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It is, possibly, very well known to the general reader, that the "Sixty Club," at Athens, was the proto-book-club. The catalogue was not an elaborate document. The club had but one book. It was one in which any wise or witty thing, uttered by any member, was immediately recorded by the secretary. Fame spoke so well of this book that the most exalted personages borrowed it; and when other individuals had what would now be called a "party,” the most potent attraction to draw guests was the assurance that the book of the Sixty Club would be there, with the very funny secretary to read it aloud.
The Club died out. The old members, probably, were reluctant to admit young blood with real good humour in it. They would, naturally, grow dull, and out of date, and into oblivion; and therewith an end! If anyone should turn over the ground of the Temple of Hercules, at Athens, in which the Sixty had their club-room, we hope he may find the original volume. The discovery would almost stir the Society of Antiquaries to move a muscle of exhilaration. The Literary Fund would perhaps award him a small pension for life; and learned societies would put him in their books, and send round their collectors, periodically, for his subscription !
The doings of the Sixty, however, belong to very early times. We salute it, and pass on; coming at once to the book clubs of England. Now, England never had one like the Sixty; but there has ever been a love for books, and for the knowledge and amusement they carry with them, in this much-abused and tolerably happy England. For many years there were no other volumes than those written, or copied from other written books, in the Scriptorium of the religious houses. It is enough to make one die of vexation, when one reads of the sayings and doings, the work and the gossip, the little sins and the little scandals, the fun and the refinement of the Scriptorium, to think that one's life was not cast in those pleasant places. For the Scriptorium of a monastery was, in itself, the most exquisite of clubs, where all the members were workers, and where those members introduced their own friends, welcomed those of others, and made of the Scriptorium the true place wherein to “spend a happy day.” Gentlemen from without brought thither to the gentlemen within—for the brethren of the Scriptorium were the very cream of the monasterythe news of the world. As this was narrated, the workers plied their tools. Some toiled at a fresh copy of the Scriptures, or some holy
book. Others were deftly inserting gorgeous initials. Around another artist, painting landscapes or portraits in miniature (and among the latter the portrait of the individual who had “ ordered the book” was sure to be found), a group of connoisseurs, or amateurs, would be seen, quietly criticising the artistic work; to which criticism the cowled master of his art listened with the good-humoured indifference which such masters feel for such judgments. Not only were religious books written and illustrated in the Scriptorium, but profane works also. Very talkative groups watched the artist who put in the illustrations. If he were engaged on suiting the pictures to the words of an ode from Horace, or if he was illustrating a melting scene from Plautus or Terence, you may fairly suppose that the younger looked on, and smiled as they gazed. One of them, perhaps, sighed out “ Homo sum,” &c., the while. No doubt the older monks, old soldiers of past fields, shook their heads, looked cheerily at one another, and turned away with a “ Vixi puellis! Amen!”
The books written and illuminated in the monasteries were to be bought only at the price of a royal ransom. Wealthy men have been known to give an estate for one. So, at least, it is said ; but the number of acres is never mentioned, and the relative value of money is often miscalculated. Doubtless, however, very great sums of money were paid for a favourite work, from the hand of a celebrated bookillustrator, in the most fashionable Scriptorium. There were occasions when the Scriptorium, or the Lord Abbot, would not part with the book at all. The owners, however, were not selfish fellows; they would lend what they would not sell. On such occasions, a meritorious and gentleman-like monk (perhaps more than one), one who had travelled, and had done so to happy purpose, was despatched on horseback, or on a mule, or in a litter, in charge of the coveted volume, to the castle of the noble who had borrowed it for the delight of himself and his visitors. When we say " borrowed,” we must add that the highlyprized volume never went out of its guardian's sight. He exhibited it to the illustrious company, explained the illustrations, and had no end of pleasant details upon text and pictures. If he were a monk who had seen the world, had undergone many experiences, was acute of observation, and could tell good stories of what he had seen, heard, endured and enjoyed, he was made much more of than if bis host was entertaining an angel, and was aware of the fact. The monk was made far more comfortable. Story was given him in exchange for story; the ladies put questions to him which awoke his laughter, and there was a chorus to what was thus aroused. The day of his departure was deferred as much as possible, but the stirrup-cup would come at last; and, finally, the monk rode away with his book, and with countless blessings, and with hospitable assurances of hearty welcome whenever he should come that way again.
The return of such a monk to his convent home was hailed with its own peculiar delight, and for good reason. He brought back to the Scriptorium, not only the treasures of which he had the keeping, but also a budget of fresh intelligence from the world at large. He could not weary with telling his castle-stories of brave but graceless sons, in harness abroad ; of beautiful and gracious daughters and stately matrons, in their bowers at home; tales of hearty chatelains, and saucy pages, and of buxom womankind who might sit for madonnas. Perhaps, therewith, something like business was broached, and he spoke of manuscripts in the castle, which the owner would willingly exchange for manuscripts in the monastery. This led to journeyings, and writings, and negotiations, and pleasant intercourse, till the exchange was completed, and castle and convent were mutually satisfied.
