The Library, by Andrew Lang

The Library

The Library which is to be spoken of in these pages, is all unlike the halls which a Spencer or a Huth fills with treasure beyond price. The age of great libraries has gone by, and where a collector of the old school survives, he is usually a man of enormous wealth, who might, if he pleased, be distinguished in parliament, in society, on the turf itself, or in any of the pursuits where unlimited supplies of money are strictly necessary. The old amateurs, whom La Bruyere was wont to sneer at, were not satisfied unless they possessed many thousands of books. For a collector like Cardinal Mazarin, Naude bought up the whole stock of many a bookseller, and left great towns as bare of printed paper as if a tornado had passed, and blown the leaves away. In our modern times, as the industrious Bibliophile Jacob, says, the fashion of book-collecting has changed; “from the vast hall that it was, the library of the amateur has shrunk to a closet, to a mere book-case. Nothing but a neat article of furniture is needed now, where a great gallery or a long suite of rooms was once required. The book has become, as it were, a jewel, and is kept in a kind of jewel-case.” It is not quantity of pages, nor lofty piles of ordinary binding, nor theological folios and classic quartos, that the modern amateur desires. He is content with but a few books of distinction and elegance, masterpieces of printing and binding, or relics of famous old collectors, of statesmen, philosophers, beautiful dead ladies; or, again, he buys illustrated books, or first editions of the modern classics. No one, not the Duc d’Aumale, or M. James Rothschild himself, with his 100 books worth 40,000 pounds, can possess very many copies of books which are inevitably rare. Thus the adviser who would offer suggestions to the amateur, need scarcely write, like Naude and the old authorities, about the size and due position of the library. He need hardly warn the builder to make the salle face the east, “because the eastern winds, being warm and dry of their nature, greatly temper the air, fortify the senses, make subtle the humours, purify the spirits, preserve a healthy disposition of the whole body, and, to say all in one word, are most wholesome and salubrious.” The east wind, like the fashion of book-collecting, has altered in character a good deal since the days when Naude was librarian to Cardinal Mazarin. One might as well repeat the learned Isidorus his counsels about the panels of green marble (that refreshes the eye), and Boethius his censures on library walls of ivory and glass, as fall back on the ancient ideas of librarians dead and gone.

The amateur, then, is the person we have in our eye, and especially the bibliophile who has but lately been bitten with this pleasant mania of collecting. We would teach him how to arrange and keep his books orderly and in good case, and would tell him what to buy and what to avoid. By the LIBRARY we do not understand a study where no one goes, and where the master of the house keeps his boots, an assortment of walking-sticks, the “Waverley Novels,” “Pearson on the Creed,” “Hume’s Essays,” and a collection of sermons. In, alas! too many English homes, the Library is no more than this, and each generation passes without adding a book, except now and then a Bradshaw or a railway novel, to the collection on the shelves. The success, perhaps, of circulating libraries, or, it may be, the Aryan tendencies of our race, “which does not read, and lives in the open air,” have made books the rarest of possessions in many houses. There are relics of the age before circulating libraries, there are fragments of the lettered store of some scholarly great-grandfather, and these, with a few odd numbers of magazines, a few primers and manuals, some sermons and novels, make up the ordinary library of an English household. But the amateur, whom we have in our thoughts, can never be satisfied with these commonplace supplies. He has a taste for books more or less rare, and for books neatly bound; in short, for books, in the fabrication of which ART has not been absent. He loves to have his study, like Montaigne’s, remote from the interruption of servants, wife, and children; a kind of shrine, where he may be at home with himself, with the illustrious dead, and with the genius of literature. The room may look east, west, or south, provided that it be dry, warm, light, and airy. Among the many enemies of books the first great foe is DAMP, and we must describe the necessary precautions to be taken against this peril. We will suppose that the amateur keeps his ordinary working books, modern tomes, and all that serve him as literary tools, on open shelves. These may reach the roof, if he has books to fill them, and it is only necessary to see that the back of the bookcases are slightly removed from contact with the walls. The more precious and beautifully bound treasures will naturally be stored in a case with closely-fitting glass-doors. 2 The shelves should be lined with velvet or chamois leather, that the delicate edges of the books may not suffer from contact with the wood. A leather lining, fitted to the back of the case, will also help to keep out humidity. Most writers recommend that the bookcases should be made of wood close in the grain, such as well-seasoned oak; or, for smaller tabernacles of literature, of mahogany, satin-wood lined with cedar, ebony, and so forth. These close-grained woods are less easily penetrated by insects, and it is fancied that book-worms dislike the aromatic scents of cedar, sandal wood, and Russia leather. There was once a bibliophile who said that a man could only love one book at a time, and the darling of the moment he used to carry about in a charming leather case. Others, men of few books, preserve them in long boxes with glass fronts, which may be removed from place to place as readily as the household gods of Laban. But the amateur who not only worships but reads books, needs larger receptacles; and in the open oak cases for modern authors, and for books with common modern papers and bindings, in the closed armoire for books of rarity and price, he will find, we think, the most useful mode of arranging his treasures. His shelves will decline in height from the lowest, where huge folios stand at case, to the top ranges, while Elzevirs repose on a level with the eye. It is well that each upper shelf should have a leather fringe to keep the dust away.

As to the shape of the bookcases, and the furniture, and ornaments of the library, every amateur will please himself. Perhaps the satin-wood or mahogany tabernacles of rare books are best made after the model of what furniture-dealers indifferently call the “Queen Anne” or the “Chippendale” style. There is a pleasant quaintness in the carved architectural ornaments of the top, and the inlaid flowers of marquetry go well with the pretty florid editions of the last century, the books that were illustrated by Stothard and Gravelot. Ebony suits theological tomes very well, especially when they are bound in white vellum. As to furniture, people who can afford it will imitate the arrangements of Lucullus, in Mr. Hill Burton’s charming volume “The Book-hunter” (Blackwood, Edinburgh, 1862). — “Everything is of perfect finish, — the mahogany-railed gallery, the tiny ladders, the broad winged lecterns, with leathern cushions on the edges to keep the wood from grazing the rich bindings, the books themselves, each shelf uniform with its facings, or rather backings, like well-dressed lines at a review.” The late Sir William Stirling–Maxwell, a famous bibliophile, invented a very nice library chair. It is most comfortable to sit on; and, as the top of the back is broad and flat, it can be used as a ladder of two high steps, when one wants to reach a book on a lofty shelf. A kind of square revolving bookcase, an American invention, manufactured by Messrs. Trubner, is useful to the working man of letters. Made in oak, stained green, it is not unsightly. As to ornaments, every man to his taste. You may have a “pallid bust of Pallas” above your classical collection, or fill the niches in a shrine of old French light literature, pastoral and comedy, with delicate shepherdesses in Chelsea china. On such matters a modest writer, like Mr. Jingle when Mr. Pickwick ordered dinner, “will not presume to dictate.”

