IN THE NAME OF THE BODLEIAN AND OTHER ESSAYS
HONORARY FELLOW OF TRINITY HALL, CAMBRIDGE
'Peace be with the soul of that charitable and courteous author who for the common benefit of his fellow-authors introduced the ingenious way of miscellaneous writing.'—LORD SHAFTESBURY.
The first paper appeared in the Outlook, New York, the one on Mr. Bradlaugh in the Nineteenth Century, and some of the others at different times in the Speaker.
3, NEW SQUARE, LINCOLN'S INN.
I. 'IN THE NAME OF THE BODLEIAN' II. BOOKWORMS III. CONFIRMED READERS IV. FIRST EDITIONS V. GOSSIP IN A LIBRARY VI. LIBRARIANS AT PLAY VII. LAWYERS AT PLAY VIII. THE NON-JURORS IX. LORD CHESTERFIELD X. THE JOHNSONIAN LEGEND XI. BOSWELL AS BIOGRAPHER XII. OLD PLEASURE GARDENS XIII. OLD BOOKSELLERS XIV. A FEW WORDS ABOUT COPYRIGHT IN BOOKS XV. HANNAH MORE ONCE MORE XVI. ARTHUR YOUNG XVII. THOMAS PAINE XVIII. CHARLES BRADLAUGH XIX. DISRAELI EX RELATIONE SIR WILLIAM FRASER XX. A CONNOISSEUR XXI. OUR GREAT MIDDLE CLASS XXII. TAR AND WHITEWASH XXIII. ITINERARIES XXIV. EPITAPHS XXV. 'HANSARD' XXVI. CONTEMPT OF COURT XXVII. 5 EDWARD VII., CHAPTER 12
'IN THE NAME OF THE BODLEIAN'
With what feelings, I wonder, ought one to approach in a famous University an already venerable foundation, devoted by the last will and indented deed of a pious benefactor to the collection and housing of books and the promotion of learning? The Bodleian at this moment harbours within its walls well-nigh half a million of printed volumes, some scores of precious manuscripts in all the tongues, and has become a name famous throughout the whole civilized world. What sort of a poor scholar would he be whose heart did not beat within him when, for the first time, he found himself, to quote the words of 'Elia,' 'in the heart of learning, under the shadow of the mighty Bodley'?
Grave questions these! 'The following episode occurred during one of Calverley's (then Blayds) appearances at "Collections," the Master (Dr. Jenkyns) officiating. Question: "And with what feelings, Mr. Blayds, ought we to regard the decalogue?" Calverley who had no very clear idea of what was meant by the decalogue, but who had a due sense of the importance both of the occasion and of the question, made the following reply: "Master, with feelings of devotion, mingled with awe!" "Quite right, young man; a very proper answer," exclaimed the Master.'[A]
[Footnote A: Literary Remains of C.S. Calverley, p. 31.]
'Devotion mingled with awe' might be a very proper answer for me to make to my own questions, but possessing that acquaintance with the history of the most picturesque of all libraries which anybody can have who loves books enough to devote a dozen quiet hours of rumination to the pages of Mr. Macray's Annals of the Bodleian Library, second edition, Oxford, 'at the Clarendon Press, 1890,' I cannot honestly profess to entertain in my breast, with regard to it, the precise emotions which C.S.C. declared took possession of him when he regarded the decalogue. A great library easily begets affection, which may deepen into love; but devotion and awe are plants hard to rear in our harsh climate; besides, can it be well denied that there is something in a huge collection of the ancient learning, of mediaeval folios, of controversial pamphlets, and in the thick black dust these things so woefully collect, provocative of listlessness and enervation and of a certain Solomonic dissatisfaction? The two writers of modern times, both pre-eminently sympathetic towards the past, who have best described this somewhat melancholy and disillusioned frame of mind are both Americans: Washington Irving, in two essays in The Sketch-Book, 'The Art of Bookmaking' and 'The Mutability of Literature'; and Nathaniel Hawthorne, in many places, but notably in that famous chapter on 'The Emptiness of Picture Galleries,' in The Marble Faun.
It is perhaps best not to make too great demands upon our slender stock of deep emotions, not to rhapsodize too much, or vainly to pretend, as some travellers have done, that to them the collections of the Bodleian, its laden shelves and precious cases, are more attractive than wealth, fame, or family, and that it was stern Fate that alone compelled them to leave Oxford by train after a visit rarely exceeding twenty-four hours in duration.
Sir Thomas Bodley's Library at Oxford is, all will admit, a great and glorious institution, one of England's sacred places; and springing, as it did, out of the mind, heart, and head of one strong, efficient, and resolute man, it is matter for rejoicing with every honest gentleman to be able to observe how quickly the idea took root, how well it has thriven, by how great a tradition it has become consecrated, and how studiously the wishes of the founder in all their essentials are still observed and carried out.
Saith the prophet Isaiah, 'The liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things he shall stand.' The name of Thomas Bodley still stands all the world over by the liberal thing he devised.
A few pages about this 'second Ptolemy' will be grudged me by none but unlettered churls.
He was a west countryman, an excellent thing to be in England if you want backing through thick and thin, and was born in Exeter on March 2nd, 1544—a most troublesome date. It seems our fate in the old home never to be for long quit of the religious difficulty—which is very hard upon us, for nobody, I suppose, would call the English a 'religious' people. Little Thomas Bodley opened his eyes in a land distracted with the religious difficulty. Listen to his own words; they are full of the times: 'My father, in the time of Queen Mary, being noted and known to be an enemy to Popery, was so cruelly threatened and so narrowly observed by those that maliced his religion, that for the safeguard of himself and my mother, who was wholly affected as my father, he knew no way so secure as to fly into Germany, where after a while he found means to call over my mother with all his children and family, whom he settled for a time in Wesel in Cleveland. (For there, there were many English which had left their country for their conscience and with quietness enjoyed their meetings and preachings.) From thence he removed to the town of Frankfort, where there was in like sort another English congregation. Howbeit we made no longer tarriance in either of these two towns, for that my father had resolved to fix his abode in the city of Geneva.'
Here the Bodleys remained 'until such time as our Nation was advertised of the death of Queen Mary and the succession of Elizabeth, with the change of religion which caused my father to hasten into England.'
In Geneva young Bodley and his brothers enjoyed what now would be called great educational advantages. Small creature though he was, he yet attended, so he says, the public lectures of Chevalerius in Hebrew, Bersaldus in Greek, and of Calvin and Beza in Divinity. He had also 'domestical teachers,' and was taught Homer by Robert Constantinus, who was the author of a Greek lexicon, a luxury in those days.
On returning to England, Bodley proceeded, not to Exeter College, as by rights he should have done, but to Magdalen, where he became a 'reading man,' and graduated Bachelor of Arts in 1563. The next year he shifted his quarters to Merton, where he gave public lectures on Greek. In 1566 he became a Master of Arts, took to the study of natural philosophy, and three years later was Junior Proctor. He remained in residence until 1576, thus spending seventeen years in the University. In the last-mentioned year he obtained leave of absence to travel on the Continent, and for four years he pursued his studies abroad, mastering the French, Spanish, and Italian languages. Some short time after his return home he obtained an introduction to Court circles and became an Esquire to Queen Elizabeth, who seems to have entertained varying opinions about him, at one time greatly commending him and at another time wishing he were hanged—an awkward wish on Tudor lips. In 1588 Bodley married a wealthy widow, a Mrs. Ball, the daughter of a Bristol man named Carew. As Bodley survived his wife and had no children, a good bit of her money remains in the Bodleian to this day. Blessed be her memory! Nor should the names of Carew and Ball be wholly forgotten in this connection. From 1588 to 1596 Bodley was in the diplomatic service, chiefly at The Hague, where he did good work in troublesome times. On being finally recalled from The Hague, Bodley had to make up his mind whether to pursue a public life. He suffered from having too many friends, for not only did Burleigh patronize him, but Essex must needs do the same. No man can serve two masters, and though to be the victim of the rival ambitions of greater men than yourself is no uncommon fate, it is a currish one. Bodley determined to escape it, and to make for himself after a very different fashion a name aere perennius.
'I resolved thereupon to possess my soul in peace all the residue of my days, to take my full farewell of State employments, to satisfy my mind with the mediocrity of worldly living that I had of mine own, and so to retire me from the Court.'
But what was he to do?
'Whereupon, examining exactly for the rest of my life what course I might take, and having sought all the ways to the wood to select the most proper, I concluded at the last to set up my staff at the Library door in Oxford, being thoroughly persuaded that in my solitude and surcease from the Commonwealth affairs I could not busy myself to better purpose than by reducing that place (which then in every part lay ruined waste) to the publick use of students.'
It is pleasant to be admitted into the birth-chamber of a great idea destined to be translated into action. Bodley proceeds to state the four qualifications he felt himself to possess to do this great bit of work: first, the necessary knowledge of ancient and modern tongues and of 'sundry other sorts of scholastical literature'; second, purse ability; third, a great store of honourable friends; and fourth, leisure.
Bodley's description of the state of the old library as lying in every part ruined and in waste was but too true.
Richard of Bury, the book-loving Bishop of Durham, seems to have been the first donor of manuscripts on anything like a large scale to Oxford, but the library he founded was at Durham College, which stood where Trinity College now stands, and was in no sense a University library. The good Bishop, known to all book-hunters as the author of the Philobiblon, died in 1345, but his collection remained intact, subject to rules he had himself laid down, until the dissolution of the monasteries, when Durham College, which was attached to a religious house, was put up for sale, and its library, like so much else of good learning at this sad period, was dispersed and for the most part destroyed.
