« PreviousContinue »
THE ROMANCE OF OLD-BOOK COLLECTING.
The recent discovery of the manu- many other priceless objets d'art, it script of the first book of Milton's found its way across the Atlantic, the Paradise Lost has drawn attention to American purchaser paying something the romance which so often attaches like one thousand five hundred pounds to old manuscripts and books. Al for its possession. though it is true that nowadays "finds” Less than twenty years ago a "find" are becoming more and more rare, of a monkish illuminated breviary took there is still a sufficient element of ro- place in the second-hand book-shop of mance attaching to the old-book trade a west of England town. The business to endue it with a great amount of had recently changed hands, and the interest and even excitement. No new proprietor knew very little of the where, probably, are "finds" more like- trade he had adopted. On attending a ly to be met with than in the famous sale at a neighboring mansion, and second-hand book-market of the Paris purchasing an odd lot of books, he quays or in the book-shops of Amster- scarcely took the trouble to examine dam.
the volumes, with the result that a The second-hand book-stalls of Lon- shabby old black-letter book was don have long ago become so systemat placed in the sixpenny box by his asically and thoroughly scoured that sistant, where it lay for days before “finds” in them are of very rare oc a passing and well-known bibliophile currence.
spotted it, and with fear and trembling Many have probably heard of the at the value of his discovery, tendered wonderful Chaucer which was discov- the sixpence in payment. When he got ered a few years ago in a lumber- home he was enraptured to find that room of a Warwickshire manor-house, the book he thought might be worth and only escaped burning by use as at least a five-pound note was worth fire-lighting material because the ser- twenty-five times as much. vant happened to show some of the In the book-boxes of the open-air quaint initial letters to the butler, who market on the quays by the Seine barreported the discovery to his master. gains may yet be found, for it is only Had the book been burned the fortu- the other day that a first edition of one nate owner of it would have been of the rarest of Swinburne's works was seven hundred pounds poorer.
picked up for the infinitesimal sum of Quite recently too, in a Breton farm, thirty centimes, and was afterwards a travelling artist unearthed a beauti- sold to a book collector for something fully illuminated missal on vellum (be- like a hundred times as much. About reft of its covers, it is true), which he a dozen years ago a volume of one of purchased from its peasant-owner for the rarest Elizabethan poets was a matter of twenty or thirty francs, picked up at this same spot for halfand on his return to Paris sold it to a-frane, and was afterwards sold in one of the largest dealers for a thou- London for upwards of one hundred sand times as much; one interesting and twenty pounds. feature of this volume being the intro- The wonder is that, with the numduction of the portrait of Joan of Arcbers of persons who daily inspect the in one of the initial letters. Like so contents of the book-boxes which are fastened to the parapets of the Quai. But it is not, of course, in Paris alone de Conti and Quai Voltaire, such treas that such discoveries are occasionally ures should for a moment escape the made. In an old second-hand dealer's eye of a collector. But we imagine, shop in one of the larger towns of the from conversations we have had at Potteries district quite recently an various times with the proprietors of early printed book was discovered by these book-boxes, that few of the a passing and cycling bibliophile, curious who turn over the contents which, purchased for a few pence, possess much knowledge of the value proved to be worth many thousand of out-of-the-way volumes; and, of times as much; it was afterwards sold course, when the latter happen to be in one of the London auction-rooms to in a foreign language their ignorance an American millionaire, who paid a on this point is still greater and more truly remarkable sum for the privilege excusable.