Next to damp, dust and dirt are the chief enemies of books. At short intervals, books and shelves ought to be dusted by the amateur himself. Even Dr. Johnson, who was careless of his person, and of volumes lent to him, was careful about the cleanliness of his own books. Boswell found him one day with big gloves on his hands beating the dust out of his library, as was his custom. There is nothing so hideous as a dirty thumb-mark on a white page. These marks are commonly made, not because the reader has unwashed hands, but because the dust which settles on the top edge of books falls in, and is smudged when they are opened. Gilt-top edges should be smoothed with a handkerchief, and a small brush should be kept for brushing the tops of books with rough edges, before they are opened. But it were well that all books had the top edge gilt. There is no better preservative against dust. Dust not only dirties books, it seems to supply what Mr. Spencer would call a fitting environment for book-worms. The works of book-worms speak for themselves, and are manifest to all. How many a rare and valuable volume is spoiled by neat round holes drilled through cover and leaves! But as to the nature of your worm, authorities differ greatly. The ancients knew this plague, of which Lucian speaks. Mr. Blades mentions a white book-worm, slain by the librarian of the Bodleian. In Byzantium the black sort prevailed. Evenus, the grammarian, wrote an epigram against the black book-worm (“Anthol. Pal.,” ix. 251):—

Pest of the Muses, devourer of pages, in crannies that lurkest,

Fruits of the Muses to taint, labour of learning to spoil;

Wherefore, oh black-fleshed worm! wert thou born for the evil thou workest?

Wherefore thine own foul form shap’st thou with envious toil?

The learned Mentzelius says he hath heard the book-worm crow like a cock unto his mate, and “I knew not,” says he, “whether some local fowl was clamouring or whether there was but a beating in mine ears. Even at that moment, all uncertain as I was, I perceived, in the paper whereon I was writing, a little insect that ceased not to carol like very chanticleer, until, taking a magnifying glass, I assiduously observed him. He is about the bigness of a mite, and carries a grey crest, and the head low, bowed over the bosom; as to his crowing noise, it comes of his clashing his wings against each other with an incessant din.” Thus far Mentzelius, and more to the same purpose, as may be read in the “Memoirs of famous Foreign Academies” (Dijon, 1755–59, 13 vol. in quarto). But, in our times, the learned Mr. Blades having a desire to exhibit book-worms in the body to the Caxtonians at the Caxton celebration, could find few men that had so much as seen a book-worm, much less heard him utter his native wood-notes wild. Yet, in his “Enemies of Books,” he describes some rare encounters with the worm. Dirty books, damp books, dusty books, and books that the owner never opens, are most exposed to the enemy; and “the worm, the proud worm, is the conqueror still,” as a didactic poet sings, in an ode on man’s mortality. As we have quoted Mentzelius, it may not be amiss to give D’Alembert’s theory of book-worms: “I believe,” he says, “that a little beetle lays her eggs in books in August, thence is hatched a mite, like the cheese-mite, which devours books merely because it is compelled to gnaw its way out into the air.” Book-worms like the paste which binders employ, but D’Alembert adds that they cannot endure absinthe. Mr. Blades finds too that they disdain to devour our adulterate modern paper.

“Say, shall I sing of rats,” asked Grainger, when reading to Johnson his epic, the “Sugar-cane.” “No,” said the Doctor; and though rats are the foe of the bibliophile, at least as much as of the sugar-planter, we do not propose to sing of them. M. Fertiault has done so already in “Les Sonnets d’un Bibliophile,” where the reader must be pleased with the beautiful etchings of rats devouring an illuminated MS., and battening on morocco bindings stamped with the bees of De Thou. It is unnecessary and it would be undignified, to give hints on rat-catching, but the amateur must not forget that these animals have a passion for bindings.

The book-collector must avoid gas, which deposits a filthy coat of oil that catches dust. Mr. Blades found that three jets of gas in a small room soon reduced the leather on his book-shelves to a powder of the consistency of snuff, and made the backs of books come away in his hand. Shaded lamps give the best and most suitable light for the library. As to the risks which books run at the hands of the owner himself, we surely need not repeat the advice of Richard de Bury. Living in an age when tubs (if not unknown as M. Michelet declares) were far from being common, the old collector inveighed against the dirty hands of readers, and against their habit of marking their place in a book with filthy straws, or setting down a beer pot in the middle of the volume to keep the pages open. But the amateur, however refined himself, must beware of men who love not fly leaves neither regard margins, but write notes over the latter, and light their pipes with the former. After seeing the wreck of a book which these persons have been busy with, one appreciates the fine Greek hyperbole. The Greeks did not speak of “thumbing” but of “walking up and down” on a volume ([Greek text]). To such fellows it matters not that they make a book dirty and greasy, cutting the pages with their fingers, and holding the boards over the fire till they crack. All these slatternly practices, though they destroy a book as surely as the flames of Caesar’s soldiers at Alexandria, seem fine manly acts to the grobians who use them. What says Jules Janin, who has written “Contre l’indifference des Philistins,” “il faut a l’homme sage et studieux un tome honorable et digne de sa louange.” The amateur, and all decent men, will beware of lending books to such rude workers; and this consideration brings us to these great foes of books, the borrowers and robbers. The lending of books, and of other property, has been defended by some great authorities; thus Panurge himself says, “it would prove much more easy in nature to have fish entertained in the air, and bullocks fed in the bottom of the ocean, than to support or tolerate a rascally rabble of people that will not lend.” Pirckheimer, too, for whom Albert Durer designed a book-plate, was a lender, and took for his device Sibi et Amicis; and Jo. Grolierii et amicorum, was the motto of the renowned Grolier, whom mistaken writers vainly but frequently report to have been a bookbinder. But as Mr. Leicester Warren says, in his “Study of Book-plates” (Pearson, 1880), “Christian Charles de Savigny leaves all the rest behind, exclaiming non mihi sed aliis.” But the majority of amateurs have chosen wiser, though more churlish devices, as “the ungodly borroweth and payeth not again,” or “go to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.” David Garrick engraved on his book-plate, beside a bust of Shakspeare, these words of Menage, “La premiere chose qu’on doit faire, quand on a emprunte’ un livre, c’est de le lire, afin de pouvoir le rendre plutot.” But the borrower is so minded that the last thing he thinks of is to read a borrowed book, and the penultimate subject of his reflections is its restoration. Menage (Menagiana, Paris, 1729, vol. i. p. 265), mentions, as if it were a notable misdeed, this of Angelo Politian’s, “he borrowed a ‘Lucretius’ from Pomponius Laetus, and kept it for four years.” Four years! in the sight of the borrower it is but a moment. Menage reports that a friend kept his “Pausanias” for three years, whereas four months was long enough.

