Women as Book Collectors

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

It seems a curiously contradictory fact that, although Englishwomen are on the whole greater readers than men, they are, as book-collectors or bibliophiles, an almost unknown quantity. In France this is not the case, and several books have been published there on the subject of les femmes bibliophiles. An analysis of their book-possessions, however, leads one to the conclusion that with them their sumptuously-bound volumes partake more of the nature of bijouterie than anything else. Many of the earlier of these bibliophiles were unendowed with any keen appreciation for intellectual pursuits, and they collected pretty books just as they would collect pretty articles of feminine decoration. They therefore form a little community which can scarcely be included in the higher category of intellectual book-collectors. It would be much easier to assert that Englishwomen differ from Frenchwomen in this respect than it would be to back up the assertion with material proof. Indeed, after all that could possibly be said in favour of our own countrywomen as book-collectors, we fear that it would not amount to very much. It is certain that our history does not afford any name of the first importance, certainly none which can be classed with Anne of Austria (wife of Louis XIII.), the Duchesse de Berry, Catherine de Médicis, Christina of Sweden, Diane de Poitiers, the Comtesse Du Barry, Marie Antoinette, the Marquise de Pompadour, or of at least a dozen others whose names immediately suggest themselves. The only English name, in fact, worthy to be classed with the foregoing is that of Queen Elizabeth, who, in addition to her passion for beautiful books, may also be regarded as a genuine book-lover and reader.

There were, however, Englishwomen who collected books long before Elizabeth's time. In the year 1355, Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare—the foundress of Clare Hall, Cambridge—bequeathed to her foundation 'Deux bons antiphoners chexun ove un grayel (Gradule) en mesme le volum, 1 bone legende, 1 bone messale, bien note, 1 autre messale coverte de blank quir, 1 bone bible coverte de noir quir, 1 hugueion, 1 legende sanctorum, 1 poire de decretals, 1 livre des questions, et xxii quaires d'un livre appella, De causa Dei contra Pelagianos.'

About seventy years after Elizabeth de Burgh's bequest, we learn that in 1424 the Countess of Westmoreland presented a petition to the Privy Council representing that the late King Henry had borrowed from her a book containing the Chronicles of Jerusalem and the Expedition of Godfrey of Boulogne, and praying that an order might be issued under the Privy Seal for the restoration of the said book. With much formality the petition was granted. But we might go back several hundred years prior to either of these dates, for the Abbess Eadburga not only transcribed books herself and kept several scholars for a similar purpose, but fed the bibliomaniacal zeal of Boniface, the Saxon missionary, by presenting him with a number of books. Appropriately enough, he presented the Abbess on one occasion with a silver pen.

Two historic illuminated manuscripts, formerly the property of distinguished women, were sold from the Fountaine Collection at Christie's, in July, 1894. The more interesting item was Henry VIII.'s own copy of the 'Psalmes or Prayers taken out of Holye Scripture,' printed on vellum, by Thomas Berthelet, 1544. This book is of great historic interest. Shortly before his death he gave it to his daughter, Princess Mary (afterwards Queen Mary), who subsequently presented it to Queen Catherine Parr, with the following inscription: 'Madame, I shall desyer yor grace most humbly to accepte thys ritde hande and unworthy whose harte and servyce unfaynedly you shall be seur of duryng my lyf contynually. Your most humble dowghter and servant, Marye.' On the back of the leaf containing the foregoing inscription is written: 'Mors est ingressus quidam immortalis future quæ tamen est maxime horribilis carni Catherina Regina K. P.' On a small piece of vellum inside the cover the King has written: 'Myne owne good daughter I pray you remember me most hartely wen you in your prayers do shew for grace, to be attayned assurydly to yor lovyng fader. Henry R.' This book contains quite a number of other inscriptions by Henry, Catherine, and others, and is, on the whole, of peculiarly striking interest. It was purchased by Mr. Quaritch for 610 guineas. A beautiful companion to the foregoing is a manuscript 'Horæ' of the fifteenth century, on very pure vellum, consisting of 176 leaves (8-1/2 inches by 6 inches). This manuscript formerly belonged to Margaret, mother of King Henry VII., and has at the end this inscription, in her handwriting, addressed to Lady Shyrley, to whom she presented it:

'My good Lady Shyrley pray for
Me that gevythe you thys booke,
And hertely pray you (Margaret)
Modyr to the kynge.'

