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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
الصفحة رقم: 4

(first printed in 1486), is, for the greater part, a literal translation of the second half of the fourth book of the 'De Studio Militari' as printed by Bysshe. Ames, in his 'Typographical Antiquities,' asserts that Upton's work was reprinted from the St. Albans book in folio, 1496, 'with the King's Arms and Caxton's mark printed in red ink.' But he gives no authority for his assertion, and it seems doubtful whether such a volume ever existed. At all events there does not appear to be any trace of such a book beyond this mention, and Herbert, editing Ames, omitted the whole passage. Hain,[2] probably copying Ames, calls this supposititious work 'De Re Heraldica,' and states that it was printed at Westminster in 1496 'Anglice.' So much for worthy Master Nicholas, Canon of Salisbury and protégé of the 'good duke Humfrey.'

There is a curious phenomenon of not infrequent occurrence among book-collectors, and that is the enforced acquisition of certain volumes solely by means of the passive persuasion of their presence. In other words, it is possible to bully the bibliophile into purchasing a book merely by obtruding it continually before his gaze, till at length its very presence becomes a source of annoyance to him. To escape from this incubus he purchases the volume.

In nine cases out of ten, books so acquired never attain the same status as their fellow-volumes. They are invariably assigned either to the lowest or topmost shelves of the library, and are, in fact, pariahs. Their owner did not really want them, and he can never quite forgive their presence on his shelves. Generally their stay in any one home is not a long one, for they are weeded out at the first opportunity, and find no permanent rest until they come finally to that ultimate goal of books, the paper mills. I confess that in my early days of collecting this phenomenon was of not infrequent occurrence, being associated, probably, with the indecision of youth. And in this connection a bookseller once told me an interesting story.

A certain young man of the working class, on his way to work every day, used to pass a bookstall situated in a narrow alley. Every day he glanced at the books, and as custom was scanty he would notice what books were sold and with what works the bookseller filled the empty places on the shelves. In this way all of the books which the young man had first noticed gradually disappeared, with one exception. This was a volume bound in calf, containing some rather curious poems, and no one seemed to want it. At length, after some weeks, the young man could stand it no longer. He approached the bookseller, and for sixpence the volume became his.

The verses seemed to him rather poor, though one entitled 'Hans Carvel' amused him rather. The title-page bore the date 1707, and he wondered who was the 'E. Curll at the Peacock without Temple-Bar,' for whom the work was printed. Some time afterwards he read in the newspaper that a certain book had been sold for a large sum because of a misprint in it. This set him wondering . . . 'at the Peacock without Temple-Bar . . .' Temple-Bar without a peacock he could imagine: surely this was a misprint! Perhaps the book was valuable, and others had not 'spotted' the error!

And now he bethought him of an acquaintance who kept a bookshop in the West End of the town, a man who knew a lot about old books. He would take it to him and ask his advice. So, one Saturday afternoon he carried his 'treasure' to the shop in question. Inside, an elderly man was examining a calf-bound volume.

'. . . the first authentic edition, seventeen hundred and nine,' he was saying.

The young man glanced at the volume under discussion, and as a page was turned he caught sight of the heading 'Hans Carvel.' Good gracious; this volume was the same as his! Just then the elderly man looked up, and the young fellow handed his volume to the bookseller, saying: 'Here's another one, same as that, but mine's got something wrong on the front page.'

The bookseller opened the newcomer's volume, looked at the title-page, and handed it without a word to his customer, who took it with a look of surprise.

'Something wrong?' said he, 'why, bless me, what's this—1707—that rascal Curll's edition—where did you get this?'

The young man told him, adding that he gave sixpence for it.

'Sixpence, did you?' said the connoisseur; 'well, I'll give you six guineas for it': which he did, there and then.

It was a copy of the rare 'pirated' collection of his poems, published without Matt Prior's knowledge, some two years before the first authentic edition appeared. Some years later, when the elderly collector died, this volume came to the saleroom with the rest of his books. It realised forty pounds! So much for the ugly duckling.

What an absorbing topic is that of 'lost books'! There is a fascination about the subject that every bibliophile must have experienced. 'Hope springs eternal in the human breast,' and it is impossible to read of books long lost without making a mental note of their titles in the hope that some day we may come across them. Perhaps it is these memories, pigeon-holed in our mind, that add a zest to anticipation whenever we go book-hunting on our travels. But alas! the reward for the bibliophile's hope in this direction is rare as the blossoming of the aloe.

It is curious to think of the thousands of books that have completely disappeared. Nowadays the Act which assures the preservation in our greater libraries of every book published in this country will doubtless prevent the disappearance of a good many English books of lesser importance, such as school books and other works that are quickly superseded. But before the passing of this Act there was nothing to prevent an unpopular or useless work from becoming extinct, and vast numbers must have disappeared in this country alone. There are many books, however, important books even, and books which we know to have been immensely popular in their day, of which so much as a glimpse has been denied us. The 1606 octavo of 'The Passionate Pilgrim,' the first issue of John Barclay's satirical romance 'Euphormionis Lusinini Satyricon,' published at London in 1603, the 'Famous Historie of the Vertuous and Godly Woman Judith,' London, 1565 (of which a title-page has been preserved), what would not every book-collector give for copies of these?

Then there are such early-printed works as Caxton's translation of the Metamorphoses of Ovid, probably published by him about 1480, 'The Life of St. Margaret' (known by three leaves preserved in the Bodleian), the 'goste of guido' or Ghost of Guy, and the Epitaph of the King of Scotland, all printed by Pynson, as well as that mysterious volume ycleped 'The Nigramansir,' said to be by John Skelton the poet-laureate who lived under five kings and died in 1529. Many of Skelton's works, perhaps even the majority of his writings, are known to us by title and hearsay alone; but who shall say that his 'Speculum Principis,' or 'the Commedy Achademios callyd by name,' which he himself mentions, are lost beyond all hope of recovery? 'The Nigramansir' was actually seen by Thomas Warton, the poet-laureate, in the 'fifties of the eighteenth century, and is described by him in some detail. His account is so interesting that it deserves quoting.

'I cannot quit Skelton,' he writes, 'without restoring to the public notice a play, or morality, written by him, not recited in any catalogue of his works, or annals of English typography; and, I believe, at present totally