“At quarto saltem mense redire decet.”

There is no satisfaction in lending a book; for it is rarely that borrowers, while they deface your volumes, gather honey for new stores, as De Quincey did, and Coleridge, and even Dr. Johnson, who “greased and dogs-eared such volumes as were confided to his tender mercies, with the same indifference wherewith he singed his own wigs.” But there is a race of mortals more annoying to a conscientious man than borrowers. These are the spontaneous lenders, who insist that you shall borrow their tomes. For my own part, when I am oppressed with the charity of such, I lock their books up in a drawer, and behold them not again till the day of their return. There is no security against borrowers, unless a man like Guibert de Pixerecourt steadfastly refuses to lend. The device of Pixerecourt was un livre est un ami qui ne change jamais. But he knew that our books change when they have been borrowed, like our friends when they have been married; when “a lady borrows them,” as the fairy queen says in the ballad of “Tamlane.”

“But had I kenn’d, Tamlane,” she says,

“A lady wad borrowed thee,

I wad ta’en out thy twa gray een,

Put in twa een o’ tree!

“Had I but kenn’d, Tamlane,” she says,

“Before ye came frae hame,

I wad ta’en out your heart o’ flesh,

Put in a heart o’ stane!”

Above the lintel of his library door, Pixerecourt had this couplet carved —

“Tel est le triste sort de tout livre prete,

Souvent il est perdu, toujours il est gate.”

M. Paul Lacroix says he would not have lent a book to his own daughter. Once Lacroix asked for the loan of a work of little value. Pixerecourt frowned, and led his friend beneath the doorway, pointing to the motto. “Yes,” said M. Lacroix, “but I thought that verse applied to every one but me.” So Pixerecourt made him a present of the volume.

We cannot all imitate this “immense” but unamiable amateur. Therefore, bibliophiles have consoled themselves with the inventions of book-plates, quaint representations, perhaps heraldic, perhaps fanciful, of their claims to the possession of their own dear volumes. Mr. Leicester Warren and M. Poulet Malassis have written the history of these slender works of art, and each bibliophile may have his own engraved, and may formulate his own anathemas on people who borrow and restore not again. The process is futile, but may comfort the heart, like the curses against thieves which the Greeks were wont to scratch on leaden tablets, and deposit in the temple of Demeter. Each amateur can exercise his own taste in the design of a book-plate; and for such as love and collect rare editions of “Homer,” I venture to suggest this motto, which may move the heart of the borrower to send back an Aldine copy of the epic —

“Send him back carefully, for you can if you like, that all unharmed he may return to his own place.”

Mr. William Blades, in his pleasant volume, “The Enemies of Books” (Trubner), makes no account of the book-thief or biblioklept. “If they injure the owners,” says Mr. Blades, with real tolerance, “they do no harm to the books themselves, by merely transferring them from one set of book-shelves to another.” This sentence has naturally caused us to reflect on the ethical character of the biblioklept. He is not always a bad man. In old times, when language had its delicacies, and moralists were not devoid of sensibility, the French did not say “un voleur de livres,” but “un chipeur de livres;” as the papers call lady shoplifters “kleptomaniacs.” There are distinctions. M. Jules Janin mentions a great Parisian bookseller who had an amiable weakness. He was a bibliokleptomaniac. His first motion when he saw a book within reach was to put it in his pocket. Every one knew his habit, and when a volume was lost at a sale the auctioneer duly announced it, and knocked it down to the enthusiast, who regularly paid the price. When he went to a private view of books about to be sold, the officials at the door would ask him, as he was going out, if he did not happen to have an Elzevir Horace or an Aldine Ovid in his pocket. Then he would search those receptacles and exclaim, “Yes, yes, here it is; so much obliged to you; I am so absent.” M. Janin mentions an English noble, a “Sir Fitzgerald,” who had the same tastes, but who unluckily fell into the hands of the police. Yet M. Janin has a tenderness for the book-stealer, who, after all, is a lover of books. The moral position of the malefactor is so delicate and difficult that we shall attempt to treat of it in the severe, though rococo, manner of Aristotle’s “Ethics.” Here follows an extract from the lost Aristotelian treatise “Concerning Books”:—

