point out that of the 1,300 books printed before the beginning of the sixteenth century, not more than 300 are of any importance to the book-collector. Of the 50,000 published in the seventeenth century, not more than perhaps fifty are now held in estimation; and of the 80,000 published in the eighteenth century not more than 300 are considered worth reprinting, and not more than 500 are sought after.

In a curious little book, 'L'An 2440, rêvue s'il en fut jamais,' published in Paris a century ago, there is a very quaint description of the process by which, in an improved state of society, men would apply themselves not to multiply books, but to gather knowledge. The sages of the political millennium exhibited their stores of useful learning in a cabinet containing a few hundred volumes. All the lumber of letters had perished, or was preserved only in one or two public libraries for the gratification of a few harmless dreamers that were tolerated in their laborious idleness. This pleasant little picture, drawn by M. L. S. Mercier, of the state of things five centuries hence, is in strong contrast to the painful plethora of books of the present day. Dr. Ingleby, the famous Shakespearian scholar, is credited with the idea of establishing a society for the purpose of procuring books which no one else would buy; but this society (the 'Syncretic Book-club') could not have had any success if the vast quantities of unsaleable rubbish which one meets with on every hand are to be taken into account. Doubtless Dr. Ingleby would have included in his scope such books as Lord Lonsdale's 'Memoir of the Reign of James II.,' 1803, which fifty years ago sold for 5-1/2 guineas, but which, within the past few months, has declined to two shillings!

There was a time when even old and unsaleable books had a commercial value. Before the cheapening of paper, a second-hand bookseller had always the paper-mill to fall back on, and the price then paid, £1 10s. per cwt., was one inducement to dispose of folios and quartos which remained year in and year out without a purchaser. The present price of waste-paper is half a crown a hundredweight, so that the bookseller is now practically shut out of this poor market. Indeed, an enterprising bibliopole was lately offering 'useful old books,' etc., at 3s. 6d. per cwt., free on the rails, provided not less than six hundredweight is bought. 'To young beginners,' he states, 'these lots are great bargains'; but whether he means young beginners in literature or young beginners in trade, is an open question. In either case, 'useful old books' at the price of waste-paper are a novelty. There is a certain amount of danger in the wholesale destruction of books, for posterity may place a high value, literary and commercial, on the very works which are now consigned to the paper-mill. Unfortunately, posterity will not pay booksellers' rent of to-day. Just as those books which have the largest circulation are likely to become the rarest, so do those which were at one time most commonly met with often, after the lapse of a few decades, become difficult to obtain. In one of his 'Echoes' notes, Mr. G. A. Sala tells us that, in the course of forty years' bookstall-hunting, he has known a great number of books once common become scarce and costly—e.g., Lawrence's 'Lectures on Man'; Walker's 'Analysis of Beauty'; Millingen's 'Curiosities of Medical Experience'; Beckford's 'Vathek' in French; Jeremy Bentham's works; and Harris's 'Hermes.' Possibly the disappearance of these and many other books may be attributed to certain definite causes. For example, in the early years of this century one of the commonest books at 1s. or 1s. 6d. was Theobald's 'Shakespeare Restored'; but fifty years later it was a very rare book. The interest in Shakespeare and his editors had become quite wide-spread in literary circles, and literature in any way bearing on the subject found ready purchasers.

Just as the disappearance of certain books sends their prices up considerably in the market, so the unexpected appearance of others has just the reverse effect. Until quite recently one of the scarcest of the first editions of the writings of Charles Dickens was a thin octavo pamphlet of seventy-one pages, entitled 'The Village Coquettes: a Comic Opera. In two Acts. London: Richard Bentley, 1836.' So rare was this book that very few collectors could boast the possession of it, and an uncut example might always be sold for £30 or £40. About a year before his death, Dickens was asked by Mr. Locker-Lampson whether he had a copy; his reply was: 'No, and if I knew it was in my house, and if I could not get rid of it in any other way, I would burn the wing of the house where it was'—the words, no doubt, being spoken in jest. Not long since, a mass of waste-paper from a printer's warehouse was returned to the mills to be pulped, and would certainly have been destroyed had not one of the workmen employed upon the premises caught sight of the name of 'Charles Dickens' upon some of the sheets. The whole parcel was carefully examined, and the searchers were rewarded by the discovery of nearly a hundred copies of 'The Village Coquettes,' in quires, clean and unfolded. These were passed into the market, and the price at once fell to about £5. The most curious things turn up sometimes in a similar manner. A little sixpenny bazaar book ('Two Poems,' by Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, 1854) was for a long time extremely rare, as much as £3 or £4 being paid for it when it occurred for sale. Suddenly it appeared in a bookseller's catalogue at 2s., and as every applicant could have as many as he wanted, it then leaked out that the bookseller, Mr. Herbert, had purchased about 100 copies with books which he purposed sending to the mill. Even 'remainders' sometimes turn out to be little gold-mines. The late Mr. Stibbs bought the 'remainder' of Keats's 'Endymion' at 4d. per copy. We do not know what he realized by this investment, but their value for some years has been £4 and upwards.