of taking the book across the Atlantic Not many months ago the owner of and placing it in one of the libraries a series of these book-boxes purchased of Pennsylvania. an odd lot of volumes turned out of the In Bristol, too, a copy of that very lumber-room in one of the old houses, rare book Poems by Two Brothers (Alonce a nobleman's palace, situated in fred Tennyson) was recently discovered a narrow street off Ile de la Cité. by a collector, who gave sixpence for Amongst the miscellaneous collection, it, and is now congratulating himself which included copies of Voltaire's on possessing a treasure which is works and Montaigne's—were several scarcely likely to prove of less value at valuable English books of the reign any future time. of Henry VII. and (greater than all In the second-hand book-shops of these) an imperfect but otherwise well. Berlin not a few valuable "finds" are preserved Caxton. This thick, clumsy. occasionally picked up, though, to do looking volume, bereft of one of its him creditthe Berlin second-hand covers and minus several pages, had bookseller appears to be by no means remained for quite a long time in the the least intelligent of his class, but fifty-centíme box of its ignorant pur. rather the reverse; and it is only in chaser. One day an English under- English books that bargains are fregraduate, whose hobby lay in the direc- quently found. His knowledge of tion of early-printed books, happened early Continental books and of illuto be spending a few days in Paris; he minated missals is such that he seldom saw the book while turning over a makes any mistake in the value he multitude of others, and recognized puts upon them. that it was a Caxton. He acquired it But in some few of the smaller at the remarkably low figure of four- curiosity-shops in the obscurer streets pence three-farthings, and carried it of Berlin bargains may sometimes be back with him to London. The vol. found, as witness the purchase of a ume, rebound in ancient style, with Venetian illuminated manuscript of what remained of the original cover the fourteenth century in 1894 by an forming a portion of the binding, is English tourist of artistic taste, which, now one of his most treasured posses. when brought to England, was valued sions. It is difficult to say what its by a well-known authority at four hunprecise value may be, but it is scarce. dred and fifty guineas; this manuly likely to be less than several hun script having cost the fortunate finder dred pounds-a "find” of which the less than as many pence. owner has every reason to be proud. It is probable that systematic search
through the cottages and houses of passing, was in reality the illuminated Touraine would better reward the vellum pages of some ancient book. bibliophile than any other district in Although not a collector, the traveller, Europe. Out of the abbeys of Tou- one Jean Goulet, was a man of some raine must have come many hundreds, education, and at once recognized that if not thousands, of valuable illu- these pages must have formed a porminated manuscript books; and many tion of an interesting, if not valuable, of these may still remain to find their Latin manuscript. On descending for way ultimately into well-known collec- breakfast and making an inquiry re tions and public libraries and mu. garding it, his hostess explained that seums.
he was correct, and that the "paper" Not so many years ago a magnificent with which they had sought to mend Illuminated copy of A Book of the Hours the cracked panes and replace the was discovered in a little hamlet of broken ones had formed a portion of this ancient province; it is now sepa- a book which her father had found in rated from its old home by some thou a neighboring chateau some thirty sands of miles of sea, having been ac- years previously, at the time of the quired by an American collector for French Revolution. the enormous sum of two thousand The peasant woman did not evince five hundred guineas. What the finder any great interest in the matter, but paid the peasant in whose ancient admitted the rest of the book was farmhouse (once a portion of an abbey) somewhere. After considerable pressthe almost priceless treasure was ure put upon her by her guest, a found did not transpire; but it is search was made for it, and it was disscarcely likely that the sum paid was covered in a little cupboard near the as many sous as the ultimate pur. fireplace. An attempt had evidently chaser paid guineas.
been made to light the fire with some Also in this district, in the earlier of the pages, for several charred and part of the nineteenth century, were shrivelled ones were still in the cupdiscovered portions of a magnificent board. In the end the remaining work on vellum-incomplete, it is true, leaves-some ninety in number-of this but still of immense value. The circum- most interesting and beautiful book stance of this discovery was a very were acquired by the traveller for a curious one.