“Among the contemplative virtues we reckon the love of books. Now this virtue, like courage or liberality, has its mean, its excess, and its defect. The defect is indifference, and the man who is defective as to the love of books has no name in common parlance. Therefore, we may call him the Robustious Philistine. This man will cut the leaves of his own or his friend’s volumes with the butter-knife at breakfast. Also he is just the person wilfully to mistake the double sense of the term ‘fly-leaves,’ and to stick the ‘fly-leaves’ of his volumes full of fly-hooks. He also loves dogs’-ears, and marks his place with his pipe when he shuts a book in a hurry; or he will set the leg of his chair on a page to keep it open. He praises those who tear off margins for pipe-lights, and he makes cigarettes with the tissue-paper that covers engravings. When his books are bound, he sees that the margin is cut to the quick. He tells you too, that ‘HE buys books to read them.’ But he does not say why he thinks it needful to spoil them. Also he will drag off bindings — or should we perhaps call this crime [Greek text], or brutality, rather than mere vice? for vice is essentially human, but to tear off bindings is bestial. Thus they still speak of a certain monster who lived during the French Revolution, and who, having purchased volumes attired in morocco, and stamped with the devices of the oligarchs, would rip off the leather or vellum, and throw them into the fire or out of the window, saying that ‘now he could read with unwashed hands at his ease.’ Such a person, then, is the man indifferent to books, and he sins by way of defect, being deficient in the contemplative virtue of book-loving. As to the man who is exactly in the right mean, we call him the book-lover. His happiness consists not in reading, which is an active virtue, but in the contemplation of bindings, and illustrations, and title-pages. Thus his felicity partakes of the nature of the bliss we attribute to the gods, for that also is contemplative, and we call the book-lover ‘happy,’ and even ‘blessed,’ but within the limits of mortal happiness. But, just as in the matter of absence of fear there is a mean which we call courage, and a defect which we call cowardice, and an excess which is known as foolhardiness; so it is in the case of the love of books. As to the mean, we have seen that it is the virtue of the true book-lover, while the defect constitutes the sin of the Robustious Philistine. But the extreme is found in covetousness, and the covetous man who is in the extreme state of book-loving, is the biblioklept, or book-stealer. Now his vice shows itself, not in contemplation (for of contemplation there can be no excess), but in action. For books are procured, as we say, by purchase, or by barter, and these are voluntary exchanges, both the seller and the buyer being willing to deal. But books are, again, procured in another way, by involuntary contract — that is, when the owner of the book is unwilling to part with it, but he whose own the book is not is determined to take it. The book-stealer is such a man as this, and he possesses himself of books with which the owner does not intend to part, by virtue of a series of involuntary contracts. Again, the question may be raised, whether is the Robustious Philistine who despises books, or the biblioklept who adores them out of measure and excessively, the worse citizen? Now, if we are to look to the consequences of actions only (as the followers of Bentham advise), clearly the Robustious Philistine is the worse citizen, for he mangles, and dirties, and destroys books which it is the interest of the State to preserve. But the biblioklept treasures and adorns the books he has acquired; and when he dies, or goes to prison, the State receives the benefit at his sale. Thus Libri, who was the greatest of biblioklepts, rescued many of the books he stole from dirt and misuse, and had them bound royally in purple and gold. Also, it may be argued that books naturally belong to him who can appreciate them; and if good books are in a dull or indifferent man’s keeping, this is the sort of slavery which we call “unnatural” in our POLITICS, and which is not to be endured. Shall we say, then, that the Robustious Philistine is the worse citizen, while the Biblioklept is the worse man? But this is perhaps matter for a separate disquisition.”

This fragment of the lost Aristotelian treatise “Concerning Books,” shows what a difficulty the Stagirite had in determining the precise nature of the moral offence of the biblioklept. Indeed, both as a collector and as an intuitive moralist, Aristotle must have found it rather difficult to condemn the book-thief. He, doubtless, went on to draw distinctions between the man who steals books to sell them again for mere pecuniary profit (which he would call “chrematistic,” or “unnatural,” book-stealing), and the man who steals them because he feels that he is their proper and natural possessor. The same distinction is taken by Jules Janin, who was a more constant student of Horace than of Aristotle. In his imaginary dialogue of bibliophiles, Janin introduces a character who announces the death of M. Libri. The tolerant person who brings the sad news proposes “to cast a few flowers on the melancholy tomb. He was a bibliophile, after all. What do you say to it? Many a good fellow has stolen books, and died in grace at the last.” “Yes,” replies the president of the club, “but the good fellows did not sell the books they stole . . . Cest une grande honte, une grande misere.” This Libri was an Inspector–General of French Libraries under Louis Philippe. When he was tried, in 1848, it was calculated that the sum of his known thefts amounted to 20,000 pounds. Many of his robberies escaped notice at the time. It is not long since Lord Ashburnham, according to a French journal, “Le Livre,” found in his collection some fragments of a Pentateuch. These relics had been in the possession of the Lyons Library, whence Libri stole them in 1847. The late Lord Ashburnham bought them, without the faintest idea of Libri’s dishonesty; and when, after eleven years, the present peer discovered the proper owners of his treasure, he immediately restored the Pentateuch to the Lyons Library.

Many eminent characters have been biblioklepts. When Innocent X. was still Monsignor Pamphilio, he stole a book — so says Tallemant des Reaux — from Du Monstier, the painter. The amusing thing is that Du Monstier himself was a book-thief. He used to tell how he had lifted a book, of which he had long been in search, from a stall on the Pont–Neuf; “but,” says Tallemant (whom Janin does not seem to have consulted), “there are many people who don’t think it thieving to steal a book unless you sell it afterwards.” But Du Monstier took a less liberal view where his own books were concerned. The Cardinal Barberini came to Paris as legate, and brought in his suite Monsignor Pamphilio, who afterwards became Innocent X. The Cardinal paid a visit to Du Monstier in his studio, where Monsignor Pamphilio spied, on a table, “L’Histoire du Concile de Trent” — the good edition, the London one. “What a pity,” thought the young ecclesiastic, “that such a man should be, by some accident, the possessor of so valuable a book.” With these sentiments Monsignor Pamphilio slipped the work under his soutane. But little Du Monstier observed him, and said furiously to the Cardinal, that a holy man should not bring thieves and robbers in his company. With these words, and with others of a violent and libellous character, he recovered the “History of the Council of Trent,” and kicked out the future Pope. Amelot de la Houssaie traces to this incident the hatred borne by Innocent X. to the Crown and the people of France. Another Pope, while only a cardinal, stole a book from Menage — so M. Janin reports — but we have not been able to discover Menage’s own account of the larceny. The anecdotist is not so truthful that cardinals need flush a deeper scarlet, like the roses in Bion’s “Lament for Adonis,” on account of a scandal resting on the authority of Menage. Among Royal persons, Catherine de Medici, according to Brantome, was a biblioklept. “The Marshal Strozzi had a very fine library, and after his death the Queen–Mother seized it, promising some day to pay the value to his son, who never got a farthing of the money.” The Ptolemies, too, were thieves on a large scale. A department of the Alexandrian Library was called “The Books from the Ships,” and was filled with rare volumes stolen from passengers in vessels that touched at the port. True, the owners were given copies of their ancient MSS., but the exchange, as Aristotle says, was an “involuntary” one, and not distinct from robbery.