Margaret, Countess of Richmond and Derby, was the only daughter and heir of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, and was not only distinguished for her piety and charity, but was a great patron of Caxton, whose successor, Wynkyn de Worde, styled himself 'Her printer.' This beautiful manuscript was probably written and illuminated by her command in the reign of her son, Henry VII. It realized £350.

For all practical purposes, Queen Elizabeth may be regarded as the first distinguished femme bibliophile. Of this truculent and strong-minded personage much has been written, and it is scarcely likely that there is much unpublished material respecting her library. It is not necessary nor desirable to enter exhaustively into even so fascinating a topic. A few generalizations will not, however, be unwelcome. The books which she possessed before she ascended the throne are excessively rare, and even those owned by her after that event are by no means common. Elizabeth herself embroidered several books with her own hands, the most beautiful example of her work being a copy of the Epistles of St. Paul, now at the Bodleian. The black silk binding is covered with devices embroidered by the Princess during her sequestration at Woodstock, representing the Judgment of Solomon and the Brazen Serpent, and these have been reproduced by Dibdin in 'Bibliomania.' From an inventory published in Archæologia we learn that, in the sixteenth year of her reign, the Queen possessed a book of the Evangelists, of which the covers were decorated with a crucifix and with her arms in silver, weighing, with the wood corners, 112 ounces. Among the books which the notorious Libri 'conveyed' were two which appear to have belonged to Elizabeth, first a volume containing Fenestella's 'De Magistratibus Sacerdotusque Romanorum' (1549), and another tract, which realized £5; and Jones's 'Arte and Science of Preserving Bodie and Soul in Healthe, Wisdome, and Catholicke Religion' (1579), beautifully bound 'à petit fers,' which realized close on £20.

The British Museum contains several books, including one or two very beautiful ones, which were formerly the Queen's, and among these perhaps the most notable is an imperfect copy of Coverdale's New Testament (circa 1538). Upon the inside of the cover is the following manuscript note: 'This small book was once the property of Q. Elizabeth, and actually presented by her to A. Poynts, who was her maid of Honor. In it are a few lines of the Queen's own hand writing and signing. Likewise a small drawing of King Edward the 6th when very young [of Windsor Castle] and one of the Knights in his robes.' The 'few lines' of the Queen's are as follows: 'Amonge good thinges | I prove and finde, the quiet | life dothe muche abounde | and sure to the contentid | mynde, ther is no riches | may be founde | your lovinge | mistress Elizabeth.' An interesting point is raised in the Library (ii. 65, 66), by Mr. W. G. Hardy, relative to the books of the Earl of Essex, which were believed to have become the property of Elizabeth after the unfortunate favourite's execution in 1601. The finest as well as the best known of the Queen's embroidered books, now in the British Museum, is Archbishop Parker's 'De Antiquitate Ecclesiæ Britannicæ,' 1572, presented by the author to Elizabeth, for whom also he had it specially bound. It is covered in green velvet. We give facsimiles of the two sides of the cover of the manual of prayers which the Queen is said to have carried about with her, attached by a gold chain to her girdle. It is bound in gold and enamelled, said to be the workmanship of George Heriot. The prayers were printed by A. Barker, 1574. The front side of the cover contains a representation of the raising of the serpent in the wilderness; whilst on the back is represented the judgment of Solomon. This book was for many years in the Duke of Sussex's collection; it was sold with the rest of the collection of the late George Field, at Christie's, June 13, 1893, for 1,220 guineas, to Mr. C. J. Wertheimer.

The Marquis of Salisbury's library at Hatfield contains a number of books which belonged to two distinguished ladies of the Elizabethan period. Lady M. Burghley's many book-treasures included a number of learned works which we do not usually associate with the women of the time. There were, for instance, Basil, 'Orationes,' 1556; Bodin, 'La République,' 1580; Erasmus, 'De Copia Verborum,' 1573; Fernelius, 'Medecina,' 1554; Hemming, 'Commentarius in Ephesios,' 1574; Haddon, 'Contra Osorium,' 1557; Jasparus, 'Encomium,' 1546; Valerius, 'Tabulæ Dialectices,' 1573; Velcurio, 'Commentarius in Aristotelis,' 1573; Whitgift's 'Answer to Cartwright,' 1574, and several others. A few of the books which were once possessed by Anne Cecil (sister of Sir Robert Cecil), Countess of Oxford, are also at Hatfield, notably a 'Grammaire Française,' 1559, and an edition of Cicero 'Epîtres Familières.'