The subject of book-finds is one about which a volume might be written. Every 'special' collector has his fund of book-hunting anecdotes and incidents, for, where the rarity of a well-known book is common property, there is not usually much excitement in running it to earth. The fun may be said to begin when two or three people are known to be on the hunt after a rare and little-known volume, whose interest is of a special character. To take, as an illustration, one of the most successful book-hunters of modern times, the late Henry Stevens, of Vermont. Until Mr. Stevens created the taste for Americana among his fellow-countrymen, very few collectors considered the subject worth notice. And yet, in the space of a quarter of a century, he unearthed more excessively rare and unique items than the wildest dreamer could have supposed to exist. Books and pamphlets which were to be had for the proverbial old song when he first came to this country quickly became the objects of the keenest competition in the saleroom, and invariably found buyers at extravagant prices. As an illustration, although not an American item, we may mention that when a copy of the Mazarin Bible was offered at Sotheby's in 1847, the competitors were an agent of Mr. James Lenox (Stevens' client) and Sir Thomas Phillipps in person; the latter went to £495, but the agent went £5 better, and secured the prize at the then unheard-of price of £500. At first Mr. Lenox declined to take the book, but eventually altered his mind, wisely as it proved, for although at long intervals copies are being unearthed, the present value of Mr. Lenox's copy cannot be much short of £4,000. During 1854 and 1855 Mr. Stevens bought books to the value of over 50,000 dollars for Mr. Lenox, and on reviewing the invoices of these two years, 'I am confident,' says Mr. Stevens, 'that, if the same works were now' (1887) 'to be collected, they would cost more than 250,000 dollars. But can so much and so many rare books ever be collected again in that space of time?' In December, 1855, Mr. Stevens offered Mr. Lenox in one lump about forty Shakespeare quartos, all in good condition, and some of them very fine, for £500, or, including a fair set of the four folios, £600, an offer which was accepted, and it may be doubted whether such a set could now be purchased for £6,000. Mr. Lenox was for over ten years desirous of obtaining a perfect copy of 'The Bay Psalter,' printed by Stephen Daye at Cambridge, New England, 1640, the first book printed in what is now the United States, and had given Mr. Stevens a commission of £100 for it. After searching far and wide, the long-lost 'Benjamin' was discovered in a lot at the sale of Pickering's stock at Sotheby's in 1855. 'A cold-blooded coolness seized me, and advancing towards the table behind Mr. Lilly, I quietly bid, in a perfectly neutral tone, "Sixpence"; and so the bids went on, increasing by sixpences, until half a crown was reached and Mr. Lilly had loosened the string. Taking up this very volume, he turned to me and remarked, "This looks a rare edition, Mr. Stevens; don't you think so? I do not remember having seen it before," and raised the bid to 5s. I replied that I had little doubt of its rarity, though comparatively a late edition of the Psalms, and at the same time gave Mr. Wilkinson a sixpenny nod. Thenceforward a "spirited competition" arose between Mr. Lilly and myself, until finally the lot was knocked down to Stevens for 19s.' The volume had cost the late Mr. Pickering 3s. It became Mr. Lenox's property for £80. Twenty-three years later another copy was bought by Mr. Cornelius Vanderbilt for 1,200 dollars.