The great pattern of biblioklepts, a man who carried his passion to the most regrettable excesses, was a Spanish priest, Don Vincente, of the convent of Pobla, in Aragon. When the Spanish revolution despoiled the convent libraries, Don Vincente established himself at Barcelona, under the pillars of Los Encantes, where are the stalls of the merchants of bric-a-brac and the seats of them that sell books. In a gloomy den the Don stored up treasures which he hated to sell. Once he was present at an auction where he was out-bid in the competition for a rare, perhaps a unique, volume. Three nights after that, the people of Barcelona were awakened by cries of “Fire!” The house and shop of the man who had bought “Ordinacions per los gloriosos reys de Arago” were blazing. When the fire was extinguished, the body of the owner of the house was found, with a pipe in his blackened hand, and some money beside him. Every one said, “He must have set the house on fire with a spark from his pipe.” Time went on, and week by week the police found the bodies of slain men, now in the street, now in a ditch, now in the river. There were young men and old, all had been harmless and inoffensive in their lives, and — all had been bibliophiles. A dagger in an invisible hand had reached their hearts but the assassin had spared their purses, money, and rings. An organised search was made in the city, and the shop of Don Vincente was examined. There, in a hidden recess, the police discovered the copy of “Ordinacions per los gloriosis reys de Arago,” which ought by rights to have been burned with the house of its purchaser. Don Vincente was asked how he got the book. He replied in a quiet voice, demanded that his collection should be made over to the Barcelona Library, and then confessed a long array of crimes. He had strangled his rival, stolen the “Ordinacions,” and burned the house. The slain men were people who had bought from him books which he really could not bear to part with. At his trial his counsel tried to prove that his confession was false, and that he might have got his books by honest means. It was objected that there was in the world only one book printed by Lambert Palmart in 1482, and that the prisoner must have stolen this, the only copy, from the library where it was treasured. The defendant’s counsel proved that there was another copy in the Louvre; that, therefore, there might be more, and that the defendant’s might have been honestly procured. Here Don Vincente, previously callous, uttered an hysterical cry. Said the Alcalde:— “At last, Vincente, you begin to understand the enormity of your offence?” “Ah, Senor Alcalde, my error was clumsy indeed. If you only knew how miserable I am!” “If human justice prove inflexible, there is another justice whose pity is inexhaustible. Repentance is never too late.” “Ah, Senor Alcalde, but my copy was not unique!” With the story of this impenitent thief we may close the roll of biblioklepts, though Dibdin pretends that Garrick was of the company, and stole Alleyne’s books at Dulwich.

There is a thievish nature more hateful than even the biblioklept. The Book–Ghoul is he who combines the larceny of the biblioklept with the abominable wickedness of breaking up and mutilating the volumes from which he steals. He is a collector of title-pages, frontispieces, illustrations, and book-plates. He prowls furtively among public and private libraries, inserting wetted threads, which slowly eat away the illustrations he covets; and he broods, like the obscene demon of Arabian superstitions, over the fragments of the mighty dead. His disgusting tastes vary. He prepares books for the American market. Christmas books are sold in the States stuffed with pictures cut out of honest volumes. Here is a quotation from an American paper:—

“Another style of Christmas book which deserves to be mentioned, though it is out of the reach of any but the very rich, is the historical or literary work enriched with inserted plates. There has never, to our knowledge, been anything offered in America so supremely excellent as the $5000 book on Washington, we think — exhibited by Boston last year, but not a few fine specimens of books of this class are at present offered to purchasers. Scribner has a beautiful copy of Forster’s ‘Life of Dickens,’ enlarged from three volumes octavo to nine volumes quarto, by taking to pieces, remounting, and inlaying. It contains some eight hundred engravings, portraits, views, playbills, title-pages, catalogues, proof illustrations from Dickens’s works, a set of the Onwhyn plates, rare engravings by Cruikshank and ‘Phiz,’ and autograph letters. Though this volume does not compare with Harvey’s Dickens, offered for $1750 two years ago, it is an excellent specimen of books of this sort, and the veriest tyro in bibliographical affairs knows how scarce are becoming the early editions of Dickens’s works and the plates illustrating them. 4 Anything about Dickens in the beginning of his career is a sound investment from a business point of view. Another work of the same sort, valued at $240, is Lady Trevelyan’s edition of Macaulay, illustrated with portraits, many of them very rare. Even cheaper, all things considered, is an extra-illustrated copy of the ‘Histoire de la Gravure,’ which, besides its seventy-three reproductions of old engravings, is enriched with two hundred fine specimens of the early engravers, many of the impressions being in first and second states. At $155 such a book is really a bargain, especially for any one who is forming a collection of engravings. Another delightful work is the library edition of Bray’s ‘Evelyn,’ illustrated with some two hundred and fifty portraits and views, and valued at $175; and still another is Boydell’s ‘Milton,’ with plates after Westall, and further illustrations in the shape of twenty-eight portraits of the painter and one hundred and eighty-one plates, and many of them before letter. The price of this book is $325.”

But few book-ghouls are worse than the moral ghoul. He defaces, with a pen, the passages, in some precious volume, which do not meet his idea of moral propriety. I have a Pine’s “Horace,” with the engravings from gems, which has fallen into the hands of a moral ghoul. Not only has he obliterated the verses which hurt his delicate sense, but he has actually scraped away portions of the classical figures, and “the breasts of the nymphs in the brake.” The soul of Tartuffe had entered into the body of a sinner of the last century. The antiquarian ghoul steals title-pages and colophons. The aesthetic ghoul cuts illuminated initials out of manuscripts. The petty, trivial, and almost idiotic ghoul of our own days, sponges the fly-leaves and boards of books for the purpose of cribbing the book-plates. An old “Complaint of a Book-plate,” in dread of the wet sponge of the enemy, has been discovered by Mr. Austin Dobson:— 5

THE BOOK-PLATE’S PETITION.