Bodley's real predecessor, the first begetter of a University library, was Thomas Cobham, Bishop of Worcester, who in 1320 prepared a chamber above a vaulted room in the north-east corner of St. Mary's Church for the reception of the books he intended to bestow upon his University. When the Bishop of Worcester (as a matter of fact, he had once been elected Archbishop of Canterbury; but that is another story, as Laurence Sterne has said) died in 1327, it was discovered that he had by his will bequeathed his library to Oxford, but he was insolvent! No rich relict of a defunct Ball was available for a Bishop in those days. The executors found themselves without sufficient estate to pay for their testator's funeral expenses, even then the first charge upon assets. They are not to be blamed for pawning the library. A good friend redeemed the pledge, and despatched the books—all, of course, manuscripts—to Oxford. For some reason or another Oriel took them in, and, having become their bailee, refused to part with them, possibly and plausibly alleging that the University was not in a position to give a valid receipt. At Oriel they remained for ten years, when all of a sudden the scholars of the University, animated by their notorious affection for sound learning and a good 'row,' took Oriel by storm, and carried off the books in triumph to Bishop Cobham's room, where they remained in chests unread for thirty years. In 1367 the University by statute ratified and confirmed its title to the books, and published regulations for their use, but the quarrel with Oriel continued till 1409, when the Cobham Library was for the first time properly furnished and opened as a place for study and reference.
The librarian of the old Cobham Library had an advantage over Mr. Nicholson, the Bodley librarian of to-day. Being a clerk in Holy Orders before the time when, in Bodley's own phrase, already quoted, we 'changed' our religion, he was authorized by the University to say masses for the souls of all dead donors of books, whether by gifts inter vivos or by bequest.
The first great benefactor of Cobham's Library was Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, the youngest son of Henry IV., and perhaps the most 'pushful' youngest son in our royal annals. Though a dissipated and unprincipled fellow, he lives in history as 'the good Duke Humphrey,' because he had the sense to patronize learning, collect manuscripts, and enrich Universities. He began his gifts to Oxford as early, so say some authorities, as 1411, and continued his donations of manuscripts with such vivacity that the little room in St. Mary's could no longer contain its riches. Hence the resolution of the University in 1444 to build a new library over the Divinity School. This new room, which was completed in 1480, forms now the central portion of that great reading-room so affectionately remembered by thousands of still living students.
Duke Humphrey's Library, as the new room was popularly called, continued to flourish and receive valuable accessions of manuscripts and printed books belonging to divinity, medicine, natural science, and literature until the ill-omened year 1550. Oxford has never loved Commissioners revising her statutes and reforming her schools, but the Commissioners of 1550 were worse than prigs, worse even than Erastians: they were barbarians and wreckers. They were deputed by King Edward VI., 'in the spirit of the Reformation,' to make an end of the Popish superstition. Under their hands the library totally disappeared, and for a long while the tailors and shoemakers and bookbinders of Oxford were well supplied with vellum, which they found useful in their respective callings. It was a hard fate for so splendid a collection. True it is that for the most part the contents of the library had been rescued from miserable ill-usage in the monasteries and chapter-houses where they had their first habitations, but at last they had found shelter over the Divinity School of a great University. There at least they might hope to slumber. But our Reformers thought otherwise. The books and manuscripts being thus dispersed or destroyed, a prudent if unromantic Convocation exposed for sale the wooden shelves, desks, and seats of the old library, and so made a complete end of the whole concern, thus making room for Thomas Bodley.
On February 23, 1597/8, Thomas Bodley sat himself down in his London house and addressed to the Vice-Chancellor of his University a certain famous letter:
'SIR, 'Altho' you know me not as I suppose, yet for the farthering of an offer of evident utilitie to your whole University I will not be too scrupulous in craving your assistance. I have been alwaies of a mind that if God of his goodness should make me able to do anything for the benefit of posteritie, I would shew some token of affiction that I have ever more borne to the studies of good learning. I know my portion is too slender to perform for the present any answerable act to my willing disposition, but yet to notify some part of my desire in that behalf I have resolved thus to deal. Where there hath been heretofore a public library in Oxford which you know is apparent by the room itself remaining and by your statute records, I will take the charge and cost upon me to reduce it again to its former use and to make it fit and handsome with seats and shelves and desks and all that may be needful to stir up other mens benevolence to help to furnish it with books. And this I purpose to begin as soon as timber can be gotten to the intent that you may be of some speedy profit of my project. And where before as I conceive it was to be reputed but a store of books of divers benefactors because it never had any lasting allowance for augmentation of the number or supply of books decayed, whereby it came to pass that when those that were in being were either wasted or embezzled, the whole foundation came to ruin. To meet with that inconvenience, I will so provide hereafter (if God do not hinder my present design) as you shall be still assured of a standing annual rent to be disbursed every year in buying of books, or officers stipends and other pertinent occasions, with which provision and some order for the preservation of the place and the furniture of it from accustomed abuses, it may perhaps in time to come prove a notable treasure for the multitude of volumes, an excellent benefit for the use and ease of students, and a singular ornament of the University.'
The letter does not stop here, but my quotation has already probably wearied most of my readers, though for my own part I am not ashamed to confess that I seldom tire of retracing with my own hand the ipsissima verba whereby great and truly notable gifts have been bestowed upon nations or Universities or even municipalities for the advancement of learning and the spread of science. Bodley's language is somewhat involved, but through it glows the plain intention of an honest man.
Convocation, we are told, embraced the offer with wonderful alacrity, and lost no time in accepting it in good Latin.
From February, 1598, to January, 1613 (when he died), Bodley was happy with as glorious a hobby-horse as ever man rode astride upon. Though Bodley, in one of his letters, modestly calls himself a mere 'smatterer,' he was, as indeed he had the sense to recognise, excellently well fitted to be a collector of books, being both a good linguist and personally well acquainted with the chief cities of the Continent and with their booksellers. He was thus able to employ well-selected agents in different parts of Europe to buy books on his account, which it was his pleasure to receive, his rapture to unpack, his pride to despatch in what he calls 'dry-fats'—that is, weather-tight chests—to Dr. James, the first Bodley librarian. Despite growing and painful infirmities (stone, ague, dropsy), Bodley never even for a day dismounted his hobby, but rode it manfully to the last. Nor had he any mean taint of nature that might have grudged other men a hand in the great work. The more benefactors there were, the better pleased was Bodley. He could not, indeed—for had he not been educated at Geneva and attended the Divinity Lectures of Calvin and Beza?—direct Dr. James to say masses for the souls of such donors of money or books as should die, but he did all a poor Protestant can do to tempt generosity: he opened and kept in a very public place in the library a great register-book, containing the names and titles of all benefactors. Bodley was always on the look-out for gifts and bequests from his store of honourable friends; and in the case of Sir Henry Savile he even relaxed the rule against lending books from the library, because, as he frankly admits to Dr. James, he had hopes (which proved well founded) that Sir Henry would not forget his obligations to the Bodleian.
The library was formally opened on November 8, 1602, and then contained some 2,000 volumes. Two years later its founder was knighted by King James, who on the following June directed letters patent to be issued styling the library by the founder's name and licensing the University to hold land in mortmain for its maintenance. The most learned and by no means the most foolish of our Kings, this same James I., visited the Bodleian in May, 1605. Sir Thomas was not present. There it was that the royal pun was made that the founder's name should have been Godly and not Bodley. King James handled certain old manuscripts with the familiarity of a scholar, and is reported to have said, I doubt not with perfect sincerity, that were he not King James he would be an University man, and that were it his fate at any time to be a captive, he would wish to be shut up in the Bodleian and to be bound with its chains, consuming his days amongst its books as his fellows in captivity. Indeed, he was so carried away by the atmosphere of the place as to offer to present to the Bodleian whatever books Sir Thomas Bodley might think fit to lay hands upon in any of the royal libraries, and he kept this royal word so far as to confirm the gift under the Privy Seal. But there it seems to have stopped, for the Bodleian does not contain any volumes traceable to this source. The King's librarians probably obstructed any such transfer of books.
Authors seem at once to have recognised the importance of the library, and to have made presentation copies of their works, and in 1605 we find Bacon sending a copy of his Advancement of Learning to Bodley, with a letter in which he said: 'You, having built an ark to save learning from deluge, deserve propriety [ownership] in any new instrument or engine whereby learning should be improved or advanced.' The most remarkable letter Bodley ever wrote, now extant, is one to Bacon; but it has no reference to the library, only to the Baconian philosophy. We do not get many glimpses of Bodley's habits of life or ways of thinking, but there is no difficulty in discerning a strenuous, determined, masterful figure, bent during his later years, perhaps tyrannously bent, on effecting his object. He was not, we learn from a correspondent, 'hasty to write but when the posts do urge him, saying there need be no answer to your letters till more leisure breed him opportunity.' 'Words are women, deeds are men,' is another saying of his which I reprint without comment.
By an indenture dated April 20, 1609, Bodley, after reciting how he had, out of his zealous affection to the advancement of learning, lately erected upon the ruins of the old decayed library of Oxford University 'a most ample, commodious, and necessary building, as well for receipt and conveyance of books as for the use and ease of students, and had already furnished the same with excellent writers on all sorts of sciences, arts, and tongues, not only selected out of his own study and store, but also of others that were freely conferred by many other men's gifts,' proceeded to grant to trustees lands and hereditaments in Berkshire and in the city of London for the purpose of forming a permanent endowment of his library; and so they, or the proceeds of sale thereof, have remained unto this day.
Sir Thomas Bodley died on January 20, 1613, his last days being soothed by a letter he received from the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University condoling his sickness and signifying how much the Heads of Houses, etc., prayed for his recovery. A cynical friend—not much of a friend, as we shall see—called John Chamberlain, was surprised to observe what pleasure this assurance gave to the dying man. 'Whereby,' writes Chamberlain to Sir Ralph Winwood, 'I perceive how much fair words work, as well upon wise men as upon others, for indeed it did affect him very much.'
Bodley was rather put out in his last illness by the refusal of a Cambridge doctor, Batter, to come to see him, the doctor saying: 'Words cannot cure him, and I can do nothing else for him.' There is an occasional curtness about Cambridge men that is hard but not impossible to reconcile with good feeling.
