Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

the objection urged against his heterodoxy only confirmed him in it. I was recently reminded of this incident by coming across one of the very books which I had so picked up out of a 'sixpenny box' and had quoted in support of my view-an early copy of Thomas Randolph's Aristippus, or the Jovial Philosopher.

'Never find anything at a bookstall in the "sixpenny box "'! A greater mistake was never made. Some years ago a very able critic was stopped in the preparation of an article on a very interesting historical question for want of a certain pamphlet on the subject which, when published some twenty or thirty years before, had excited great attention. All the booksellers had been canvassed without success. At last he advertised for it, naming, as the price he was willing to give, about as many shillings as it was worth pence. He had a copy within eight-and-forty hours, with a large 6d.' pencilled on the titlepage, showing that it had been picked out of one of these despised receptacles for curiosities of literature.

Not find anything worth having in the 'sixpenny box' at a bookstall! Psha! When the collected edition of Defoe's works was published some thirty years ago, it was determined that the various pieces inserted in it should be reprinted from the editions of them superintended by Defoe himself. There was one tract which the editor had failed to find at the British Museum or any other public library, and which he had sought for in vain in the Row' or any bookseller's within the reach of ordinary West-end mortals. Somebody suggested that he should make a pilgrimage to Old Street, St. Luke's, and perhaps Brown might have a copy. Old Brown, as he was familiarly called, had great knowledge of books and book rarities, although perhaps he was more widely known for the extensive stock of manuscript sermons which he kept indexed according to texts, and which he was ready to lend or sell as his customers desired. I am afraid to say how many sermons on the text 'Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?' he is reported to have sold on the death of the Duke of Wellington, and it is said he might have disposed of hundreds more if he had had them in stock. But to go back to my story. The editor inquired of Brown whether he had a copy of Defoe's tract. 'No,' said Brown, 'I have not, and I don't know where you are likely to find one. But if you do meet with one, you will have to pay pretty handsomely for it.' 'I am prepared to pay a fair price for it,' said the would-be customer, and left the shop. Now Old Brown had a 'sixpenny box' outside the door, and he had such a keen eye to business, that I believe, if there was a box in London which would bear out Leigh Hunt's statement, it was that box in Old Street. But as the customer left the shop, his eye fell on the box, turned over the rubbish in it, and at last selected a volume which he found there. 'I'll pay you for this out of the box!' Thank you, sir,' said Brown, taking the proffered sixpence; but, by the bye, what is it?' 'It is

a tract by Defoe,' was the answer, to old Brown's chagrin. For it was the very work of which the purchaser was in search. Who, after this, will back Leigh Hunt's unfounded dogma that you will never find anything worth having in a sixpenny box at a bookstall?

But there are other hiding-places than those of which I have just been speaking, where curious out-of-the-way books may be found. At small brokers' shops, one drawer of a chest is frequently left open to show that it contains books for sale. I have before me at this moment a curious little black-letter 16mo, containing early English translations of Erasmus, which a shilling rescued from such company as it was then in.

As the accounts of these curious English versions in Lowndes are very imperfect, I venture to give a short notice of them. They are four in number, the first and fourth being unfortunately imperfect.

No. 1 is the first part of the Garden of Wisdom selected by Richard Taverner. It wants the title and first four folios, and ends on verso of folio xlviii. with the words 'Here endeth the fyrst booke' and 'These bookes are to be sold at the west dore of Poules by Wyllyam Telotson.'

No. 2 is 'The Second Booke of the Garden of Wysedome, wherein are conteyned wytty, pleasaunt and nette sayenges of renowned personages, collected by Rycharde Tauerner. Anno MDXXXIX. Cum privilegio ad imprimendum solum,' and ends on the verso of folio 48 'Prynted at London by Richard Bankes. Cum privilegio ad imprimendum solum.'