By a Gentleman of the Temple.

While cynic CHARLES still trimm’d the vane

‘Twixt Querouaille and Castlemaine,

In days that shocked JOHN EVELYN,

My First Possessor fix’d me in.

In days of Dutchmen and of frost,

The narrow sea with JAMES I cross’d,

Returning when once more began

The Age of Saturn and of ANNE.

I am a part of all the past;

I knew the GEORGES, first and last;

I have been oft where else was none

Save the great wig of ADDISON;

And seen on shelves beneath me grope

The little eager form of POPE.

I lost the Third that own’d me when

French NOAILLES fled at Dettingen;

The year JAMES WOLFE surpris’d Quebec,

The Fourth in hunting broke his neck;

The day that WILLIAM HOGARTH dy’d,

The Fifth one found me in Cheapside.

This was a Scholar, one of those

Whose Greek is sounder than their hose;

He lov’d old Books and nappy ale,

So liv’d at Streatham, next to THRALE.

’Twas there this stain of grease I boast

Was made by Dr. JOHNSON’S toast.

(He did it, as I think, for Spite;

My Master call’d him Jacobite!)

And now that I so long today

Have rested post discrimina,

Safe in the brass-wir’d book-case where

I watch’d the Vicar’s whit’ning hair,

Must I these travell’d bones inter

In some Collector’s sepulchre!

Must I be torn from hence and thrown

With frontispiece and colophon!

With vagrant E’s, and I’s, and O’s,

The spoil of plunder’d Folios!

With scraps and snippets that to ME

Are naught but kitchen company!

Nay, rather, FRIEND, this favour grant me:

Tear me at once; but don’t transplant me.

CHELTENHAM, Sept. 31, 1792.

The conceited ghoul writes his notes across our fair white margins, in pencil, or in more baneful ink. Or he spills his ink bottle at large over the pages, as Andre Chenier’s friend served his copy of Malherbe. It is scarcely necessary to warn the amateur against the society of book-ghouls, who are generally snuffy and foul in appearance, and by no means so insinuating as that fair lady-ghoul, Amina, of the Arabian Nights.

Another enemy of books must be mentioned with the delicacy that befits the topic. Almost all women are the inveterate foes, not of novels, of course, nor peerages and popular volumes of history, but of books worthy of the name. It is true that Isabelle d’Este, and Madame de Pompadour, and Madame de Maintenon, were collectors; and, doubtless, there are other brilliant exceptions to a general rule. But, broadly speaking, women detest the books which the collector desires and admires. First, they don’t understand them; second, they are jealous of their mysterious charms; third, books cost money; and it really is a hard thing for a lady to see money expended on what seems a dingy old binding, or yellow paper scored with crabbed characters. Thus ladies wage a skirmishing war against booksellers’ catalogues, and history speaks of husbands who have had to practise the guile of smugglers when they conveyed a new purchase across their own frontier. Thus many married men are reduced to collecting Elzevirs, which go readily into the pocket, for you cannot smuggle a folio volume easily. This inveterate dislike of books often produces a very deplorable result when an old collector dies. His “womankind,” as the Antiquary called them, sell all his treasures for the price of waste-paper, to the nearest country bookseller. It is a melancholy duty which forces one to introduce such topics into a volume on “Art at Home.” But this little work will not have been written in vain if it persuades ladies who inherit books not to sell them hastily, without taking good and disinterested opinion as to their value. They often dispose of treasures worth thousands, for a ten pound note, and take pride in the bargain. Here, let history mention with due honour the paragon of her sex and the pattern to all wives of book-collecting men — Madame Fertiault. It is thus that she addresses her lord in a charming triolet (“Les Amoureux du Livre,” p. xxxv):—

“Le livre a ton esprit . . . tant mieux!

Moi, j’ai ton coeur, et sans partage.

Puis-je desirer davantage?

Le livre a ton esprit . . . tant mieux!

Heureuse de te voir joyeux,

Je t’en voudrais . . . tout un etage.

Le livre a ton esprit . . . tant mieux!

Moi, j’ai ton coeur, et sans partage.”

Books rule thy mind, so let it be!

Thy heart is mine, and mine alone.

What more can I require of thee?

Books rule thy mind, so let it be!

Contented when thy bliss I see,

I wish a world of books thine own.

Books rule thy mind, so let it be!

Thy heart is mine, and mine alone.

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There is one method of preserving books, which, alas, only tempts the borrower, the stealer, the rat, and the book-worm; but which is absolutely necessary as a defence against dust and neglect. This is binding. The bookbinder’s art too often destroys books when the artist is careless, but it is the only mode of preventing our volumes from falling to pieces, and from being some day disregarded as waste-paper. A well-bound book, especially a book from a famous collection, has its price, even if its literary contents be of trifling value. A leather coat fashioned by Derome, or Le Gascon, or Duseuil, will win respect and careful handling for one specimen of an edition whereof all the others have perished. Nothing is so slatternly as the aspect of a book merely stitched, in the French fashion, when the threads begin to stretch, and the paper covers to curl and be torn. Worse consequences follow, whole sheets are lost, the volume becomes worthless, and the owner must often be at the expense of purchasing another copy, if he can, for the edition may now be out of print. Thus binding of some sort not only adds a grace to the library, presenting to the eye the cheerful gilded rows of our volumes, but is a positive economy. In the case of our cloth-covered English works, the need of binding is not so immediately obvious. But our publishers have a taste for clothing their editions in tender tones of colour, stamped, often, with landscapes printed in gold, in white, or what not. Covers like this, may or may not please the eye while they are new and clean, but they soon become dirty and hideous. When a book is covered in cloth of a good dark tint it may be allowed to remain unbound, but the primrose and lilac hues soon call out for the aid of the binder.