Bodley's will gave great dissatisfaction to some of his friends, including this aforesaid John Chamberlain, and yet, on reading it through, it is not easy to see any cause for just complaint. Bodley's brother did not grumble, there were no children, Lady Bodley had died in 1611, and everybody who knew the testator must have known that the library would be (as it was) the great object of his bounty. What annoyed Chamberlain seems to be that, whilst he had (so he says, though I take leave to doubt it) put down Bodley for some trifle in his will, Bodley forgot to mention Chamberlain in his. There is always a good deal of human nature exhibited on these occasions. I will transcribe a bit of one of this gentleman's grumbling letters, written, one may be sure, with no view to publication, the day after Bodley's death:
'Mr. Gent came to me this morning as it were to bemoan himself of the little regard hath been had of him and others, and indeed for ought I hear there is scant anybody pleased, but for the rest it were no great matter if he had had more consideration or commiseration where there was most need. But he was so carried away with the vanity and vain-glory of his library, that he forgot all other respects and duties, almost of Conscience, Friendship, or Good-nature, and all he had was too little for that work. To say the truth I never did rely much upon his conscience, but I thought he had been more real and ingenuous. I cannot learn that he hath given anything, no, not a good word nor so much as named any old friend he had, but Mr. Gent and Thos. Allen, who like a couple of Almesmen must have his best and second gown, and his best and second cloak, but to cast a colour or shadow of something upon Mr. Gent, he says he forgives him all he owed him, which Mr. Gent protests is never a penny. I must intreat you to pardon me if I seem somewhat impatient on his [i.e., Gent's] behalf, who hath been so servile to him, and indeed such a perpetual servant, that he deserved a better reward. Neither can I deny that I have a little indignation for myself that having been acquainted with him for almost forty years, and observed and respected him so much, I should not be remembered with the value of a spoon, or a mourning garment, whereas if I had gone before him (as poor a man as I am), he should not have found himself forgotten.'[A]
[Footnote A: Winwood's Memorials, vol. iii., p. 429.]
Bodley did no more by his will, which is dated January 2, 1613, and is all in his own handwriting, than he had bound himself to do in his lifetime, and I feel as certain as I can feel about anything that happened nearly 300 years ago, that Mr. Gent, of Gloucester Hall, did owe Bodley money, though, as many another member of the University of Oxford has done with his debts, he forgot all about it.
The founder of the Bodleian was buried with proper pomp and circumstance in the chapel of Merton College on March 29, 1613. Two Latin orations were delivered over his remains, one, that of John Hales (the ever-memorable), a Fellow of Merton, being of no inconsiderable length. After all was over, those who had mourning weeds or 'blacks' retired, with the Heads of Houses, to the refectory of Merton and had a funeral dinner bestowed upon them, 'amounting to the sum of L100,' as directed by the founder's will.
The great foundation of Sir Thomas Bodley has, happily for all of us, had better fortune than befell the generous gifts of the Bishops of Durham and Worcester. The Protestant layman has had the luck, not the large-minded prelates of the old religion. Even during the Civil War Bodley's books remained uninjured, at all events by the Parliament men. 'When Oxford was surrendered [June 24, 1646], the first thing General Fairfax did was to set a good guard of soldiers to preserve the Bodleian Library. 'Tis said there was more hurt done by the Cavaliers [during their garrison] by way of embezzling and cutting of chains of books than there was since. He was a lover of learning, and had he not taken this special care that noble library had been utterly destroyed, for there were ignorant senators enough who would have been contented to have it so' (see Macray, p. 101).
Oliver Cromwell, while Lord Protector, presented to the library twenty-two Greek manuscripts he had purchased, and, what is more, when Bodley's librarian refused the Lord Protector's request to allow the Portugal Ambassador to borrow a manuscript, sending instead of the manuscript a copy of the statutes forbidding loans, Oliver commended the prudence of the founder, and subsequently made the donation just mentioned.
A great wave of generosity towards this foundation was early noticeable. The Bodleian got hold of men's imaginations. In those days there were learned men in all walks of life, and many more who, if not learned, were endlessly curious. The great merchants of the city of London instructed their agents in far lands to be on the look-out for rare things, and transmit them home to find a resting-place in Bodley's buildings. All sorts of curiosities found their way there—crocodiles, whales, mummies, and black negro-boys in spirits. The Ashmolean now holds most of them; the negro-boy has been conveniently lost.
In 1649 the total of 2,000 printed books had risen to more than 12,000—viz., folios, 5,889; quartos, 2,067; octavos, 4,918; whilst of manuscripts there were 3,001. One of the first gifts in money came from Sir Walter Raleigh, who in 1605 gave L50, whilst among the early benefactors of books and manuscripts it were a sin not to name the Earl of Pembroke, Archbishop Laud (one of the library's best friends), Robert Burton (of the Anatomy of Melancholy), Sir Kenelm Digby, John Selden, Lord Fairfax, Colonel Vernon, and Barlow, Bishop of Lincoln. No nobler library exists in the world than the Bodleian, unless it be in the Vatican at Rome. The foundation of Sir Thomas Bodley, though of no antiquity, shines with unrivalled splendour in the galaxy of Oxford
'Amidst the stars that own another birth.'
I must not say, being myself a Cambridge man, that the Bodleian dominates Oxford, yet to many an English, American, and foreign traveller to that city, which, despite railway-stations and motor-cars and the never-ending villas and perambulators of the Banbury Road, still breathes the charm of an earlier age, the Bodleian is the pulsing heart of the University. Colleges, like ancient homesteads, unless they are yours, never quite welcome you, though ready enough to receive with civility your tendered meed of admiration. You wander through their gardens, and pace their quadrangles with no sense of co-ownership; not for you are their clustered memories. In the Bodleian every lettered heart feels itself at home.
Bodley drafted with his own hand the first statutes or rules to be observed in his library. Speaking generally, they are wise rules. One mistake, indeed, he made—a great mistake, but a natural one. Let him give his own reasons:
'I can see no good reason to alter my rule for excluding such books as Almanacks, Plays, and an infinite number that are daily printed of very unworthy matters—handling such books as one thinks both the Keeper and Under-Keeper should disdain to seek out, to deliver to any man. Haply some plays may be worthy the keeping—but hardly one in forty.... This is my opinion, wherein if I err I shall err with infinite others; and the more I think upon it, the more it doth distaste me that such kinds of books should be vouchsafed room in so noble a library.'[A]
[Footnote A: See correspondence in Reliquiae Bodleianae, London, 1703.]
'Baggage-books' was the contemptuous expression elsewhere employed to describe this 'light infantry' of literature—Belles Lettres, as it is now more politely designated.
One play in forty is liberal measure, but who is to say out of the forty plays which is the one worthy to be housed in a noble library? The taste of Vice-Chancellors and Heads of Houses, of keepers and under-keepers of libraries—can anybody trust it? The Bodleian is entitled by imperial statutes to receive copies of all books published within the realm, yet it appears, on the face of a Parliamentary return made in 1818, that this 'noble library' refused to find room for Ossian, the favourite poet of Goethe and Napoleon, and labelled Miss Edgeworth's Parent's Assistant and Miss Hannah More's Sacred Dramas 'Rubbish.' The sister University, home though she be of nearly every English poet worth reading, rejected the Siege of Corinth, though the work of a Trinity man; would not take in the Thanksgiving Ode of Mr. Wordsworth, of St. John's College; declined Leigh Hunt's Story of Rimini; vetoed the Headlong Hall of the inimitable Peacock, and, most wonderful of all, would have nothing to say to Scott's Antiquary, being probably disgusted to find that a book with so promising a title was only a novel.
Now this is altered, and everything is collected in the Bodleian, including, so I am told, Christmas-cards and bills of fare.
Bodley's rule has proved an expensive one, for the library has been forced to buy at latter-day prices 'baggage-books' it could have got for nothing.
Another ill-advised regulation got rid of duplicates. Thus, when the third Shakespeare Folio appeared in 1664, the Bodleian disposed of its copy of the First Folio. However, this wrong was righted in 1821, when, under the terms of Edmund Malone's bequest, the library once again became the possessor of the edition of 1623. Quite lately the original displaced Folio has been recovered.
Against lending books Bodley was adamant, and here his rule prevails. It is pre-eminently a wise one. The stealing of books, as well as the losing of books, from public libraries is a melancholy and ancient chapter in the histories of such institutions; indeed, there is too much reason to believe that not a few books in the Bodleian itself were stolen to start with. But the long possession by such a foundation has doubtless purged the original offence. In the National Library in Paris is at least one precious manuscript which was stolen from the Escurial. There are volumes in the British Museum on which the Bodleian looks with suspicion, and vice versa. But let sleeping dogs lie. Bodley would not give the divines who were engaged upon a bigger bit of work even than his library—the translation of the Bible into that matchless English which makes King James's version our greatest literary possession—permission to borrow 'the one or two books' they wished to see.
Bodley's Library has sheltered through three centuries many queer things besides books and strangely-written manuscripts in old tongues; queerer things even than crocodiles, whales, and mummies—I mean the librarians and sub-librarians, janitors, and servants. Oddities many of them have been. Honest old Jacobites, non-jurors, primitive thinkers, as well as scandalously lazy drunkards and illiterate dogs. An old foundation can afford to have a varied experience in these matters.
One of the most original of these originals was the famous Thomas Hearne, an 'honest gentleman'—that is, a Jacobite—and one whose collections and diaries have given pleasure to thousands. He was appointed janitor in 1701, and sub-librarian in 1712, but in 1716, when an Act of Parliament came into operation which imposed a fine of L500 upon anyone who held any public office without taking the oath of allegiance to the Hanoverians, Hearne's office was taken away from him; but he shared with his King over the water the satisfaction of accounting himself still de jure, and though he lived till 1735, he never failed each half-year to enter his salary and fees as sub-librarian as being still unpaid. He was perhaps a little spiteful and vindictive, but none the less a fine old fellow. I will write down as specimens of his humour a prayer of his and an apology, and then leave him alone. His prayer ran as follows:
'O most gracious and merciful Lord God, wonderful in Thy Providence, I return all possible thanks to Thee for the care Thou hast always taken of me. I continually meet with most signal instances of this Thy Providence, and one act yesterday, when I unexpectedly met with three old manuscripts, for which in a particular manner I return my thanks, beseeching Thee to continue the same protection to me, a poor helpless sinner, and that for Jesus Christ his sake' (Aubrey's Letters, i. 118).