few francs. But nothing would perA tourist-or rather perhaps we suade the peasant woman to permit the should say a traveller-came to the four or five leaves which had been village, and finding the one or two used for the mending of the window spare beds of the inn already occu- to be taken away! "No," said she; pied, sought shelter for the night in “we've no more glass, and they serve a neighboring cottage. He was shown their purpose well enough for us." into a small attic-room, lit by a win- Scores of interesting finds might be dow of four smallish panes. He did quoted; but one which occurred in the not particularly notice the window that Midlands not more than four or five night; but, waking soon after dawn years ago must suffice. the next morning, he was astonished In a manor-house not far from Derby to see what he took to be stained glass some workmen were employed in the in the window. Rising to examine enlargement of one of the upper rooms, this, he speedily discovered that the and after breaking into what was supsupposed stained glass, through which posed to be a solid wall, they were the light of day was somewhat faintly very much surprised to find the crowbars crash into space. A few minutes of the house came upon the scene sufficed to open up a gap sufficiently soon after the workmen had discovered large to admit one of their number, the little chamber, and the book and and much to the man's astonishmentcrucifix were promptly seized by him; when pushing his head through the otherwise it is more than possible that breach in the wall thus formed, be the former might have been consideradiscovered that below him lay quite a bly damaged at the hands of its disconsiderable chamber, unknown at least coverers. In a well-known saleroom to any of the then occupiers of the house, this same little volume eventually The little room or "priest's hole" thus brought, under the hammer, a sum of discovered was partly above and partly upwards of three hundred and fifty below the floor-level of the room in pounds. A lucky find indeed for the which the workmen stood. About nine owner of the house! feet in height and perhaps five feet Though such finds are by no means six in length, the chamber thus dis- common nowadays, those who know closed was of sufficient size to have the subject of the romance of books accommodated without discomfort one and the extraordinary places in which or two people. Its sole contents at the early printed and beautifully illumitime of the sudden breaking into it nated works are frequently found, are were a wooden platter of Elizabethan agreed that many inestimable treasmake, a wooden fork, a few bones, and ures must still lie concealed in the a little silver crucifix placed on a nar manor houses and cottages of various row shelf, on which also was an illus- countries, in which examples of the trated manuscript volume which beautiful work of the monks of long dated from the early part of the af- ago are even nowadays occasionally teenth century. Fortunately the owner discovered. Obamben's Journal.
TO THE MEN OF PORT ARTHUR.
Holders of harbor and hill.
You, the heroes that fell,
Hark to the world's farewell!
Fair be your fame who fought
A fight men knew to be vain!
Here where the brave lie slain.
Just ?—was the cause not just?
How could you know? Let be!
Laid by the Eastern sea.
Now in your shattered hold,
Where the pit like a shambles reeks.
Wide upon wings of gold
Hear how the silence speaks
Long by harbor and hill
Men of your deeds shall tell,Men that have wished you ill,
And men that have wished you well.
BOOKS AND AUTHORS.
Punch's annual index, which discloses many interesting secrets, reveals Mr. E. V. Lucas as the author of the very clever series, “Life's Little Difficulties."
corn or cotton; Thackeray is no less steady an object of consumption than tobacco or tea. The publisher of these editions takes no more risk than the farmer who raises his crop; his product is subject to the usual market fluctua. tions, but is reasonably assured of yielding a return of the cost of production. The output, moreover, in. creases from year to year with the in. crease of population, just as the production of wheat increases, thus verifying the saying that man shall not live by bread alone.
f and C
George Gissing's last book, "Vera. nilda” is published in this country by E. P. Dutton & Co. At the time of Mr. Gissing's death the book was finished with the exception of two or three chapters. Mr. Frederic Harrison, his fr utes an introduction to the book, leaving the story exactly as the author had written it. The story itself deals with the subject which was nearest the author's heart, Rome, Central and Southern Italy, where the author had spent his last and happiest years. Mr. Harrison believes that it is in this field. rather than in the trials and tragedies of middle class life, that Mr. Gissing had at last found his true sphere.
S tudies and sketches of "old Florence and Modern Tuscany" are grouped in a delightful volume by Janet Ross, of which E. P. Dutton & Co. are the American publishers. Quaint customs, old traditions and bits of history are mingled with sketches of Tuscan peasant life as seen to-day. Mrs, Ross has the rare gift of writing of humble folk without condescension and with fine insight. The chapters on “Vintaging in Tuscany" and “Popular Songs in Tuscany" show these qualities at their best, but where the whole volume is so charming it is difficult to discriminate. The frontispiece is a picture of the Florentine "Brotherhood of Pity" on its merciful errand, described in the opening chapter. There are four
The issue and reissue of the writings of standard authors in every conceivable form and at all prices is a cheering sign that the taste for real literature is not dying out. The Chicago Dial truthfully says:
Carlyle is as staple a product as