It was natural that this taste for such books should spread. The abbots grew proud of their collections, and bishops and archbishops compared the catalogues of their treasures, and outbid one another in making further purchases. There was not only a home-manufacture of beautifully-lettered and gorgeously-illuminated manuscripts, but there was a large and increasing importation of these works from foreign Scriptoriums. The prelates had their agents or correspondents abroad who informed them of what works were about to cross the sea, -works of literature and art destined for the English market. Then ensued a riding down to Dover of clerks and ecclesiastical hangers-on, who awaited the arrival of the richly freighted vessel. The Archbishop of Canterbury was, in this intellectual market, not unlike the King at Billingsgate and similar places in London. Whenever the King's officers appeared as buyers in these marts, they had the first choice of every sort of ware. No one else need put his hand in pouch ; he might count his marks, but he dared not pull them forth to bid against his sacred majesty. When the monarch's house and table were thoroughly provided, meaner men might make the best bargains they could. So, in the Dover mart for manuscript books, the Primate of all England had a precedency. His rank and position had the homage of a certain measure of respect; but, even had it been otherwise, he would always have been first buyer in such a market. His “intelligencers” were many, and they were well-informed. He was nearer than any other purchaser to the market-place; and when news reached Canterbury of a boat being on the waters, freighted with objects of art and with the products of intellect, the best trotting archiepiscopal mule was soon afterwards rattling along the road from Canterbury to Dover, carrying a delighted clerical horseman, authorized to make purchases, or to see safely landed the treasures which had been ordered to be sent from France. The most astute agents did the best for their employers. Some waited on shore till the boat was unladen, but others rowed out to meet it, among
whom was the gentleman from Canterbury. These boarded the vessel ; and after his Grace's representative was satisfied, they had the very pick of the remaining market, before the keel had touched the Dover shingle.
But there was at one time an episcopal collector and purchaser of books who was as cunning as three archbishops and all their agents. He surpassed them all in the profuseness of his expenditure in buying books, not merely at Dover, but in every part of the known world. His collection became one of the wonders of England. No lord abbot or lord primate could boast of such and so many inestimable treasures as this prelate had gathered together. This great man was Richard Angerville de Bury, Dean of Wells, Lord Privy Seal, Chancellor and Treasurer. He was appointed to the bishopric of Durham in 1333, and he died bishop in 1345, at the age of fifty-eight years. Such were his dignities; but these were not all, nor, in our eyes, are they the most exalted. There was one above them all. This Richard of Durham was the founder of our Book Clubs.
Richard de Bury was a great wit and as great a scholar. His most illustrious pupil was the little prince who afterwards was the heroic King Edward the Third. Richard had a perfect rage for acquiring books. His library at Bishop's Auckland, is said to have contained more books than all the libraries of all the other bishops put together. He knew the contents of all the libraries in our English monasteries ; and he told some of the keepers, of treasures of which they were ignorant. Richard has himself recorded in his Philobiblon,' that he cared nothing as to money when a manuscript of value was to be bought; and that neither perils of travelling into distant countries nor the roaring of seas that divided them could frighten his agents. The thing desired was to be procured at any cost. Referring to his being Chancellor, he remarks, " An easy opening was afforded us for freely searching the hiding places of books." There was a report abroad that the Chancellor especially loved old ones, and the Chancery suitors seem not to have forgotten the fact that the Chancellor's favour could be more easily bought by quartos than by money. Wherefore, he quaintly says—and there is a sort of rascal flavour in the saying; but it was all honest at the time—“ when we were enabled to oppose or advance, to appoint or discharge, crazy quartos and tottering folios, precious however, in our sight, as well as in our affections, flowed in most rapidly, from the great and the small, instead of New Year's gifts and remunerations, and instead of presents and jewels." The bishop shook the dust off the long neglected volumes in monastic libraries, and if he suspected the existence of a long-lost manuscript, he went after it like a ferret after a rat in a haystack, and never gave up the hunt till he brought the desired object into open daylight. “Where we found an object of love,” he remarks, " we found also full enjoyment.” He calls books, “ the sacred vessels of science,” and he exults at their having come into his power. How they came there, he tells with the utmost frankness. "Some,” observes the bishop, “ were given to us, some were sold, and not a few lent for a time”!-and never returned.
This great collector despised gifts of horses, gold cups, or hard money, though all might be turned into his favourite commodity. In his alliterative humour he says, “We wished for books, not bays; folios, not florins; and preferred paltry pamphlets to pampered palfreys.” He adds, rather unintelligibly, of the literary gifts of suitors when he was Chancellor, that he “ took care to conduct their business favourably, that the profit might accrue to them; justice, therefore, suffered no detriment.” In Paris De Bury was employed on affairs of state, but no little of the public money entrusted to him went for the purchase of books. “Oh, blessed God of gods in Sion !" is his exclamation of delight as he remembers Paris and its joys—those joys springing " from the delightful libraries in cells redolent of aromatics.” When he wrote this, things had changed, and “ Paris,” he says, “ now attends more to studying antiquities than to subtly producing truth.”
The collection at Bishop Auckland was not closed from the outer world—that is to say, from the outer ecclesiastical world. De Bury threw it open to priests. Laymen, he affirmed, were altogether unworthy of books, and did not know the top from the bottom side of them. His admitted readers formed a sort of club, and he looked after the members and the books they read, with the eager eye of a man who esteemed volumes as sacred things, and who had borrowed not a few without any intention of restoring them. To a favoured member or two of this early club the bishop lent a folio occasionally, but under stringent stipulations. He held in horror every sort of careless reader; he hated them all, and he has described all in the • Philobiblon.' There he sketches the sluggish student, who, reading on frosty days, is too lazy to put his handkerchief to his nose, and the book suffers accordingly. He points the finger of scorn at another reader, who marks a favourite passage with his dirty nail and makes the vellum as dirty as his nail. He detects readers who insert straws into the volumes to note where they have left off, and who never take the straws out, but leave them to grow putrid and give a nasty savour to the pages. Another, he says, “is not ashamed to eat fruit and cheese over an open book, and to transfer his empty cup from side to side upon it; and, because he has not his alms-bag at hand, he leaves the rest of the fragments in his books.” The bishop did not fail to denounce the sputtering chatterer over his books, the careless creator of dogs' ears, and the scholar who loves flowers more than literary works, and who "stuffs his volume with firstling