His apology, which I do not think was actually published, though kept in draft, was after this fashion:
'I, Thomas Hearne, A.M. of the University of Oxford, having ever since my matriculation followed my studies with as much application as I have been capable of, and having published several books for the honour and credit of learning, and particularly for the reputation of the foresaid University, am very sorry that by my declining to say anything but what I knew to be true in any of my writings, and especially in the last book I published entituled, &c, I should incur the displeasure of any of the Heads of Houses, and as a token of my sorrow for their being offended at truth, I subscribe my name to this paper and permit them to make what use of it they please.'
Leaping 140 years, an odd tale is thus lovingly recorded of another sub-librarian, the Rev. A. Hackman, who died in 1874:
'During all the time of his service in the library (thirty-six years) he had used as a cushion in his plain wooden armchair a certain vellum-bound folio, which by its indented side, worn down by continual pressure, bore testimony to the use to which it had been put. No one had ever the curiosity to examine what the book might be, but when, after Hackman's departure from the library, it was removed from its resting-place of years, some amusement was caused by finding that the chief compiler of the last printed catalogue had omitted from his catalogue the volume on which he sat, of which, too, though of no special value, there was no other copy in the library' (Macray, p. 388A).
The spectacle in the mind's eye of this devoted sub-librarian and sound divine sitting on the vellum-bound folio for six-and-thirty years, so absorbed in his work as to be oblivious of the fact that he had failed to include in what was his magnum opus, the Great Catalogue, the very book he was sitting upon, tickles the midriff.
Here I must bring these prolonged but wholly insufficient observations to a very necessary conclusion. Not a word has been said of the great collection of bibles, or of the unique copies of the Koran and the Talmud and the Arabian Nights, or of the Dante manuscripts, or of Bishop Tanner's books (many bought on the dispersion of Archbishop Sancroft's great library), which in course of removal by water from Norwich to Oxford fell into the river and remained submerged for twenty hours, nor of many other splendid benefactions of a later date.
One thing only remains, not to be said, but to be sent round—I mean the hat. Ignominious to relate, this glorious foundation stands in need of money. Shade of Sir Thomas Bodley, I invoke thy aid to loosen the purse-strings of the wealthy! The age of learned and curious merchants, of high-spirited and learning-loving nobles, of book-collecting bishops, of antiquaries, is over. The Bodleian cannot condescend to beg. It is too majestical. But I, an unauthorized stranger, have no need to be ashamed.
Especially rich is this great library in Americana, and America suggests multi-millionaires. The rich men of the United States have been patriotically alive to the first claims of their own richly endowed universities, and long may they so continue; but if by any happy chance any one of them should accidentally stumble across an odd million or even half a million of dollars hidden away in some casual investment he had forgotten, what better thing could he do with it than send it to this, the most famous foundation of his Old Home? It would be acknowledged by return of post in English and in Latin, and the donor's name would be inscribed, not indeed (and this is a regrettable lapse) in that famous old register which Bodley provided should always be in a prominent place in his library, but in the Annual Statement of Accounts now regularly issued. To be associated with the Bodleian is to share its fame and partake of the blessing it has inherited. 'The liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things he shall stand.'
Great is bookishness and the charm of books. No doubt there are times and seasons in the lives of most reading men when they rebel against the dust of libraries and kick against the pricks of these monstrously accumulated heaps of words. We all know 'the dark hour' when the vanity of learning and the childishness of merely literary things are brought home to us in such a way as almost to avail to put the pale student out of conceit with his books, and to make him turn from his best-loved authors as from a friend who has outstayed his welcome, whose carriage we wish were at the door. In these unhappy moments we are apt to call to mind the shrewd men we have known, who have been our blithe companions on breezy fells, heathery moor, and by the stream side, who could neither read nor write, or who, at all events, but rarely practised those Cadmean arts. Yet they could tell the time of day by the sun, and steer through the silent night by the stars; and each of them had—as Emerson, a very bookish person, has said—a dial in his mind for the whole bright calendar of the year. How racy was their talk; how wise their judgments on men and things; how well they did all that at the moment seemed worth doing; how universally useful was their garnered experience—their acquired learning! How wily were these illiterates in the pursuit of game—how ready in an emergency! What a charm there is about out-of-door company! Who would not sooner have spent a summer's day with Sir Walter's humble friend, Tom Purday, than with Mr. William Wordsworth of Rydal Mount! It is, we can only suppose, reflections such as these that make country gentlemen and farmers the sworn foes they are of education and the enemies of School Boards.
I only indicate this line of thought to condemn it. Such temptations come from below. Great, we repeat, is bookishness and the charm of books. Even the writings, the ponderous writings, of that portentous parson, the Rev. T.F. Dibdin, with all their lumbering gaiety and dust-choked rapture over first editions, are not hastily to be sent packing to the auction-room. Much red gold did they cost us, these portly tomes, in bygone days, and on our shelves they shall remain till the end of our time, unless our creditors intervene—were it only to remind us of years when our enthusiasms were pure though our tastes may have been crude.
Some years ago Mr. Blades, the famous printer and Caxtonist, published in vellum covers a small volume which he christened The Enemies of Books. It made many friends, and now a revised and enlarged version in comely form, adorned with pictures, and with a few prefatory words by Dr. Garnett, has made its appearance. Mr. Blades himself has left this world for a better one, where—so piety bids us believe—neither fire nor water nor worm can despoil or destroy the pages of heavenly wisdom. But the book-collector must not be caught nursing mere sublunary hopes. There is every reason to believe that in the realms of the blessed the library, like that of Major Ponto, will be small though well selected. Mr. Blades had, as his friend Dr. Garnett observes, a debonair spirit—there was nothing fiery or controversial about him. His attitude towards the human race and its treatment of rare books was rather mournful than angry. For example, under the head of 'Fire,' he has occasion to refer to that great destruction of books of magic which took place at Ephesus, to which St. Luke has called attention in his Acts of the Apostles. Mr. Blades describes this holocaust as righteous, and only permits himself to say in a kind of undertone that he feels a certain mental disquietude and uneasiness at the thought of the loss of more than L18,000 worth of books, which could not but have thrown much light (had they been preserved) on many curious questions of folk-lore. Personally, I am dead against the burning of books. A far worse, because a corrupt, proceeding, was the scandalously horrid fate that befell the monastic libraries at our disgustingly conducted, even if generally beneficent, Reformation. The greedy nobles and landed gentry, who grabbed the ancient foundations of the old religion, cared nothing for the books they found cumbering the walls, and either devoted them to vile domestic uses or sold them in shiploads across the seas. It may well be that the monks—fine, lusty fellows!—cared more for the contents of their fish-ponds than of their libraries; but, at all events, they left the books alone to take their chance—they did not rub their boots with them or sell them at the price of old paper. A man need have a very debonair spirit who does not lose his temper over our blessed Reformation. Mr. Blades, on the whole, managed to keep his.
Passing from fire, Mr. Blades has a good deal to say about water, and the harm it has been allowed to do in our collegiate and cathedral libraries. With really creditable composure he writes: 'Few old libraries in England are now so thoroughly neglected as they were thirty years ago. The state of many of our collegiate and cathedral libraries was at that time simply appalling. I could mention many instances—one especially—where, a window having been left broken for a long time, the ivy had pushed through and crept over a row of books, each of which was worth hundreds of pounds. In rainy weather the water was conducted as by a pipe along the tops of the books, and soaked through the whole.' Ours is indeed a learned Church. Fancy the mingled amazement and dismay of the Dean and Chapter when they were informed that all this mouldering literary trash had 'boodle' in it. 'In another and a smaller collection the rain came through on to a bookcase through a sky-light, saturating continually the top shelf, containing Caxtons and other English books, one of which, although rotten, was sold soon after by permission of the Charity Commissioners for L200.' Oh, those scoundrelly Charity Commissioners! How impertinent has been their interference with the loving care and guardianship of the Lord's property by His lawfully consecrated ministers! By the side of these anthropoid apes, the genuine bookworm, the paper-eating insect, ravenous as he once was, has done comparatively little mischief. Very little seems known of the creature, though the purchaser of Mr. Blades's book becomes the owner of a life-size portrait of the miscreant in one, at all events, of his many shapes. Mr. Birdsall, of Northampton, sent Mr. Blades, in 1879, by post, a fat little worm he had found in an old volume. Mr. Blades did all, and more than all, that could be expected of a humane man to keep the creature alive, actually feeding him with fragments of Caxtons and seventeenth-century literature; but it availed not, for in three weeks the thing died, and as the result of a post-mortem was declared to be Aecophera pseudopretella. Some years later Dr. Garnett, who has spent a long life obliging men of letters, sent Mr. Blades two Athenian worms, which had travelled to this country in a Hebrew Commentary; but, lovely and pleasant in their lives, in their deaths they were not far divided. Mr. Blades, at least, mourned their loss. The energy of bookworms, like that of men, greatly varies. Some go much farther than others. However fair they may start on the same folio, they end very differently. Once upon a time 212 worms began to eat their way through a stout folio printed in the year 1477, by Peter Schoeffer, of Mentz. It was an ungodly race they ran, but let me trace their progress. By the time the sixty-first page was reached all but four had given in, either slinking back the way they came, or perishing en route. By the time the eighty-sixth page had been reached but one was left, and he evidently on his last legs, for he failed to pierce his way through page 87. At the other end of the same book another lot of worms began to bore, hoping, I presume, to meet in the middle, like the makers of submarine tunnels, but the last survivor of this gang only reached the sixty ninth page from the end. Mr. Blades was of opinion that all these worms belonged to the Anobium pertinax. Worms have fallen upon evil days, for, whether modern books are readable or not, they have long since ceased to be edible. The worm's instinct forbids him to 'eat the china clay, the bleaches, the plaster of Paris, the sulphate of barytes, the scores of adulterants now used to mix with the fibre.' Alas, poor worm! Alas, poor author! Neglected by the Anobium pertinax, what chance is there of anyone, man or beast, a hundred years hence reaching his eighty-seventh page!
