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قراءة كتاب The Book-Hunter at Home

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‏اللغة: English
The Book-Hunter at Home

The Book-Hunter at Home

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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overflowing with books. 'A nice clean copy of an early-printed book,' he mused. But early-printed books were not in his line—then; had they been in those early days of book-hunting, his library would have been slow indeed of growth. So he passed on and left it.

All that evening the memory of the little square volume would keep recurring most absurdly. He didn't want it, it was not in his line, he would never read it, and so on and so on. But over his pipe that evening the colophon '. . . . studio & impensis Philippi de Giunta florentini . . ., 1505,' came back to his memory; he must have been mad not to have bought it at that price, and such a fine copy too. And so to bed, sorely harassed in his bibliophilic mind.

Next morning he awoke sane and conscious of his folly. An early visit to the bookstall followed, but the little volume had gone; and it was not comforting to learn that it had been sold shortly after our bookman saw it, to a man who 'knew a lot about that kind of books.' Let us hope that the purchaser treasures the little square volume, printed in italics, as much as our friend would.

What poignant memories they are, these memories of rare books which we have found and failed to secure! Two prominent instances of our bookman's folly stand out with bitter clearness, ever fresh in his memory as a reminder of the criminal stupidity of procrastination. One was an exceedingly scarce work by Lawrence Humphrey, entitled 'Optimates sive De Nobilitate eiusque Antiqua Origine,' printed in small octavo at Basle in 1560, which he once saw in a catalogue for five shillings. He sent for it three days after the receipt of the catalogue, and of course it had gone. The other was an unknown, or at least undescribed, edition of Osorio's 'De Gloria et Nobilitate,' printed at Barcelona in the early part of the sixteenth century. He lost this in the same manner, at two shillings! Perhaps, however, you too have been guilty of these lapses, reader? Semel insanivimus omnes. Experience is better than advice, and for his part our book-hunter will not be caught napping again. The following incident will show you, moreover, that it is not always safe to order books from a catalogue even by return of post.

For many years he had searched in vain for that rarest of all English heraldry books (though not properly English, for it is in the Latin tongue), the 'De Studio Militari, Libri Quatuor' of Master Nicholas Upton. It was edited by Sir Edward Bysshe, and printed in folio at London in 1654. The numerous booksellers in London and the country from whom he sought it had never seen it; indeed, most of them were unaware of its existence, though it is well known to all heralds.

At length, coming home late one night, our book-hunter found on his table a catalogue from a bookseller who seems to garner more out-of-the-way books than any of his fellows. His catalogues are issued very frequently, for he has a large and quick sale, pricing most of his wares at less than five shillings. Moreover, the fact that the books described therein are thrown together without any attempt at classification, even alphabetical, serves but to add a zest to the repast. But our book-hunter was tired, and his evil star was in the ascendant, for he went to bed leaving the catalogue unopened.

Reading it over a late breakfast next morning, upon the last page he came across the following entry:—

Uptoni (Nich.) De Studio Militari. Johan de Bado Aureo, Tractatus de Armis. Henrici Spelmanni Aspilogia. Folio, calf. Scarce. 8s. 6d.

Scarce, indeed! In less than five minutes he was driving hot-haste to the shop.

Of course it was sold: sold by telegram dispatched the night before. He was allowed to see it, even to handle it, and he frankly confesses that murderous thoughts rose within him as he held it in his hands. . . . The bookseller was an old man . . . the shop was very dark . . . just a push, and perhaps one firm application super caput of a large-paper copy of Camden's 'Britannia' which lay handy upon the table. . . . But I am glad to say that our bookman's better nature prevailed, and sorrowfully he returned the volume to the dealer's hands. Did he know the customer, and if so would he try to buy it back? Certainly he would. A week later came a letter saying that the customer was also a collector of these things, but that he was willing to part with it 'at a price.' Unfortunately his price was not our book-hunter's, and he failed to secure the treasure—then.

Now comes the more pleasant sequel. About a year later, coming home in the small hours from a dance, our bookman found a catalogue from this same bookseller on his table. Although tired out, his previous bitter experience had taught him a lesson; so pulling up a chair before the remains of the fire he proceeded to skim through the catalogue. He had reached the last page, and was already beginning to nod, when suddenly his weariness vanished in a flash: he was wide awake and on his feet in an instant, for his eyes had met the same entry that had thrilled him a year ago. This time it was described as 'very scarce,' and the price was considerably enhanced; but he had his coat on and was in the street almost immediately.

The nearest telegraph office likely to be open at such an hour was a mile away, and it was a miserable night, snowing and blowing; but no weather would have deterred him. So the telegram was safely dispatched, and he returned to bed, pinning a notice on the bedroom door to the effect that he was to be called, without fail, at seven o'clock.

That night he was obsessed by Uptons of all shapes and sizes. Some he beheld with agony, cut down by the ruthless binder to duodecimo size; others there were no larger than Pickering's Diamond Classics; some (on his chest) were of a size which I can only describe as 'Atlas,' or, perhaps more appropriately, 'Elephant Folio,' large-paper copies with hideous margins.

Next morning our bookman was at the shop betimes. Yes! his wire had arrived; Upton was his at last! Should the dealer send it for him by carrier? Carrier, forsooth! As well entrust the Koh-i-noor to a messenger boy. Of course it was the same copy that our friend had missed previously, the owner having sold his books en bloc in the meantime.

Why Upton is so scarce it is hard to say; perhaps very few copies were printed, or perhaps a fire at the printer's destroyed most of them. Certain it is that the premises of James Allestry and Roger Norton, who published the book, were both burnt in the great fire twelve years after its publication. Besides the two copies in the British Museum, there are examples of it in several of the ancient libraries throughout the kingdom; but it is very rarely indeed to be met with in the London salerooms.[1] Dallaway mentions two copies as being, in 1793, in the library of Lord Carlisle at Naworth; and probably there are examples in some of the libraries of our older nobility. There would seem to be copies, also, in France; for several writers upon chivalry, such as La Roque and Sainte Marie, make mention of it. The writer bought a portion of it, some forty-eight pages, a few years ago for four shillings. But take heart, brother bibliophile; it is quite possible that you may unearth a copy some day—if indeed the book be in your line—long buried in the dust of some old country bookshop.

Upton died in 1457, and his work was so popular that numerous copies of the manuscript were made. The treatise on coat-armour, or 'cootarmuris,' as it is quaintly spelt, which comprises the third part of the 'Book of Saint Albans'

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