During the eighteenth century, the taste for books was by no means uncommon among women, although only a bold man would declare that that period produced a genuine femme bibliophile. The idea of a lady's library was first suggested by Addison in the Spectator, No. 37. In No. 79 Steele takes up the thread of the subject, to which Addison returns in No. 92, and Steele again in No. 140. These papers created a want which Richard Steele, with a doubly benevolent object, essayed to fill. 'The Ladies' Library,' ostensibly 'written by a lady,' and 'published by Mr. Steele,' was issued by Jacob Tonson in 1714. It was in three volumes, each of which had a separate dedication; the first is addressed to the Countess of Burlington, the second to Mrs. Bovey, a learned and very beautiful widow, by some supposed to be identical with Sir Roger de Coverley's obdurate veuve, whilst the third, in a strain of loyal and affectionate eulogy, is to Steele's own wife, who may be supposed to be depicted in Du Guernier's frontispiece in the first volume. The 'Ladies' Library' and the Spectator papers assist us somewhat in forming an opinion as to the most popular books among the ladies of the earlier part of the last century. The library of the lady whom Addison visited is described as arranged in a very beautiful order. 'At the end of the folios (which were finely bound and gilt) were great jars of china, placed one above the other, in a very noble piece of architecture. The quartos were separated from the octavos by a pile of smaller vessels, which rose in a delightful pyramid. The octavos were bounded by tea dishes of all shapes, colours and sizes. . . . That part of the library designed for the reception of plays and pamphlets was inclosed in a kind of square, consisting of one of the prettiest grotesque works that ever I saw, and made up of scaramouches, lions, monkeys, and a thousand odd figures in chinaware. In the midst of the room was a little Japan table, with a quire of gilt paper upon it, and on the paper a silver snuff-box fashioned in the shape of a little book.' On the upper shelves Addison noticed the presence of a number of other counterfeit volumes, all the classic authors, and a set of the Elzevir first editions in wood, only the titles meant to be read. Among the books Addison mentions are Virgil, Juvenal, Sir Isaac Newton's works, Locke on 'Human Understanding,' a spelling-book, a dictionary for the explanation of hard words, Sherlock on 'Death,' 'The Fifteen Comforts of Matrimony,' Father Malebranche's 'Search after Truth,' 'A Book of Novels', 'The Academy of Compliments,' 'Clelia,' 'Advice to a Daughter,' 'The New Atalantis' (with key), a Prayer-book (with a bottle of Hungary water by the side of it), Dr. Sacheverel's speech, Fielding's Trial, Seneca's 'Morals,' Taylor's 'Holy Living and Dying,' and La Ferte's 'Instruction for Country Dances,' etc.

The list is a quaint bit of Addisonian satire, almost worthy to rank by the side of Sir Roger de Coverley. Addison had no very elevated opinion of the intellectual gifts of his women contemporaries, as the juxtaposition of the Prayer-book with the bottle of Hungary waters (a popular stimulating perfume of the day) shows. The books above named were at that time to be found in nearly every gentleman's library, and that they should be found in the possession of women is not surprising. Addison's 'intellectual lady' and her library are a fiction, but a charming fiction withal. In spite of the literary glories of her reign, 'Glorious Anna' can scarcely be regarded as a book-collector. Queen Caroline, the consort of George II., was an enthusiastic bibliophile. Her library was preserved until recently in a building adjoining the Green Park, called the Queen's Library, and subsequently the Duke of York's. An interior view of the building is given in Pyne's 'Royal Residences.' We give on page 267 a reproduction of one of the earliest English bookplates engraved for a lady. It was discovered a few years ago in a volume of title-pages collected by John Bagford, and now in the British Museum. Of Elizabeth Pindar as a book-collector, or, indeed, as anything else, we are without any record.