Time fails me to refer to bookbinders, frontispiece collectors, servants and children, and other enemies of books; but the volume I refer to is to be had of the booksellers, and is a pleasant volume, worthy of all commendation. Its last words set me thinking; they are:
'Even a millionaire will ease his toils, lengthen his life, and add 100 per cent. to his daily pleasures, if he becomes a bibliophile; while to the man of business with a taste for books, who through the day has struggled in the battle of life, with all its irritating rebuffs and anxieties, what a blessed season of pleasurable repose opens upon him as he enters his sanctum, where every article wafts him a welcome and every book is a personal friend!'
As for the millionaire, I frankly say I have no desire his life should be lengthened, and care nothing about adding 100 per cent. to his daily pleasures. He is a nuisance, for he has raised prices nearly 100 per cent. We curse the day when he was told it was the thing to buy old books; and, if he must buy old books, why is he not content with the works of Gibbon, Hume, and Robertson, and Flavius Josephus, that learned Jew? But it is not the millionaire who set me thinking; it is the harassed man of business; and what I am wondering is, whether, in sober truth and earnestness, it is possible for him, as he shuts his library door and finds himself inside, to forget his rebuffs and anxieties—his maturing bills and overdue argosies—and to lose himself over a favourite volume. The 'article' that wafts him welcome I take to be his pipe. That he will put the 'article' into his mouth and smoke it I have no manner of doubt; my dread is lest, in ten minutes' time, the book should have dropt into his lap and the man's eyes be staring into the fire. But for a' that, and a' that—great is bookishness and the charm of books.
Dr. Johnson is perhaps our best example of a confirmed reader. Malone once found him sitting in his room roasting apples and reading a history of Birmingham. This staggered even Malone, who was himself a somewhat far-gone reader.
'Don't you find it rather dull?' he ventured to inquire.
'Yes,' replied the Sage, 'it is dull.'
Malone's eyes then rested on the apples, and he remarked he supposed they were for medicine.
'Why, no,' said Johnson; 'I believe they are only there because I wanted something to do. I have been confined to the house for a week, and so you find me roasting apples and reading the history of Birmingham.'
This anecdote pleasingly illustrates the habits of the confirmed reader. Nor let the worldling sneer. Happy is the man who, in the hours of solitude and depression, can read a history of Birmingham. How terrible is the story Welbore Ellis told of Robert Walpole in his magnificent library, trying book after book, and at last, with tears in his eyes, exclaiming: 'It is all in vain: I cannot read!'
Edmund Malone, the Shakespearian commentator and first editor of Boswell's Johnson, was as confirmed a reader as it is possible for a book-collector to be. His own life, by Sir James Prior, is full of good things, and is not so well known as it should be. It smacks of books and bookishness.
Malone, who was an Irishman, was once, so he would have us believe, deeply engaged in politics; but he then fell in love, and the affair, for some unknown reason, ending unhappily, his interest ceased in everything, and he was driven as a last resource to books and writings. Thus are commentators made. They learn in suffering what they observe in the margin. Malone may have been driven to his pursuits, but he took to them kindly, and became a vigorous and skilful book-buyer, operating in the market both on his own behalf and on that of his Irish friends with great success.
His good fortune was enormous, and this although he had a severely restricted notion as to price. He was no reckless bidder, like Mr. Harris, late of Covent Garden, who, just because David Garrick had a fine library of old plays, was determined to have one himself at whatever cost. In Malone's opinion half a guinea was a big price for a book. As he grew older he became less careful, and in 1805, which was seven years before his death, he gave Ford, a Manchester bookseller, L25 for the Editio Princeps of Venus and Adonis. He already had the edition of 1596—a friend had given it him—bound up with Constable's and Daniel's Sonnets and other rarities, but he very naturally yearned after the edition of 1593. He fondly imagined Ford's copy to be unique: there he was wrong, but as he died in that belief, and only gave L25 for his treasure, who dare pity him? His copy now reposes in the Bodleian. He secured Shakespeare's Sonnets (1609) and the first edition of the Rape of Lucrece for two guineas, and accounted half a crown a fair average price for quarto copies of Elizabethan plays.
Malone was a truly amiable man, of private fortune and endearing habits. He lived on terms of intimacy with his brother book-collectors, and when they died attended the sale of their libraries and bid for his favourite lots, grumbling greatly if they were not knocked down to him. At Topham Beauclerk's sale in 1781, which lasted nine days, Malone bought for Lord Charlemont 'the pleasauntest workes of George Gascoigne, Esquire, with the princely pleasures at Kenilworth Castle, 1587.' He got it cheap (L1 7s.), as it wanted a few leaves, which Malone thought he had; but to his horror, when it came to be examined, it was found to want eleven more leaves than he had supposed. 'Poor Mr. Beauclerk,' he writes, 'seems never to have had his books examined or collated, otherwise he would have found out the imperfections.' Malone was far too good a book-collector to suggest a third method of discovering a book's imperfections—namely, reading it. Beauclerk's library only realized L5,011, and as the Duke of Marlborough had a mortgage upon it of L5,000, there must have been after payment of the auctioneer's charges a considerable deficit.
But Malone was more than a book-buyer, more even than a commentator: he was a member of the Literary Club, and the friend of Johnson, Reynolds, and Burke. On July 28, 1789, he went to Burke's place, the Gregories, near Beaconsfield, with Sir Joshua, Wyndham, and Mr. Courtenay, and spent three very agreeable days. The following extract from the recently published Charlemont papers has interest:
'As I walked out before breakfast with Mr. Burke, I proposed to him to revise and enlarge his admirable book on the Sublime and Beautiful, which the experience, reading, and observation of thirty years could not but enable him to improve considerably. But he said the train of his thoughts had gone another way, and the whole bent of his mind turned from such subjects, and that he was much fitter for such speculations at the time he published that book than now.'
Between the Burke of 1758 and the Burke of 1789 there was a difference indeed, but the forcible expressions, 'the train of my thoughts' and 'the whole bent of my mind,' serve to create a new impression of the tremendous energy and fertile vigour of this amazing man. The next day the party went over to Amersham and admired Mr. Drake's trees, and listened to Sir Joshua's criticisms of Mr. Drake's pictures. This was a fortnight after the taking of the Bastille. Burke's hopes were still high. The Revolution had not yet spoilt his temper.
Amongst the Charlemont papers is an amusing tale I do not remember having ever seen before of young Philip Stanhope, the recipient of Lord Chesterfield's famous letters:
'When at Berne, where he passed some of his boyhood in company with Harte and the excellent Mr., now Lord, Eliott (Heathfield of Gibraltar), he was one evening invited to a party where, together with some ladies, there happened to be a considerable number of Bernese senators, a dignified set of elderly gentlemen, aristocratically proud, and perfect strangers to fun. These most potent, grave, and reverend signors were set down to whist, and were so studiously attentive to the game, that the unlucky brat found little difficulty in fastening to the backs of their chairs the flowing tails of their ample periwigs and in cutting, unobserved by them, the tyes of their breeches. This done, he left the room, and presently re-entered crying out, "Fire! Fire!" The affrighted burgomasters suddenly bounced up, and exhibited to the amazed spectators their senatorial heads and backs totally deprived of ornament or covering.'
Young Stanhope was no ordinary child. There is a completeness about this jest which proclaims it a masterpiece. One or other of its points might have occurred to anyone, but to accomplish both at once was to show real distinction.
Sir William Stanhope, Lord Chesterfield's brother, felt no surprise at his nephew's failure to acquire the graces. 'What,' said he, 'could Chesterfield expect? His mother was Dutch, he was educated at Leipsic, and his tutor was a pedant from Oxford.'
Papers which contain anecdotes of this kind carry with them their own recommendation. We hear on all sides complaints—and I hold them to be just complaints—of the abominable high prices of English books. Thirty shillings, thirty-six shillings, are common prices. The thing is too barefaced. His Majesty's Stationery Office set an excellent example. They sell an octavo volume of 460 closely but well-printed pages, provided with an excellent index, for one shilling and elevenpence. There is not much editing, but the quality of it is good.
If anyone is confined to his room, even as Johnson was when Malone found him roasting apples and reading a history of Birmingham, he cannot do better than surround himself with the publications of the Historical Manuscripts Commission; they will cost him next to nothing, tell him something new on every page, revive a host of old memories and scores of half-forgotten names, and perhaps tempt him to become a confirmed reader.
This is an age of great publicity. Not only are our streets well lighted, but also our lives. The cosy nooks and corners, crannies, and dark places where, in old-fashioned days, men hugged their private vices without shamefacedness have been swept away as ruthlessly as Seven Dials. All the questionable pursuits, fancies, foibles of silly, childish man are discussed grimly and at length in the newspapers and magazines. Our poor hobby-horses are dragged out of the stable, and made to show their shambling paces before the mob of gentlemen who read with ease. There has been much prate lately of as innocent a foible as ever served to make men self-forgetful for a few seconds of time—the collecting of first editions. Somebody hard up for 'copy' denounced this pastime, and made merry over a virtuoso's whim. Somebody else—Mr. Slater, I think it was—thought fit to put in a defence, and thereupon a dispute arose as to why men bought first editions dear when they could buy last editions cheap. Brutal, domineering fellows bellowed their complete indifference to Shakespeare's Quartos till timid dilettanti turned pale and fled.
The fact, of course, is that in such a dispute as this there is but one thing to do—namely, to persuade the Attorney-General of the day to enter up a nolle prosequi, and for him who collects first editions to go on collecting. There is nothing to be serious about in the matter. It is not literature. Some of the greatest lovers of letters who have ever lived—Dr. Johnson, for example, and Thomas de Quincey and Carlyle—have cared no more for first editions than I do for Brussels sprouts. You may love Moliere with a love surpassing your love of woman without any desire to beggar yourself in Paris by purchasing early copies of the plays. You may be perfectly content to read Walton's Lives in an edition of 1905, if there is one; and as for Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver and the Vicar of Wakefield—are they not eternal favourites, and just as tickling to the fancy in their nineteenth-century dress as in their eighteenth? The whole thing is but a hobby—but a paragraph in one chapter of the vast, but most agreeable, history of human folly. If John Doe is blankly indifferent to Richard Roe's Elizabethan dramatists, it is only fair to remember how sublime is Richard's contempt for John's collection of old musical instruments. If these gentlemen are wise they will discuss, when they meet, the weather, or the Death Duties, or some other extraneous subject, and leave their respective hobbies in the stable. Never mind what your hobby is—books, prints, drawings, china, scarabaei, lepidoptera—keep it to yourself and for those like-minded with you. Sweet indeed is the community of interest, delightful the intercourse which a common foible begets; but correspondingly bitter and distressful is the forced union of nervous zeal and pitiless indifference. Spare us the so-called friends who come and gape and stare and go! What is more painful than the chatter of the connoisseur as it falls upon the long ears of the ignoramus! Collecting is a secret sin—the great pushing public must be kept out. It is sheer madness to puff and praise your hobby, and to invite Dick, Tom, and Harry to inspect your stable: such conduct is to invite rebuff, to expose yourself to just animadversion. Keep the beast in its box. This is my first advice to the hobby-hunter.