In a letter to Justin Windsor, the late J. Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps gave some very curious and interesting information respecting book-collecting in the earlier half of the present century. 'About the year 1836,' he wrote, 'when I first began hunting for old books at the various stalls in our famous London city, black-letter ones and rare prints were "plenty as blackberries," and I have often found such things in unlikely places and amidst a mass of commonplace rubbish, exposed for sale in boxes labelled, "These books and pamphlets 6d. or 1s. each," outside an old bookseller's window, where another notice informed the passer-by that "Libraries were purchased or books bought;" and thus plainly showed how such now indeed rarities came into the possession of an ignorant bibliopole. It was not, however, till about 1840 that I turned my attention to the more special work of collecting Shakespeare quartos, in which, I may say, I have been very successful. It was at one of George Chalmers' sales that I first bought one or two, and after that I hunted for them in all parts of the country, and met with considerable success, often buying duplicates, and even triplicates, of the same edition and play. At one time I possessed no less than three copies of the very rare quarto edition of "Romeo and Juliet," 1609, and sometimes even had four copies of more than one of the other quartos. Not so very long before this period, old Jolley, the well-known collector, picked up a Caxton at Reading, and a "Venus and Adonis," 1594, at Manchester, in a volume of old tracts, for the ignoble sum of 1s. 3d. Jolley was a wealthy orange-merchant of Farringdon Street, London, and entertained me often with many stories of similar fortunate finds of rare books, which served to whet my appetite only the more. But I was soon stopped in my book-hunting career by the appearance all at once on the scene of a number of buyers with much longer purses than my own, and thus I was driven from a market I had derived so much pleasure from with great regret. Some time afterwards circumstances rendered it desirable that I should part with a large number of my book-treasures by auction and to the British Museum; but even then I retained enough to be instrumental in founding the first Shakespearian library in Scotland, by presenting to the University of Edinburgh, amongst other rarities, nearly fifty copies of original quartos of Shakespeare's plays, printed before the Restoration, and to keep sufficient myself of the rarest and most valuable examples.'

Sometimes the notes of a former possessor have a considerable literary interest, as, for example, the copy of Stowe's 'Survey of London,' 1618, presented to the Penzance Library by the late J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps, who has written, under date December 24, 1867, the following note: 'This is a favourite book of mine. I like to read of London as it was, with the bright Thames crowded with fish, and its picturesque architecture. . . . I should not have discarded this volume for any library, had I not this day picked up a beautiful large paper copy of it, the only one in that condition I ever saw or heard of.'

As an illustration of the enhanced value possessed by books having notes written in them by their owners, it may be mentioned that when the great Mr. Fox's furniture was sold by auction after his death in 1806, amongst the books there happened to be the first volume of Gibbon's 'Decline and Fall,' which apparently had been given by the author to Fox, who wrote on the fly-leaf this note: 'The author at Brooks' said there was no salvation for this country, until six heads of the principal persons in the administration were laid on the table. Eleven days after, this same gentleman accepted a place of "lord of trade" under those very ministers, and has acted with them ever since.' This peculiarly nasty little note sent the value of the odd volume up to £3 3s. Gibbon, writing in his 'Autobiography' of Fox, says, 'I admired the powers of a superior man, as they are blended in his attractive character with the softness and simplicity of a child,' an opinion which he might have modified if he had lived to read the foregoing note. When Canning's books, for the most part of an exceedingly commonplace and uninteresting character, came under the hammer at Christie's in 1828, the competition was extremely keen for all volumes which bore the great statesman's autograph, and as most of the books contained more or less elaborate indications of Canning's proprietorship, his executors received nearly double the sum which they could reasonably expect. Similar illustrations occur every year at book-auctions.

The idiosyncrasies of collectors might make quite as long a chapter as that of books which have belonged to famous persons, and it is for the same reason that we have to deal briefly with each. It is curious that almost as soon as book-collecting became at all general, the 'faddy' man came into existence. Dr. John Webster, of Clitheroe, who died June 18, 1682, aged seventy-two, for example, had a library which was rich in books of romance, and what was then termed 'the black art'; but Webster was the author of a rare volume on witchcraft, so that his books were his literary tools—just as, a century later, John Rennie, the distinguished civil engineer, made a speciality of mathematical books, of which he had a collection nearly complete in all languages. Dr. Benjamin Moseley's library, which was sold by Stewart in March, 1814, was composed for the most part of books on astrology, magic, and facetiæ. The Rev. F. J. Stainforth, whose library was sold at Sotheby's in 1867, collected practically nothing but books written by or relating to women; he aimed to secure not only every book, but every edition of such books. He was a most determined book-hunter, and when Holywell Street was at its lowest moral ebb, this eccentric gentleman used to visit all the bookshops almost daily, his inquiry being, 'Have you any women for me to-day?' Mr. Stainforth, who died in September, 1866, was for many years curate of Camden Church, Camberwell, and was from 1851 incumbent of All Hallow's, Staining, the stipend of which was about £560, and the population about 400. 'Bless my books—all my Bible books, all my hocus pocus, and all my leger-de-main books, and all my other books, whether particularly mentioned at this time or not,' was the prayer of a Scotsman of about a century and a quarter ago, and so perhaps the Rev. Mr. Stainforth thought, if he did not utter occasionally some such petition.