The present century has produced two of the most distinguished femmes bibliophiles which this country has ever known. The earlier collector, Miss Richardson Currer (1785-1861), of Eshton Hall, in the Deanery of Craven, York, was the owner of an exceedingly rich library of books. Of these, two catalogues were printed. The first, in 1820, under the superintendence of Robert Triphook, extended to 308 pages; the second was drawn up by C. J. Stewart in 1833. That of the latter included four steel engravings of her library. This library was especially strong in British history, and it included a copy on vellum of the St. Albans reprint of Caxton's 'Chronicle' (wanting only the last leaf), which realized £365 at her sale; of Higden's 'Polychronicon,' printed by Caxton, 1482 (not quite perfect); one of the most perfect copies of Coverdale's Bible, 1535, which sold for £250; of Norden's 'Voyage d'Egypte,' on large paper, and many other fine books. It was also rich in natural science, topography, and antiquities. Dibdin describes her as 'at the head of all the female collectors of Europe.' Miss Currer, who suffered from deafness, was an intimate friend of Richard Heber, and it was rumoured at one time that this distinguished bibliomaniac was engaged to be married to Miss Currer, but the event did not transpire. Miss Currer's books were sold at Sotheby's in July and August, 1862, and realized nearly £6,000, the 2,681 lots occupying ten days in selling. Miss Currer was great-niece of Dr. Richardson, whose correspondence was edited by Dawson Turner in 1835. Two of the views of Miss Currer's fine library in Stewart's catalogue are reproduced by Dibdin in his 'Literary Reminiscences.'

Before passing on to the second famous lady book-collector—Mrs. John Rylands—a few more or less important names may be mentioned in connection with the subject. In August, 1835, Evans sold the 'valuable' library of the late Dowager Lady Elcho, but as her books were mixed with other properties, it is not now possible to distinguish one from the other. Lady Mark Sykes' musical library was sold at Puttick's in March, 1847, and eleven months later Sotheby sold some valuable books and books of prints, the property of a Miss Hamlet. H.R.H. the Princess Elizabeth, Landgravine of Hesse-Homburg, and daughter of George III., was a confirmed book-collector, and her library, divided into 1,606 lots, came under the hammer at Sotheby's in April, 1863. It occupied four days in disposal, and realized £915 12s. 6d. The books, which were chiefly in elegant bindings, were for the most part illustrated works, illuminated manuscripts, and books dealing with a very wide variety of topics; whilst many of them had an extraneous value from the fact that they contained signatures and interesting notes of the Princess and other members of the Royal Family. The libraries of the late Lady Francis Vernon Harcourt (August, 1873); of the late Mrs. Ellis, of Bernard Street, Russell Square (November, 1871); and of the late Miss Beckles (December, 1868), have been dispersed at Sotheby's. Lady Morgan's library, comprising the principal works in French, English, and Italian literature, and many scarce and curious books relating to Irish history—many of the books had the owner's autograph—was sold at the same place in April, 1863, but the 396 lots only realized £70. The library of another literary woman, Miss Agnes Strickland, the historian of the Queens of England, was dispersed at the same place in May, 1876, when a few hundred books realized £60. Some very choice books (many of them enriched with the notes of H. T. Buckle) were included in the portion of the library of the late Mrs. Benzon, of 10, Kensington Palace Gardens, sold at Sotheby's on June 14, 1880, when 379 lots realized over £775. Some books from Mrs. Jameson's library were sold at Puttick's in October, 1882, the more important items being annotated or extra-illustrated copies of her own books. The collection formed by Miss Drummond, of Berkeley Square, Bristol, and sold at Sotheby's in May, 1862 (1,339 lots realizing £1,316 6s.), was a remarkably choice library, the whole in elegant bindings, presenting a great variety of patterns, tooled in gold, with appropriate devices and other decorations. There were splendid 'Galleries,' and books of 'picturesque sceneries,' magnificent volumes on natural history, some beautiful Persian manuscripts, and the best works in standard literature. Mrs. Brassey, of Lower Seymour Street, had some good books, which were sold by Bates on December 23, 1814, and included 'The Golden Legend,' by Caxton, which realized 93 guineas.