My second piece of advice is equally important, particularly at the present time, when the world is too much with us, and it is this—never convert a taste into a trade. The moment you become a tradesman you cease to be a hobbyist. When the love of money comes in at the window the love of books runs out at the door. There has been of late years a good deal of sham book-collecting. The morals of the Stock Exchange have corrupted even the library. Sordid souls have been induced by wily second-hand booksellers to buy books for no other reason than because the price demanded was a high one. This is the very worst possible reason for buying a book. Whether it is ever wise to buy a book, as Aulus Gellius used to do, simply because it is cheap, and regardless of its condition, is a debatable point, but to buy one dear at the mere bidding of a bookseller is to debase yourself. The result of this ungodly traffic has been to enlarge for the moment the circle of book-buyers by including in it men with commercial instincts, sham hobbyists. But these impostors have been lately punished in the only way they could be punished—namely, in their pockets—by a heavy fall of prices. The stuff they were induced to buy has not, and could not, maintain its price, and the shops are now full of the volumes which, seven or ten years ago, fetched fancy sums.
If a young book-collector does but bear in mind the two bits of advice I have proffered him, he may safely be bidden godspeed and congratulated on his choice of a hobby, for it is, without a shadow of a doubt, the cheapest he could have chosen. Even without means to acquire the treasures of a Quaritch or a Pickering, he may yet derive infinite delight from the perusal of the many hundreds of catalogues that now weekly issue from the second-hand booksellers in town and country. He may write an imaginary letter, ordering the books he has previously selected from the catalogue, and then he has only to forget to post it to avoid all disagreeable consequences.
The constant turnover of old books is amazing. There seems no rest in this world even for folios and quartos. The first edition of old Burton's Anatomy, printed at Oxford in a small quarto in 1621, rises to the surface as a rule no less than four times a year; so, too, does Coryat's Crudities, hastily gobbled up in five months' travels in France, Savoy, Italy, Germany, etc., 1611. What a seething, restless place this world is, to be sure! The constant recurrence of copies of the same books is almost startling. Hardly a year passes but every book of first-rate importance and interest is knocked down to the highest bidder. No doubt there are still old libraries where, buried in dust and cobwebs, the folios and quartos lie undisturbed; but to turn the pages or examine the index of Book Prices Current is to have a vision before your eyes of whole regiments of books passing and repassing across the stage amidst the loud cries of auctioneers and the bidding of booksellers.
In the auction-mart taste is pretty steady. The old favourites hold their own. Every now and again an immortal joins their ranks. Puffing and pretension may win the ear of the outside public, and extort praise from the press, but inside the rooms of a Sotheby, a Puttick, or a Hodgson, these foolish persons count for nothing, and their names are seldom heard. Were an author to turn the pages of Book Prices Current, he could hardly fail, as he there read the names of famous men of old, to breathe the prayer, 'May my books some day be found forming part of this great tidal wave of literature which is for ever breaking on Earth's human shores!' But the vanity of authors is endless, and their prayers are apt to be but empty things.
GOSSIP IN A LIBRARY
There were no books in Eden, and there will be none in heaven; but between times—and it is of those I speak—it is otherwise. Mr. Thomas Greenwood, in a most meritorious work on Public Libraries, supplies figures which show that, without counting pamphlets (which are books gone wrong) or manuscripts (which are books in terrorem), there are at this present moment upwards of 71,000,000 printed books in bindings in the several public libraries of Europe and America. To estimate the number and extent of private libraries in those countries is impossible. In many large houses there are no books at all—which is to make ignorance visible; whilst in many small houses there are, or seem to be, nothing else—which is to make knowledge inconvenient; yet as there are upwards of 280,000,000 of inhabitants of Europe and America, I cannot greatly err if a passion for round numbers drives me to the assertion that there are at least 300,000,000 books in these countries, not counting bibles and prayer-books. It is a poor show! Russia is greatly to blame, her European population of 88,000,000 being so badly provided for that it brings down the average. Were Russia left out in the cold, we might, were our books to be divided amongst our population per capita, rely upon having two volumes apiece. This would not afford Mr. Gosse (the title of one of whose books I have stolen) much material for gossip, particularly as his two books might easily chance to be duplicates. There are no habits of man more alien to the doctrine of the Communist than those of the collector, and there is no collector, not even that basest of them all, the Belial of his tribe, the man who collects money, whose love of private property is intenser, whose sense of the joys of ownership is keener than the book-collector's. Mr. William Morris once hinted at a good time coming, when at almost every street corner there would be a public library, where beautiful and rare books will be kept for citizens to examine. The citizen will first wash his hands in a parochial basin, and then dry them on a parochial towel, after which ritual he will walk in and stand en queue until it comes to be his turn to feast his eye upon some triumph of modern or some miracle of old typography. He will then return to a bookless home proud and satisfied, tasting of the joy that is in widest commonalty spread. Alas! he will do nothing of the kind, not, at least, if he is one of those in whom the old Adam of the bookstalls still breathes. A public library must always be an abomination. To enjoy a book, you must own it. 'John Jones his book,' that is the best bookplate. I have never admired the much-talked-of bookplate of Grolier, which, in addition to his own name, bore the ridiculous advice Et Amicorum. Fudge! There is no evidence that Grolier ever lent any man a book with his plate in it. His collection was dispersed after his death, and then sentimentalists fell a-weeping over his supposed generosity. It would be as reasonable to commend the hospitality of a dead man because you found amongst his papers a vast number of unposted invitations to dinner upon a date he long outlived. Sentiment is seldom in place, but on a bookplate it is peculiarly odious. To paste in each book an invitation to steal it, as Grolier seems to have done, is foolish; but so also is it to invoke, as some book-plates do, curses upon the heads of all subsequent possessors—as if any man who wanted to add a volume to his collection would be deterred by such braggadocio. But this is a digression. Public libraries can never satisfy the longings of book-collectors any more than can the private libraries of other people. Whoever really cared a snap of his fingers for the contents of another man's library, unless he is known to be dying? It is a humorous spectacle to watch one book-collector exhibiting his stores to another. If the owner is a gentleman, as he usually is, he affects indifference—'A poor thing,' he seems to say, 'yet mine own'; whilst the visitor, if human, as he always is, exhibits disgust. If the volume proffered for the visitor's examination is a genuine rarity, not in his own collection, he surlily inquires how it was come by; whilst if it is no great thing, he testily expresses his astonishment it should be thought worth keeping, and this although he has the very same edition at home.
On the other hand, though actual visits to other men's libraries rarely seem to give pleasure, the perusal of the catalogues of such libraries has always been a favourite pastime of collectors; but this can be accounted for without in any way aspersing the truth of the general statement that the only books a lover of them takes pleasure in are his own.
Mr. Gosse's recent volume, Gossip in a Library, is a very pleasing example of the pleasure taken by a book-hunter in his own books. Just as some men and more women assume your interest in the contents of their nurseries, so Mr. Gosse seeks to win our ears as he talks to us about some of the books on his shelves. He has secured my willing attention, and is not likely to be disappointed of a considerable audience.
We live in vocal times, when small birds make melody on every bough. The old book-collectors were a taciturn race—the Bindleys, the Sykeses, the Hebers. They made their vast collections in silence; their own tastes, fancies, predilections, they concealed. They never gossiped of their libraries; their names are only preserved to us by the prices given for their books after their deaths. Bindley's copy fetched L3 10s., Sykes' L4 15s. Thus is the buyer of to-day tempted to his doom, forgetful of the fact that these great names are only quoted when the prices realized at their sales were less than those now demanded.
But solacing as is the thought of those grave, silent times, indisposed as one often is for the chirpy familiarities of this present, it is, or it ought to be, a pious, and therefore pleasant, reflection that there never was a time when more people found delight in book-hunting, or were more willing to pay for and read about their pastime than now.
Rich people may, no doubt, still be met with who think it a serious matter to buy a book if it cost more than 3s. 9d. It was recently alleged in an affidavit made by a doctor in lunacy that for a well-to-do bachelor to go into the Strand, and in the course of the same morning spend L5 in the purchase of 'old books,' was a ground for belief in his insanity and for locking him up. These, however, are but vagaries, for it is certain that the number of people who will read a book like Mr. Gosse's steadily increases. This is its justification, and it is a complete one. It can never be wrong to give pleasure. To talk about books is better than to read about them, but, as a matter of hard fact, the opportunities life affords of talking about books are very few. The mood and the company seldom coincide; when they do, it is delightful, but they seldom do.
Mr. Gosse's book ought not to be read in a fierce, nagging spirit which demands, What is the good of this? or, Who cares for that? His talk, it must be admitted, is not of masterpieces. The books he takes down are—in some instances, at all events—sad trash. Smart's poems, for example, in an edition of 1752, which does not contain the 'David,' is not a book which, viewed baldly and by itself, can be honestly described as worth reading. This remark is not prompted by jealousy, for I have the book myself, and seldom fail to find the list of subscribers interesting, for, among many other famous names, it contains those of 'Mr. Gray, Peter's College, Cambridge,' 'Mr. Samuel Richardson, editor of Clarissa, two books,' and 'Mr. Voltaire, Historiographer of France.' There are various Johnsons among the subscribers, but not Samuel, who apparently would liefer pray with Kit Smart than buy his poetry, thereby showing the doctor's usual piety and good sense.[A]
[Footnote A: 'He insisted on people praying with him, and I'd as lief pray with Kit Smart as with anyone else.']