Much has been written of late about book-binding. In a later part of this manual we shall have something to say about historical examples of the art, and the performances of the great masters. At present one must begin by giving the practical rule, that a book should be bound in harmony with its character and its value. The bibliophile, if he could give the rein to his passions, would bind every book he cares to possess in a full coat of morocco, or (if it did not age so fast) of Russia leather. But to do this is beyond the power of most of us. Only works of great rarity or value should be full bound in morocco. If we have the luck to light on a Shakespeare quarto, on some masterpiece of Aldus Manutius, by all means let us entrust it to the most competent binder, and instruct him to do justice to the volume. Let old English books, as More’s “Utopia,” have a cover of stamped and blazoned calf. Let the binder clothe an early Rabelais or Marot in the style favoured by Grolier, in leather tooled with geometrical patterns. Let a Moliere or Corneille be bound in the graceful contemporary style of Le Gascon, where the lace-like pattern of the gilding resembles the Venetian point-lace, for which La Fontaine liked to ruin himself. Let a binding, a la fanfare, in the style of Thouvenin, denote a novelist of the last century, let panelled Russia leather array a folio of Shakespeare, and let English works of a hundred years ago be clothed in the sturdy fashion of Roger Payne. Again, the bibliophile may prefer to have the leather stamped with his arms and crest, like de Thou, Henri III., D’Hoym, Madame du Barry, and most of the collectors of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Yet there are books of great price which one would hesitate to bind in new covers. An Aldine or an Elzevir, in its old vellum or paper wrapper, with uncut leaves, should be left just as it came from the presses of the great printers. In this condition it is a far more interesting relic. But a morocco case may be made for the book, and lettered properly on the back, so that the volume, though really unbound, may take its place with the bound books on the shelves. A copy of any of Shelley’s poems, in the original wrappers, should I venture to think be treated thus, and so should the original editions of Keats’s and of Mr. Tennyson’s works. A collector, who is also an author, will perhaps like to have copies of his own works in morocco, for their coats will give them a chance of surviving the storms of time. But most other books, not of the highest rarity and interest, will be sufficiently clothed in half-bindings, that is, with leather backs and corners, while the rest of the cover is of cloth or paper, or whatever other substance seems most appropriate. An Oxford tutor used to give half-binding as an example of what Aristotle calls [Greek text], or “shabbiness,” and when we recommend such coverings for books it is as a counsel of expediency, not of perfection. But we cannot all be millionaires; and, let it be remembered, the really wise amateur will never be extravagant, nor let his taste lead him into “the ignoble melancholy of pecuniary embarrassment.” Let the example of Charles Nodier be our warning; nay, let us remember that while Nodier could get out of debt by selling his collection, OURS will probably not fetch anything like what we gave for it. In half-bindings there is a good deal of room for the exercise of the collector’s taste. M. Octave Uzanne, in a tract called “Les Caprices d’un Bibliophile,” gives some hints on this topic, which may be taken or let alone. M. Uzanne has noticed the monotony, and the want of meaning and suggestion in ordinary half-bindings. The paper or cloth which covers the greater part of the surface of half-bound books is usually inartistic and even ugly. He proposes to use old scraps of brocade, embroidery, Venice velvet, or what not; and doubtless a covering made of some dead fair lady’s train goes well with a romance by Crebillon, and engravings by Marillier. “Voici un cartonnage Pompadour de notre invention,” says M. Uzanne, with pride; but he observes that it needs a strong will to make a bookbinder execute such orders. For another class of books, which our honest English shelves reject with disgust, M. Uzanne proposes a binding of the skin of the boa constrictor; undoubtedly appropriate and “admonishing.” The leathers of China and Japan, with their strange tints and gilded devices may be used for books of fantasy, like “Gaspard de la Nuit,” or the “Opium Eater,” or Poe’s poems, or the verses of Gerard de Nerval. Here, in short, is an almost unexplored field for the taste of the bibliophile, who, with some expenditure of time, and not much of money, may make half-binding an art, and give modern books a peculiar and appropriate raiment.

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M. Ambrose Firmin Didot has left some notes on a more serious topic, — the colours to be chosen when books are full-bound in morocco. Thus he would have the “Iliad” clothed in red, the “Odyssey” in blue, because the old Greek rhapsodists wore a scarlet cloak when they recited the Wrath of Achilles, a blue one when they chanted of the Return of Odysseus. The writings of the great dignitaries of the Church, M. Didot would array in violet; scarlet goes well with the productions of cardinals; philosophers have their sober suit of black morocco, poets like Panard may be dressed in rose colour. A collector of this sort would like, were it possible, to attire Goldsmith’s poems in a “coat of Tyrian bloom, satin grain.” As an antithesis to these extravagant fancies, we may add that for ordinary books no binding is cheaper, neater, and more durable, than a coat of buckram.