No. 3 is 'Flores aliquot Sententiarum ex variis collecti scriptoribus. The Flovvers of Sentces [sic] gathered out of sundry wryters by Erasmus in Latine and Englished by Richard Tauerner. Huic libello non male conveniunt Mimi illi Publiani nuper ab eodem Richardo uersi. Londini ex ædibus Richardi Tauerner, anno MDXL.,' and ends on verso of B. iii., 'Printed in Flete strete very diligently under the correction of the selfe Richard Tauerner by Richard Bankes.'

No. 4, the last, is Proverbes and Adagies gathered out of the Chiliades of Erasmus by Richarde Tauerner. With newe additions as well of Latyn proverbes as of Englysshe. Edwardus Whytchurche excudebat anno MDXLV. This is unfortunately imperfect, wanting all after folio lxx.

A quaint writer is Master Richard Taverner, and his Erasmus tracts repay the attention of students of early English.

My next prize from a similar source was one of greater curiosity and value. As I was hurrying to my office one morning some forty years ago, I espied on the top of a chest of drawers outside a broker's shop, opposite the Royal Mews in Pimlico, a pile of books. I looked over them, but there was only one which interested me—a small thin folio which on opening proved to be an early Latin manuscript. The worthy broker said it was 'very old and very curious,' and asked a

larger sum for it than I was prepared to pay without a fuller examination than I had then time to give to it. So I left it, but was vexed with myself for the rest of the day that I had done so, fearing it might have been sold when I returned homewards in the afternoon. Fortunately it was still on the top of the drawers when I returned; and although I had until then never indulged in the luxury of buying manuscripts, the result of my further examination was to show me that the broker was right, and that the manuscript was curious as well as old, and I risked a sovereign, or a sovereign and a half, which was the price asked for it, and secured it, as it contained a collection of Latin stories with moralisations; and I came to the conclusion that it was an early manuscript of the world-renowned Gesta Romanorum. But my learned friend Mr. Thomas Wright, a great authority upon all such matters, who saw it soon after I had bought it, pronounced the manuscript to be of the thirteenth century, and confirmed my opinion as to the interest and value of it, for it was obviously an English collection, the scene of many of the tales being laid in this country. At his suggestion I transcribed a number of the tales and sent them to that interesting German antiquarian journal, edited by Moriz Haupt and Heinrich Hoffman, entitled Altdeutsche Blätter (Leipzig, 1836-40), the precursor of Wright and Halliwell's curious collection, the Reliquiae Antiquæ. The tales so transcribed will be found at pp. 74-82 of the second volume. My impression is that when transferred to the British Museum, which it was at the earnest solicitation of Sir Frederic Madden, the manuscript was ascertained to be one of Odo de Cerington. But on this I cannot, after so many years, speak with certainty. But I must be pardoned if I make a short digression before I tell the story of my third prize from a broker's shop.

In the year 1846 I addressed a letter to the editor of a wellknown periodical suggesting an article which I thought might be suitable to it, and in consequence of his invitation called upon him at his office to talk the matter over with him. That was a day 'lapidi candidiore notare.' It was the first time I met one who became one of my most dear and most honoured friends. How often have I regretted that I had not known him before! At that interview I was charmed and struck by his strong common sense and thorough right-mindedness; but it was only when it was my privilege to know him intimately that I became aware that, great as were the good qualities in him which I had at once recognised, they were but as straw in the balance as compared with his kindly and affectionate nature. Advisedly I do not mention his name, that I may not be suspected of self-glorification. Those who know me, and who knew the excellent man to whom I refer, will easily recognise him, and will judge the emotion with which, after our friendship had extended over some twenty years, I read these touching lines from his excellent son:

It

My dear father loved you too well for me to let you learn from the newspapers that he died this morning.' Peace to his memory. very dear to me.

is

At this our first interview our business matter was soon settled, and after a long gossip on books and men I left the office quite delighted with the acquaintance which I had made.

My next interview with him was at a bookstall in the neighbourhood of Drury Lane, which, after a long and pleasant chat, ended with his inviting me to call upon him and renew our gossip at home, an invitation as cordially accepted as it was heartily given. As I soon found my old friend, for he was nearly twenty years my senior, interested in many points of literary history, on which I was curious and he learned, my visits became very frequent, and to me very instructive. Who was Junius? was one of these, and I shall not readily forget the pleasure with which he one day received a copy of an early Wheble edition of the letters, which he had long been looking for without success, and which I had a day or two before picked out of a 'sixpenny box.'