Although the nagging spirit before referred to is to be deprecated, it is sometimes amusing to lose your temper with your own hobby. If a book-collector ever does this, he longs to silence whole libraries of bad authors. ''Tis an inglorious acquist,' says Joseph Glanvill in his famous Vanity of Dogmatizing—I quote from the first edition, 1661, though the second is the rarer—'to have our heads or volumes laden as were Cardinal Campeius his mules, with old and useless luggage.' ''Twas this vain idolizing of authors,' Glanvill had just before observed, 'which gave birth to that silly vanity of impertinent citations, and inducing authority in things neither requiring nor deserving it.' In the same strain he proceeds, 'Methinks 'tis a pitiful piece of knowledge that can be learnt from an Index and a poor ambition to be rich in the inventory of another's Treasure. To boast a Memory (the most that these pedants can aim at) is but an humble ostentation. 'Tis better to own a Judgment, though but with a Curta Supellex of coherent notions, than a Memory like a sepulchre furnished with a load of broken and discarnate bones.' Thus far the fascinating Glanvill, whose mode of putting things is powerful.
There are times when the contemplation of huge libraries wearies, and when even the names of Bindley and Sykes fail to please. Dr. Johnson's library sold at Christie's for L247 9s. Let those sneer who dare. It was Johnson, not Bindley, who wrote the Lives of the Poets.
But, of course, no sensible man ever really quarrels with his hobby. A little petulance every now and again variegates the monotony of routine. Mr. Gosse tells us in his book that he cannot resist Restoration comedies. The bulk of them he knows to be as bad as bad can be. He admits they are not literature—whatever that may mean—but he intends to go on collecting them all the same till the inevitable hour when Death collects him. This is the true spirit; herein lies happiness, which consists in being interested in something, it does not much matter what. In this spirit let me take up Mr. Gosse's book again, and read what he has to tell about Pharamond; or, the History of France. A Fam'd Romance. In Twelve Parts, or about Mr. John Hopkins' collection of poems, printed by Thomas Warren for Bennet Bunbury at the Blue Anchor, in the Lower Walk of the New Exchange, 1700. The Romance is dull, and as it occupies more than 1,100 folio pages may be pronounced tedious, and the poetry is bad, but as I do not seriously intend ever to read a line of either the Romance or the poetry, this is no great matter.
LIBRARIANS AT PLAY
No man of feeling will grudge the librarians of the universe their annual outing. Their pursuits are not indeed entirely sedentary, since at times they have to climb tall ladders, but of exercise they must always stand in need, and as for air, the exclusively bookish atmosphere is as bad for the lungs as it is for the intellectuals. In 1897 the Second International Library Conference met in London, attended several concerts, was entertained by the Marchioness of Bute and Lady Lubbock; visited Lambeth Palace and Stafford and Apsley Houses; witnessed a special performance of Irving's Merchant of Venice; were elected honorary members of the City Liberal, Junior Athaeneum, National Liberal, and Savage Clubs; and, generally speaking, enjoyed themselves after the methods current during that period. They also read forty-six papers, which now alone remain a stately record of their proceedings.
I have lately spent a pleasant afternoon musing over these papers. Their variety is endless, and the dispositions of mind displayed by these librarians are wide as the poles asunder. Some of them babble like babies, others are evidently austere scholars; some are gravely bent on the best methods of classifying catalogues, economizing space, and sorting borrowers' cards; others, scorning such mechanical details, bid us regard libraries, and consequently librarians, as the primary factors in human evolution. 'Where,' asks Mr. Ernest Cushing Richardson, the librarian of Princetown University, New Jersey, U.S.A., 'lies the germ of the library?' He answers his own question after the following convincing fashion: 'At the point where a definitely formed concept from another's mind is placed beside one's own idea for integration, the result being a definite new form, including the substance of both.' The pointsman who presides over this junction is the librarian.
The young woman of whom Mr. Matthews, the well-known librarian of Bristol, tells us, who, being a candidate for the post of assistant librarian, boldly pronounced Rider Haggard to be the author of the Idylls of the King, Southey of The Mill on the Floss, and Mark Twain of Modern Painters, undoubtedly placed her own ideas at the service of Bristol alongside the preconceived conceptions of Mr. Matthews; but she was rejected all the same.
To speak seriously, who are librarians, and whence come they in such numbers? Of Bodley's librarian we have heard, and all the lettered world honours the name of Richard Garnett, late keeper of the printed books at the British Museum. But beyond these and half a dozen others a great darkness prevails. This ignorance is well illustrated by a pleasing anecdote told at the Conference by Mr. MacAlister:
'Only the day before yesterday, on the Calais boat, I was introduced to a world-famed military officer who, when he understood I had some connection with the Library Association, exclaimed: "Why, you're just the man I want! I have been anxious of late about my man, old Atkins. You see the old boy, with a stoop, sheltering behind the funnel. Poor old beggar! quite past his work, but as faithful as a dog. It has just occurred to me that if you could shove him into some snug library in the country, I'd be awfully grateful to you. His one fault is a fondness for reading, and so a library would be just the thing."'
The usual titled lady also turned up at the Conference. This time she was recommending her late cook for the post of librarian, alleging on her behalf the same strange trait of character—her fondness for reading. Here, of course, one recalls Mark Pattison's famous dictum, 'The librarian who reads is lost,' about which there is much to be said, both pro and con; but we must not be put off our inquiry, which is: Who are these librarians, and whence come they? They are the custodians of the 70,000,000 printed books (be the numbers a little more or less) in the public libraries of the Western world, and they come from guarding their treasures. They deserve our friendliest consideration. If occasionally their enthusiasm provokes a smile, it is, or should be, of the kindliest. When you think of 70,000,000 books, instinctively you wish to wash your hands. Nobody knows what dust is who has not divided his time between the wine-cellar and the library. The work of classification, of indexing, of packing away, must be endless. Great men have arisen who have grappled with these huge problems. We read respectfully of Cutter's rules, which are to the librarian even as Kepler's laws to the astronomer. We have also heard of Poole's index. We bow our heads. Both Cutter and Poole are Americans. The parish of St. Pancras has just, by an overwhelming majority, declined to have a free library, and consequently a librarian. Brutish St. Pancras!
Libraries are obviously of two kinds: those intended for popular use and those meant for the scholar. The ordinary free library, in the sense of Mr. Ewart's Act of Parliament of 1850, is a popular library where a wearied population turns for distraction. Fiction plays a large part. In some libraries 80 per cent. of the books in circulation are novels. Hence Mr. Goldwin Smith's splenetic remark, 'People have no more right to novels than to theatre-tickets out of the taxes.' Quite true; no more they have—or to public gardens or to beautiful pictures or to anything save to peep through the railings and down the areas of Mr. Gradgrind's fine new house in Park Lane.
When we are considering popular libraries, it does not do to expect too much of tired human nature. This popular kind of library was well represented—perhaps a little over-represented, at the Conference. All our American cousins are not Cutters and Pooles. There was Mr. Crunden, who keeps the public library at St. Louis, U.S.A. He is all against dull text-books. As a boy he derived his inspiration from Sargent's Standard Speaker, and the interesting sketch he gives us of his education makes us wonder whether amidst his multitudinous reading he ever encountered Newman's marvellous description and handling of the young and over-read Mr. Brown, which is to be found under the heading 'Elementary Studies' in Lectures and Essays on University Subjects.
I shuddered just a little on reading in Mr. Crunden's paper of the boy who, before he was nine, had read Bulfinch's Age of Chivalry and Age of Charlemagne, Bryant's Translation of the 'Iliad', a prose translation of the Odyssey, Malory's King Arthur, and several other versions of the Arthurian legend, Prescott's Peru and Mexico, Macaulay's Lays, Longfellow's Hiawatha and Miles Standish, the Jungle Books, and other books too numerous to mention. A famous list, but perilously long.
Mr. Crunden supports his case for varied reading by quotations from all quarters—Dr. William T. Harris, President Eliot, Professor Mackenzie, Charles Dudley Warner, Sir John Lubbock—but their scraps of wisdom or of folly do not remove my uneasiness about the digestion of the little boy who, before he was nine years old, had (not content with Malory) read several versions of the Arthurian legend!
Ladies make excellent librarians, and have tender hearts for children, and so we find a paper written by a lady librarian, entitled Books that Children Like. She quotes some interesting letters from children: 'I like books about ancient history and books about knights, also stories of adventure, and mostly books with a deep plot and mystery about them.' 'I do not like Gulliver's Travels, because I think they are silly.' 'I read Little Men. I did not like this book.' 'I like Ivanhoe, by Scott, better than any.' 'My favourite books are Tom Sawyer, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Scudder's American History. I like Tom Sawyer because he was so jolly, Uncle Tom because he was so faithful, and Nathan Hale because he was so brave.' These are unbought verdicts no wise man will despise.
All this is popular enough. But the unpopular library must not be overlooked, for, after all, libraries are for the learned. We must not let the babes and sucklings, or the weary seamstress or badgered clerk, or even the working-man, ride rough-shod over Salmasius and Scaliger. In the papers of Mr. Garnett, Mr. Pollard, Mr. Dziatzko, Mr. Cutter, and others, the less popular and nobler side of the library is duly exhibited.
My anxiety about these librarians, who are beginning to be a profession by themselves, is how they are to be paid. That librarians must live is at least as obvious in their case as in that of any other class. They must also, if they are to be of any use, be educated. In 1878 the late Mr. Robert Harrison, who for many years led a grimy life in the London Library, advocated L250 as a minimum annual salary for a competent librarian. But, as Mr. Ogle, of Bootle, pertinently asked at the Conference, 'Are his views yet accepted?' We fear not. Mr. Ogle courageously proceeds:
'The fear of a charge of trades unionism has long kept librarians silent, but this matter is one of public importance, and affects educational progress. A School-Board rate of 6d. or 1s. is willingly paid to teach our youth to read. Shall an additional 2d. be grudged to turn that reading talent into right and safe channels, where it may work for the public welfare and economy?'