Half a century ago one of the most inveterate frequenters of book-auctions was a certain Dr. G., of diminutive stature, on account of an awkward deviation of the spine. At that time the appearance of a private purchaser at a sale was a very rare event, and one which, when it occurred, invariably met with a more or less hostile reception from the fraternity. Dr. G.'s first appearance produced a good deal of sensation. The hunchback, it is true, was rather shabbily dressed, but 'l'habit ne fait pas le moine,' and is certainly no trustworthy index to the pockets of the wearer. Excitement reached fever-heat when a Wynkyn de Worde was put up and persistently contested for by the doctor, who ran it up against the booksellers present (some of whom quickly desisted from the fun for fear of burning their fingers), one of whom, far exceeding his commission, obstinately refused to give in until the book was knocked down to him to his own dismay, and the delight and ironical compliments of his colleagues. After this contretemps the doctor had it pretty much his own way; his name was duly entered on the sale catalogue, and his address was known. The next day our bookseller, sobered by reflection, called on the doctor, confessed his sin of the previous day, humbly asked for absolution, and offered him the book at an immense loss on the sale price. 'If you were,' replied the doctor, 'to bring the book at my door for nothing, I would take it with a pair of tongs and drop it into the gutter.' It was a puzzle to everyone what the little doctor did with all his purchases, which were limited chiefly to classical books. At his death, however, it transpired that he bought for the various Universities of the United Kingdom. The doctor's son, a poor curate, entered his late father's library for the first time, and found there a mass of books, which occupied nearly a month in selling, and realized, to his delight, a large sum of money.

The contempt with which Dr. G. received the bookseller's proposal is peculiarly typical of the book-collector. If he cannot obtain what he wants just exactly when he wants it, he does not care about it. The book-collector is doubtless too prone to despise everything which is not quite in his line, forgetting that all branches of literature contribute in some degree, greater or lesser, to the bulk of human knowledge. No man can be universal, even if he had the wealth of a dozen Rothschilds, or the mental vigour and versatility of a hundred Gladstones.

The book-hunter has, however, his good traits, which sometimes require a good deal of finding, it is true. We need not dwell at great length on his apparently unconquerable habit of beating down the prices, for the custom is too well known to require much explanation; but a view of the other side of the picture is only fair. A few years ago a well-known bookseller catalogued a copy of the 'Book of Job' at a very low figure. A wealthy collector, whose purchases were generally closed on the judgment of a distinguished bookman, asked to have the copy sent on approval. It was despatched; but came back within a few days. No explanation was volunteered: when, however, the collector came into the shop a short time after, he was asked why he had returned the book. His answer was to the effect that he could not persuade himself that the illustrations were really by Blake, particularly as the price asked was so low. A week or so after this a distinguished art-critic, hearing of the whereabouts of this copy, asked to have it on approval: in sending it the bookseller enclosed a note to the effect that some doubt had been expressed as to the genuineness of the plates. In a few days came a cheque from the man of art for £10 over and above the catalogue price, and a note to the effect that the illustrations were not only unquestionably by Blake, but in the finest possible state.

Last summer a certain bookseller sold, after some considerable amount of haggling, a very fine Missal for £65, which was £5 less than its catalogue price. A few weeks after the purchaser called and paid the additional £5, explaining that a friend of his had taken a violent fancy to the book, and begged to be allowed to possess it at £70. Another honest book-collector, discovering that he had bought a book considerably cheaper than an example had been sold at Sotheby's, and £2 less than Mr. Quaritch had asked for a similar copy, sent his bookseller a present of a parcel of books to make up the difference in the two amounts.





Copyright © D. J. McAdam· All Rights Reserved