Mrs. John Rylands is the widow of the late Mr. John Rylands, of Longford Hall, near Manchester. Mrs. Rylands' career as a femme bibliophile may be briefly summarised thus: In 1889 this lady formed the plan of erecting in Manchester a memorial to her late husband, which should embody one main purpose of his life, as carried out by him very unostentatiously, but with great delight, during the greater part of his career. To make the highest literature accessible to the people was with him a cherished aim, and it was accordingly resolved by his widow that the memorial should be in the form of a library. To this end Mrs. Rylands took into her confidence four gentlemen whose names are well known, and for whom the late Mr. Rylands had the greatest respect and admiration, namely, the Rev. Dr. S. G. Green, of London; the late Rev. Dr. MacFadyen, of Manchester; Mr. W. Carnelly and Mr. W. Linnell, both also of Manchester, with whose aid the preliminaries for carrying out her purpose were speedily arranged. The site in Deansgate, lying between Wood Street and Spinningfield, was purchased, and after visits to several great libraries and other public buildings, Mrs. Rylands instructed the architect of Mansfield College, Oxford, Mr. Basil Champneys, of London, to execute plans for a suitable structure, to bear the name of the John Rylands Library. About the same time she commenced the purchase of books, being aided in this by her friend, Mr. J. Arnold Green, son of the Rev. Dr. Green, who, putting himself in communication with various agents, collected a large number of standard books in English and foreign literatures, including early Bibles, first editions, and many other rare and valuable works, with several choice manuscripts and autographs. The number of volumes purchased reached many thousands, one of the acquisitions being the celebrated copy of the 'Biblia Pauperum,' once belonging to the Borghese Library in Rome, at the sale of which it fetched 15,800 francs. Up to this time a considerable amount had been spent. When the announcement was made in 1892 that Earl Spencer, the owner of the Althorp Library, was willing to dispose of that famous collection, Mrs. Rylands at once felt that its possession would be the crown of her whole scheme—accomplishing it with a completeness of which she never dreamed when first she formed her plans. Mr. Arnold Green accordingly at once communicated on her behalf with Mr. Railton, of Messrs. Sotheran and Co., a firm which had been largely employed by her in previous purchases of books. The result is that the Althorp Library passed into Mrs. Rylands' possession, the price paid being close on a quarter of a million sterling. The transaction is by far the largest of its kind which has ever taken place in this or any other country. It has been calculated that the Althorp Library cost its founder about £100,000, and that it should have more than doubled in value in less than a century is an extremely gratifying fact. It contains a large number of unique and excessively rare books, which nothing short of an upheaval in this country similar to the French Revolution could place on the market. Those who depend upon such a contingency to obtain a few of these splendid books are likely to wait for a very long time.

But even with the striking examples of Miss Currer and Mrs. Rylands before us, the conclusion still forces itself upon one that the femme bibliophile is an all but unknown quantity. The New Woman may develop into a genuine book-lover; it is certain that the old one will not. The Chinese article of belief that women have no souls has, after all, something in its favour.

Bookstall-keepers have a deep contempt for women who patronize them by turning over their books without purchasing. It would not be possible to repeat all the hard things they say about the sex. In the words of one: 'They hang around and read the books, and though I have a man to watch them, while he is driving away one another is reading a chapter. They can read a chapter in a minute.' 'Does that not interest them in the book, so that they buy it?' asked an interlocutor. 'No, sir; it don't. It only makes them go to the other stall and read the last chapter there. Not once in a blue moon, sir, does womenfolk buy a book. A penny weekly is what they buy, and before they fix on one they read half a dozen. You take my word for it, sir, it takes a woman half an hour to spend a penny at a bookstall.' A characteristic incident once happened to an old judge's clerk who had a stall a few years ago in Gray's Inn Road. A lady, with whom there were two or three children, after waiting about the pavement, at length suddenly became interested in the humble bookstall. Several pretty picture-books attracted the attention of the children, and they became clamorous to possess them. The stall-keeper, in the politest possible manner, offered the books at her own price. The reply was: 'Oh no, thanks. We are only looking over the books to kill time.' 'Much obliged to you, ma'am, for your kindness and consideration,' was the prompt reply.


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