A few weeks later it was my good luck to pick up a Junius tract which my old friend had not got, and which he was delighted to see; but before I left him he said to me, with that characteristic frankness which was one of his charms: I can't tell you the pleasure you give me by thinking of me in this way, and how pleased I am to get these additions to my collection. But you can double my obligation to you.' I stared, and he explained. It would be by letting him pay for whatever I did so pick up for him. I saw it was his wish, so consented at once upon condition that if I brought him any book which he already possessed he would at once tell me so, and I would keep that for my own collection. The treaty was at once concluded, and from that time I gave him the choice of every Junius book I got hold of.

No, not every one. My vellum Junius,' which came off a stall in Maiden Lane, and which Joseph Parkes persuaded himself was the veritable vellum copy bound for Junius, but which is more than doubtful. I must some day, but not now, tell the story of Lord Brougham showing that copy to the late Lord Lansdowne, and of the

curious conversation that followed.

But to return to books and brokers. One summer's evening, strolling along the Blackfriars Road after a fruitless search for literary treasures in the New Cut, I saw a few books at a broker's, and on turning them over I found a quarto volume containing five tracts connected with the charge made by Lord Sandwich against Wilkes of having written the Essay on Woman, when there is, I fear, little doubt that he must then have known, as we all know now, that that infamous production was written by Potter, son of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Of course I purchased the volume, and a few days after

took it to my old friend, who was a great admirer of John Wilkes and knew more about him, his real character, foibles, weaknesses, and strong religious feelings, than I believe at that time did any halfdozen men in England put together.

I had determined, as I went along, that on this occasion I would have the pleasure of giving him a book which would, I was sure, delight him. He was delighted at the sight of it, and as he turned over the leaves kept asking "Where did you pick it up? What did you give for it?'You shall know all about it if you will let me give it to you,' was my answer. He consented, and I don't know which of the two was the more pleased; and when I told him where I had found it and the price-eighteenpence !—he very irreverently hinted that I had the luck of the Prince of Darkness as well as my own.

But I was not always blessed with that joint-stock luck' with which I was credited. More than once have I been interrupted in the course of my small literary efforts by my inability to act up to the wise suggestion of one of great experience who laid it down as a rule not to take anything for granted,' in consequence of failing to get sight of the particular book which would have settled some point at issue, and this not always a rare book. For instance, one evening wanting to see the original of a passage translated from one of the Colloquies of Erasmus, I was first annoyed at not being able to lay my hands on my own copy, and secondly still more annoyed when, as time was an object, I started off at once to Holywell Street, sure, as I thought, to find one at Poole's, or if he should fail, which is rarely the case, at one of his neighbours'; but neither from Poole nor any of his brother booksellers there, nor Bumstead nor Baldock in Holborn, nor anywhere, could I get a copy of this comparatively common book, and I returned home re infectâ. When I afterwards came across my own copy, my interest in the point had vanished.

In my early days of book-hunting there was no book more frequently to be met with, at prices varying from one shilling to half a crown, than Theobald's Shakespeare Restored. But when, interested in the quarrel between Pope and Theobald and the merits of their respective editions of Shakespeare, both of which I had, I wanted, in order to investigate the matter thoroughly, to get a copy of Shakespeare Restored, I hunted London through, I might almost say, in vain; for the only copy I found was in the possession of one who asked at least ten times as much as it was worth, and wanted to make a favour of parting with it at that price. I declined to accept his favour, and have now a nice copy at a tithe of what he asked me. But a marked change in the character of the stock of every bookseller has taken place during the last half-century. No longer does The folio Aldus load their bending shelves, Though dapper Elzevirs, like fairy elves,

Show their light forms amidst the well-gilt twelves.

« AnteriorContinuar »