Festina lente, good Mr. Ogle, I beseech you. That way fierce controversy and, it may be, disaster lies. Do not stir the Philistine within us. The British nation is still savage under the skin. It has no real love for books, libraries, or librarians. In its hidden heart it deems them all superfluous. Anger it, and it may in a fit of temper sweep you all away. The loss of our free librarians would indeed be grievous. Never again could they meet in conference and read papers full of quaint things and odd memories. What, for example, can be more amusing than Mr. Cowell's reminiscences of forty years' library work in Liverpool, of the primitive days when a youthful Dicky Sam (for so do the inhabitants of that city call themselves) mistook the Flora of Liverpool for a book either about a ship or a heroine? He knows better now. And what shall we say of the Liverpool brushmaker who, at a meeting of the library committee, recited a poem in praise of woman, containing the following really magnificent line?—
'The heart that beats fondest is found in the stays.'
There is nothing in Roscoe or Mrs. Hemans (local bards) one half so fine. Long may librarians live and flourish! May their salaries increase, if not by leaps and bounds, yet in steady proportions. Yet will they do well to remember that books are not everything.
LAWYERS AT PLAY
That dreary morass, that Serbonian bog, the Bacon-Shakespeare controversy, has been lately lit up as by the flickering light of a will-o'-the-wisp, by the almost simultaneous publication of an imaginary charge delivered to an equally imaginary jury by a judge of no less eminence than the late Lord Penzance (that tough Erastian) and of the still bolder jeu d'esprit, A Report of the Trial of an Issue in Westminster Hall, June 20, 1627, which is the work of the unbridled fancy of His Honour Judge Willis, late Treasurer of the Inner Temple, and a man most intimately acquainted with the literature of the seventeenth century.
Neither production of these playful lawyers, clothed though they be in the garb of judicial procedure, is in the least likely to impress the lay mind with that sense of 'impartiality' or 'indifference' which is supposed to be an attribute of justice, or, indeed, with anything save the unfitness of the machinery of an action at law for the determination of any matter which invokes the canons of criticism and demands the arbitrament of a well-informed and lively taste.
Lord Penzance, who favours the Baconians, made no pretence of impartiality, and says outright in his preface that his readers 'must not expect to find in these pages an equal and impartial leaning of the judge alternately to the case of both parties, as would, I hope, be found in any judicial summing-up of the evidence in a real judicial inquiry.' And, he adds, 'the form of a summing-up is only adopted for convenience, but it is in truth very little short of an argument for the plaintiffs, i.e., the Baconians.'
Why any man, judge or no judge, who wished to prepare an argument on one side of a question should think fit to cast that argument for convenience' sake in the form of a judicial summing-up of both sides is, and must remain, a puzzle.
Judge Willis, who is a Shakespearean, bold and unabashed, is not content with a mere summing-up, but, with a gravity and wealth of detail worthy of De Foe, has presented us with what purports to be a verbatim report of so much of the proceedings in a suit of Hall v. Russell as were concerned with the trial before a jury of the simple issue—whether William Shakespeare, of Stratford-upon-Avon, 'the testator in the cause of Hall v. Russell,' was the author of the plays in the Folio of 1623. We are favoured with the names of counsel employed, who snarl at one another with such startling verisimilitude, whilst the remarks that fall from the bench do so with such naturalness, that it is perhaps not surprising, or any very severe reflection upon his literary esprit, that a member of the Bar, having heard Judge Willis deliver his lecture in the Inner Temple Hall, repaired next day to the library to study at his leisure the hitherto unnoted case of Hall v. Russell. Ten witnesses are put in the box to prove the affirmative—that Shakespeare was the author of the plays. Mr. Blount and M. Jaggard, the publishers of the Folio, give a most satisfactory account of the somewhat crucial point—how they came by the manuscripts, with all the amendments and corrections, and pass lightly over the fact that those manuscripts had disappeared. 'Rare Ben Jonson' in the witness-box is a masterpiece of dramatic invention; he demolishes Bacon's advocate with magnificent vitality. John Selden makes a stately witness, and Francis Meres a very useful one. Generally speaking, the weakest part in these interesting proceedings is the cross-examination. I have heard the learned judge do better in old days. No witnesses are called for the Baconians, though all the writings of the great philosopher were put in for what they were worth. The Lord Chief Justice, who seems to have been a friend of Shakespeare's, sums up dead in his favour, and the jury (with whose names we are not supplied, which is a pity—Bunyan or De Foe would have given them to us), after a short absence, a quarter of an hour, return a Shakespearean verdict, which of course ought by rights to make the whole question res judicata.
But it has done nothing of the kind. Could we really ask Blount and Jaggard how they came by the manuscripts, and who made the corrections, and did we believe their replies, why, then a stray Baconian here and there might reluctantly abandon his strange fancy; but as Hall v. Russell is Judge Willis's joke, it will convert no Baconians any more than Dean Sherlock's once celebrated Trial of the Witnesses compels belief in the Resurrection.
The question in reality is a compound one. Did Shakespeare write the plays? If yes, the matter is at rest. If no—who did? If an author can be found—Bacon or anyone else—well and good. If no author can be found—Anon. wrote them—a conclusion which need terrify no one, since the plays would still remain within our reach, and William Shakespeare, apart from the plays, is very little to anybody who has not written his life.
But this is not the form the controversy has assumed. The anti-Shakespeareans are to a man Baconians, and fondly imagine that if only Will Shakespeare were put out of the way their man must step into the vacant throne. Lord Penzance in charging his jury told them that those of their number 'who had studied the writings of Bacon' and were 'keenly alive to his marvellous mental powers' would probably have 'no difficulty,' if once satisfied that the author they were seeking after was not Shakespeare, in finding as a fact that he was Bacon. But suppose James Spedding had been on that jury, and, rising in his place, had spoken as follows:
'My Lord,—If any man has ever studied the writings of Bacon, I have. For twenty-five years I have done little else. If any man is keenly alive to his marvellous mental powers, I am that man. I am also deeply read in the plays attributed to Shakespeare, and I think I am in a condition to say that, whoever was the real author, it was not Bacon.'
That this is exactly what Spedding would have said we know from the letter he wrote on the subject to Mr. Holmes, reprinted in Essays and Discussions, and it completely upsets the whole scheme of arrangement of Lord Penzance's summing-up, which proceeds on the easy footing that the more difficulties you throw in Shakespeare's path the smoother becomes Bacon's.
That there are difficulties in Shakespeare's path, some things very hard to explain, must be admitted. Lord Penzance makes the most of these. It is, indeed, a most extraordinary thing that anybody should have had the mother-wit to write the plays traditionally assigned to Shakespeare. Where did he get it from? How on earth did the plays get themselves written? Where, when, and how did the author pick up his multifarious learnings? Lord Penzance, good, honest man, is simply staggered by the extent of the play-wright's information. The plays, so he says, 'teem with erudition,' and can only have been written by someone who had the classics at his finger-ends, modern languages on the tip of his tongue—by someone who had travelled far and read deeply; and, above all, by a man who had spent at least a year in a conveyancer's chambers! And yet, when this has been said, would Lord Penzance have added that the style and character of the playwright is the style and character of a really learned man of his period! Can anything less like such a style be imagined? Once genius is granted, heaven-born genius, a mother-wit beyond the dreams of fancy, and then plain humdrum men, ordinary judicial intelligences, will do well to be on their guard against it. 'Beware—beware! he is fooling thee.' Shakespeare's genius has simply befooled Lord Penzance. Seafaring men, after reading The Tempest, are ready to maintain that its author must have been for at least a year before the mast. As for Shakespeare's law, which has taken in so many matter-of-fact practitioners, one can now refer to Ben Jonson's evidence in Hall v. Russell, where that great dramatist has no difficulty in showing that if none but a lawyer could have written Shakespeare's plays, a lawyer alone could have preached Thomas Adams's sermons. Judge Willis's profound knowledge of sound old divinity has served him here in good stead. The fact is it is simply impossible to exaggerate the quick-wittedness and light-heartedness of a great literary genius. The absorbing power, the lightning-like faculty of apprehension, the instant recognition of the uses to which any fact or fancy can be put, the infinite number and delicacy of the mental feelers, thrust out in all directions, which belong to the creative brain and keep it in tremulous and restless activity, are quite enough so to differentiate the possessor of these endowments from his fellow mortals as to make comparison impossible. Shakespeare the actor was by the common consent of his enemies one of the deftest fellows that ever made use of other men's materials—'Convey, the wise it call.' I will again quote Spedding:
'If Shakespeare was not trained as a scholar or a man of science, neither do the works attributed to him show traces of trained scholarship or scientific education. Given the faculties, you will find that all the acquired knowledge, art, and dexterity which the Shakespearean plays imply were easily attainable by a man who was labouring in his vocation and had nothing else to do.'
I greatly prefer this cool judgment of a scholar deeply read in Elizabethan lore to Lord Penzance's heated and almost breathless admiration for the 'teeming erudition' of the plays.
Lord Penzance likewise displays a very creditable non-acquaintance with the disposition of authors one to another. He is quite shocked at the callousness of Shakespeare's contemporaries to Shakespeare if he were indeed the author of the Quartos which bore his name in his lifetime. But as it cannot be suggested that in, say, 1600 it was generally known that Shakespeare was not the author of these plays, it is hard to see how his contemporaries can be acquitted of indifference to his prodigious superiority over themselves. Authors, however, never take this view. Shakespeare's contemporaries thought him a mighty clever fellow and no more. Why, even Wordsworth was well persuaded he could write like Shakespeare had he been so minded. Mr. Arnold remained all his life honestly indifferent to and sceptical about the fame of both Tennyson and Browning. Great living lawyers and doctors do not invariably idolize each other, nor do the lawyers and doctors in a small way of business always speak well of those in a big way. The poets and learned critics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—Dryden, Pope, Johnson—looked upon Shakespeare with an indulgent eye, as a great but irregular genius, after much the same fashion as did the old sea-dogs of Nelson's day regard the hero of Trafalgar. 'Do not criticise him too harshly,' said Lord St. Vincent; 'there can only be one Nelson.'