The conditions of a well bound book may be tersely enumerated. The binding should unite solidity and elegance. The book should open easily, and remain open at any page you please. It should never be necessary, in reading, to squeeze back the covers; and no book, however expensively bound, has been properly treated, if it does not open with ease. It is a mistake to send recently printed books to the binder, especially books which contain engravings. The printing ink dries slowly, and, in the process called “beating,” the text is often transferred to the opposite page. M. Rouveyre recommends that one or two years should pass before the binding of a newly printed book. The owner will, of course, implore the binder to, spare the margins; and, almost equally of course, the binder, durus arator, will cut them down with his abominable plough. One is almost tempted to say that margins should always be left untouched, for if once the binder begins to clip he is unable to resist the seductive joy, and cuts the paper to the quick, even into the printed matter. Mr. Blades tells a very sad story of a nobleman who handed over some Caxtons to a provincial binder, and received them back MINUS 500 pounds worth of margin. Margins make a book worth perhaps 400 pounds, while their absence reduces the same volume to the box marked “all these at fourpence.” Intonsis capillis, with locks unshorn, as Motteley the old dealer used to say, an Elzevir in its paper wrapper may be worth more than the same tome in morocco, stamped with Longepierre’s fleece of gold. But these things are indifferent to bookbinders, new and old. There lies on the table, as I write, “Les Provinciales, ou Les Lettres Ecrites par Louis de Montalte a un Provincial de ses amis, & aux R.R. P.P. Jesuites. A Cologne, Ches PIERRE de la VALLEE, M.DC.LVIII.” It is the Elzevir edition, or what passes for such; but the binder has cut down the margin so that the words “Les Provinciales” almost touch the top of the page. Often the wretch — he lived, judging by his style, in Derome’s time, before the Revolution — has sliced into the head-titles of the pages. Thus the book, with its old red morocco cover and gilded flowers on the back, is no proper companion for “Les Pensees de M. PASCAL (Wolfganck, 1672),” which some sober Dutchman has left with a fair allowance of margin, an inch “taller” in its vellum coat than its neighbour in morocco. Here once more, is “LES FASCHEUX, Comedie de I. B. P. MOLIERE, Representee sur Le Theatre du Palais Royal. A Paris, Chez GABRIEL QUINET, au Palais, dans la Galerie des Prisonniers, a l’Ange Gabriel, M.DCLXIII. Avec privilege du Roy.” What a crowd of pleasant memories the bibliophile, and he only, finds in these dry words of the title. Quinet, the bookseller, lived “au Palais,” in that pretty old arcade where Corneille cast the scene of his comedy, “La Galerie du Palais.” In the Geneva edition of Corneille, 1774, you can see Gravelot’s engraving of the place; it is a print full of exquisite charm (engraved by Le Mure in 1762). Here is the long arcade, in shape exactly like the galleries of the Bodleian Library at Oxford. The bookseller’s booth is arched over, and is open at front and side. Dorimant and Cleante are looking out; one leans on the books on the window-sill, the other lounges at the door, and they watch the pretty Hippolyte who is chaffering with the lace-seller at the opposite shop. “Ce visage vaut mieux que toutes vos chansons,” says Dorimant to the bookseller. So they loitered, and bought books, and flirted in their lace ruffles, and ribbons, and flowing locks, and wide canons, when Moliere was young, and when this little old book was new, and lying on the shelves of honest Quinet in the Palace Gallery. The very title-page, and pagination, not of this second edition, but of the first of “Les Fascheux,” had their own fortunes, for the dedication to Fouquet was perforce withdrawn. That favourite entertained La Valliere and the King with the comedy at his house of Vaux, and then instantly fell from power and favour, and, losing his place and his freedom, naturally lost the flattery of a dedication. But retombons a nos coches, as Montaigne says. This pleasant little copy of the play, which is a kind of relic of Moliere and his old world, has been ruthlessly bound up with a treatise, “Des Pierres Precieuses,” published by Didot in 1776. Now the play is naturally a larger book than the treatise on precious stones, so the binder has cut down the margins to the size of those of the work on amethysts and rubies. As the Italian tyrant chained the dead and the living together, as Procrustes maimed his victims on his cruel bed, so a hard-hearted French binder has tied up, and mutilated, and spoiled the old play, which otherwise would have had considerable value as well as interest.

We have tried to teach the beginner how to keep his books neat and clean; what men and monsters he should avoid; how he should guard himself against borrowers, book-worms, damp, and dirt. But we are sometimes compelled to buy books already dirty and dingy, foxed, or spotted with red, worn by greasy hands, stained with ink spots, or covered with MS. notes. The art of man has found a remedy for these defects. I have never myself tried to wash a book, and this care is best left to professional hands. But the French and English writers give various recipes for cleaning old books, which the amateur may try on any old rubbish out of the fourpenny box of a bookstall, till he finds that he can trust his own manipulations. There are “fat stains” on books, as thumb marks, traces of oil (the midnight oil), flakes of old pasty crust left in old Shakespeares, and candle drippings. There are “thin stains,” as of mud, scaling-wax, ink, dust, and damp. To clean a book you first carefully unbind it, take off the old covers, cut the old stitching, and separate sheet from sheet. Then take a page with “fat stains” of any kind of grease (except finger-marks), pass a hot flat iron over it, and press on it a clean piece of blotting paper till the paper sucks up the grease. Then charge a camel-hair brush with heated turpentine, and pass it over the places that were stained. If the paper loses its colour press softly over it a delicate handkerchief, soaked in heated spirits of wine. Finger-marks you will cover with clean soap, leave this on for some hours, and then rub with a sponge filled with hot water. Afterwards dip in weak acid and water, and then soak the page in a bath of clean water. Ink-stained pages you will first dip in a strong solution of oxalic acid and then in hydrochloric acid mixed in six times its quantity of water. Then bathe in clean water and allow to dry slowly.

Some English recipes may also be given. “Grease or wax spots,” says Hannett, in “Bibliopegia,” “may be removed by washing the part with ether, chloroform, or benzine, and placing it between pieces of white blotting paper, then pass a hot iron over it.” “Chlorine water,” says the same writer, removes ink stains, and bleaches the paper at the same time. Of chloride of lime, “a piece the size of a nut” (a cocoa nut or a hazel nut?) in a pint of water, may be applied with a camel’s hair pencil, and plenty of patience. To polish old bindings, “take the yolk of an egg, beat it up with a fork, apply it with a sponge, having first cleaned the leather with a dry flannel.” The following, says a writer in “Notes and Queries,” with perfect truth, is “an easier if not a better method; purchase some bookbinder’s varnish,” and use it as you did the rudimentary omelette of the former recipe. Vellum covers may be cleaned with soap and water, or in bad cases by a weak solution of salts of lemon.

Lastly, the collector should acquire such books as Lowndes’s “Bibliography,” Brunet’s “Manuel,” and as many priced catalogues as he can secure. The catalogues of Mr. Quaritch, Mr. Bohn, M. Fontaine, M.M. Morgand et Fatout, are excellent guides to a knowledge of the market value of books. Other special works, as Renouard’s for Aldines, Willems’s for Elzevirs, and Cohen’s for French engravings, will be mentioned in their proper place. Dibdin’s books are inaccurate and long-winded, but may occasionally be dipped into with pleasure.

2 Mr. William Blades, in his “Enemies of Books” (Trubner, 1880), decries glass-doors, — “the absence of ventilation will assist the formation of mould.” But M. Rouveyre bids us open the doors on sunny days, that the air may be renewed, and, close them in the evening hours, lest moths should enter and lay their eggs among the treasures. And, with all deference to Mr. Blades, glass-doors do seem to be useful in excluding dust.

4 No wonder the books are scarce, if they are being hacked to pieces by Grangerites.

5 These lines appeared in “Notes and Queries,” Jan. 8, 1881.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lang/andrew/library/chapter2.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 22:03