قراءة كتاب The Book-Hunter at Home

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The Book-Hunter at Home

The Book-Hunter at Home

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 6

printed by Pynson, though it was finished and published by Hawkins in 1530.

Palsgrave, the author, seems to have been determined that his book should not fall into the hands of other teachers of French (he was 'scolemaster' to the Princess Mary, sister of Henry viii., in 1513, at a stipend of £6 13s. 4d.); and although Vaughan writes that he 'made not a letle labour to Mr. Palsgrave to have one of his books,' yet 'in no wise he wolde graunt for no price.' So Vaughan entreats Thomas Cromwell to obtain a copy for him, 'not doubtyng but though he unkyndly denyd me one, he will not denye youe one.'

Apparently Palsgrave had entered into some kind of arrangement with the printer, for Vaughan writes that he 'hathe willed Pynson to sell none of them to any other person than to suche as he shall comaunde to have them, lest his proffit by teching the Frenche tonge myght be mynished by the sale of the same to suche persons as, besids hym, wern disposed to studye the sayd tongue.'

From this premise it is easy to understand why 'L'Esclarcissement' is such a rare book. Very few copies indeed are known to exist. Yet one cannot help wondering what became of the copies that had not been disposed of at the author's death. Possibly a very small number was printed, and perhaps 'Johan Haukyns,' faithful to his pact, destroyed those on hand. That the book was in high esteem may be gathered from the fact that, in spite of his rebuff, Vaughan says: 'If I had one, I wolde no less exteme it then a Jewell.' The letter ends with a delightful burst of ingenuousness. 'Syr, I remember Mr. Palsgrave gave youe one of his books, which if it please you to geve me I wer muche bounde to youe.' Whether he obtained a copy in the end history does not relate; but if our book-hunter is ever so fortunate as to come across one, like Vaughan he will certainly 'no less exteme it then a Jewell.'

Very many, indeed the vast majority, of the popular jest-books which appeared in such numbers during Queen Elizabeth's reign are now lost to us. Some are known by later quotation of their titles, others by later editions, such as 'The Life of Long Meg of Westminster,' 'A Lytle and Bryefe Treatyse called the Defence of Women,'[5] etc. But these were small volumes of few pages, and were doubtless considered as little worthy of preservation as is the modern 'penny dreadful.' 'But, when we consider how very many of these early books have come down to our time only in single copies or even fragments out of an edition of some hundreds, it is only natural to suppose that a great number must have utterly disappeared.'[6]

It is not for want of enterprise that so many of these books have not so far been recovered. The smaller and more remote towns, even villages, of these islands and the Continent have been, and are being, ransacked by dealers as well as collectors. The number of works hitherto undescribed that has been brought to light during the last sixty years must be considerable; and one still hears every now and then of some rich trover that has been unearthed. In 1887 a small octavo manuscript volume, in a worn brown binding, was offered at the end of a sale at Sotheby's. It had stood, for how long no man knows, on the shelf of a small parish library in Suffolk; and it was offered for sale 'presumably as being unreadable to country folk, and capable of being turned into hard cash wherewith a few works of fiction might be purchased.' Acquired by the Bodleian Library for £6, it proved, by perhaps one of the most romantic chains of evidence ever attached to a book,[7] to be the favourite devotional volume and constant companion of Saint Margaret, Queen of Scotland, who died in 1093. It was not until 1905 that the original quarto edition (1594) of Shakespeare's 'Titus Andronicus' was known to exist, when a copy was discovered and sold for £2000.

Books travel far afield. At the dissolution of the monasteries the rich libraries that many of them possessed were scattered far and wide. One of these religious houses was famed for its rich store of books; and that the report was not exaggerated we know from its ancient library catalogue, still extant. In this case some of the books were taken by the inmates with them into exile in Flanders; and when the small community migrated thence to Portugal, the precious tomes were carried reverently with them. A fire at their convent in 1651 destroyed a large number of the volumes, and when some of the nuns returned to England in 1809 they brought the remaining books with them. Some were sold, but three cases of these ancient books were sent back to the nuns who stayed behind in Portugal, and of these cases two were lost in transit.

London, however, has always been the centre of book production in this country, and it is there that any existing copies of these forgotten books are most likely to re-appear. Was not a priceless manuscript, a Household Book of the Black Prince, discovered only a few years ago in the office of a city lawyer? Once, in the course of his rambles by the bookstalls of the Farringdon Road,[8] our book-hunter caught a glimpse of an old box almost covered by books and prints on one of the stalls. Being unearthed, it proved to be a veritable gem of a trunk, about two feet by one, and nine inches deep. It had a convex lid, and was covered with shaggy horsehide, bound with heavily studded leather. The proprietor stated that he had found it in a cellar, full of old books, most of which had already been sold (his listener promptly pictured Caxtons among them); and he was amused to think that any one could be so foolish as to offer him two shillings for such a dirty old box. However, it was carried home in triumph, regardless of the great interest shown by fellow-travellers in the train. A year or two ago the same vender produced a similar trunk, rather larger, which was full of ancient deeds relating to property in Clerkenwell. These he sold for a shilling or two shillings apiece, according to size and seals. The box was larger than our bookman wanted, but apparently it soon found a purchaser.

Surely such instances must be common in this great city, and many a trunk must yet linger in cellars and attics in the old parts of the town. Not many years ago our book-hunter chanced to visit an ancient house at the end of a small court off Fleet Street. Inside, it seemed to be entirely lined with oak planking, and it was occupied, or at least that part into which he penetrated was, by a printer in a small way of business. The staircase was magnificent, of massive coal-black oak; and when our book-hunter remarked upon it, the printer informed him he had discovered that the house had once been the town residence of a famous bishop of Tudor times.[9] How the occupant discovered this fact our bookman does not remember; possibly the house is well known to antiquaries, and the occupier may have read about it or have been told by the previous