« PreviousContinue »
man should try to collect one book in that manner, and present it to a public library.” Out of such talk many a library has greatly profited; and among the literary incidents of the last century few are more intimately connected with good results than the dinners "over the shop," where there was excellent fare, admirable talkers, and no lack of rare listeners.
But for these things, the public would not have known, and literature would not have profited by, such associations as the Spalding and the Roxburgh Clubs, the Percy Society, the Shakespearian Society, the Camden Society, the Ecclesiastical History Society, the Early English Text Society, and so many similar associations. Some of these are dead, some have been nearly dead and have revived, some still flourish. The most celebrated is the Roxburgh, which never would have been but for the collection of the Duke, at the sale of whose library there was such fierce competition, such high bids, and so jovial a dinner after the sale, that amid the general festivity and satisfaction the club was founded, which is now sixty-one years old, or sixty-one years young; for the young blood circulating therein has given a new lease to the club's vitality.
The house now known as the Windham Club, in the north-west corner of St. James's Square, was the scene of the fierce competitions alluded to above. In the sale catalogue there were upwards of two thousand lots. Mr. Evans, in 1812, took forty-two days in getting through them, and knocking them down to the handsome result of nearly four and twenty thousand pounds. The great fight was over Boccaccio, the original edition, printed by Valdarfer, 1471. The book had been bougbt for what was considered the very high figure of one hundred guiness. The Marquis of Blandford and Earl Spencer now contended for it. The biddings went on so rapidly that standers-by believed the book would fetch one thousand pounds. That sum, and double that sum were passed ; and still the competition raged. Earl Spencer at last reached two thousand two hundred and tifty pounds, and thought that a pretty sum to stop at; but the Marquis of Blandford gave a quiet nod, which was worth ten pounds more, and at that sum the Valdarfer Boccaccio became his property. It was at the subsequent dinner at the St. Alban's Hotel, that the Roxburgh Club was founded, and the Rev. Thomas Frognall Dibdın (whose father has been immortalised by Charles Dibdin, in the character of Tom Bowling') had a great hand in the founding. The famous dinners were held annually at the St. Alban's, at Grillion's, or at the Clarendon. The memory of the Duke, that of Valdarfer, and • Bibliomania all over the World, were the three especial toasts. Lord Chief Justice Ellenborough bought the magnificent mansion for about five thousand pounds less than the books were sold for; and it produces a handsome annuity still, one that has long since covered the purchase money. As for the catalogue of that renowned sale, it is worth more than its weight in gold !
And here we may notice, while there have been bibliomaniacs and priceless catalogues, so have there been most curious catalogues of books-which never existed. At a sale at Brussels, fifteen years ago, one of the lots was a catalogue of the “rich, but limited collection of books of the late M. le Comte de Fortoas." There had never been such a collection. The value of the catalogue was in the curious titles selected for books. But imaginary titles for non-existent books are not half so curious as many real titles. There are odd names of old religious pamphlets that are familiar to us all. Here is one sample that is less known: "Sib's Bowels opened, or Communion betwixt Christ and the Church. Twenty Sermons on Canticles, iv., V.; viii, 4to, 1639."
Space, or rather the lack of it, will not admit of tarrying with the other clubs. The only one which does not lie in its grave with an odour of sanctity about it, is the Shakespeare Society.
In the volume which that society published in 1842, 'Extracts from the Accounts of the Revels at Court in the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James the First, there was a list of Shakespeare's plays acted at court, and the dates given, which list is known to be a forgery. The accounts themselves were lost for a time, and only recovered on their being offered for sale to the British Museum. But "Sinful brother, go in peace !"
There only remains to us to gibbet the two most merciless destroyers of books in the world. These were two of the greatest zealots in religion, namely, the Caliph Omar, and Pope Hildebrand (Gregory the Seventh). The caliph ordered the destruction of the great library in Alexandria. The Pope gave the same command for the burning of the Palatine Apollo Library at Rome. In the former, the Ptolemies bad gathered together, through the great scholars who were their agents, nearly the whole written learning of the entire world. In the Apollo Library the emperors had formed a treasury of literature, less in bulk, but scarcely inferior in value to th andria. The judgment of Omar was to the effect that if the Alexandrian Library contained any writings hostile to Islamism, it was right to commit them to the flames, and that if there were manuscripts which agreed with the Prophet, they were no longer needed, as everything necessary to be known was to be found in the Koran. Hildebrand acted on precisely the same grounds. He destroyed all he could of ancient literature, as all useful knowledge and wisdom were to be had, for the seeking, in Holy Scripture. The four hundred furnaces of the Alexandrian baths were for many months fed by the manuscripts of the great library. In both cases this ruthless work found approvers. Dr. Cumming, at least, has consoled himself with a reflection which justified Omar, according to Omar's view of the thing, namely, that much, if not all that was destroyed, had little or nothing to do with a particular so-called orthodoxy. Gregory the Seventh, no doubt, had many approvers, for it was as dangerous to dispute with him as it was for a guest of a Roman emperor to dissent from any opinion expressed by his imperial host. From Gregory's time we have the division marked by the terms profane and sacred literature. Gregory and Omar were agreed that the learning which could not be called sacred was altogether abominable. St. Jerome did not think so, since he used to read Plautus's comedies in bed, and sleep with them under his pillow. Omar and Gregory, between them, would have destroyed all the literature in the world; for each would have burnt even the sacred writings that the other would have preserved. Gregory is said to have been swayed sometimes by strange impulses. St. Augustin was accused of having stolen from the learned Roman, Varro, passages that occur in the saint's City of God.' Gregory, so it is reported, denied the possibility of proving the fact, by burning the MS. of Varro's works.
MORE than once the observation has been made that no man could write an account of his own life, however uneventful it might have been, without affording instruction, interest, and amusement to his readers. Every man who takes and makes note of what is going on around him adds his mite to the social history of his time. Chorley (we never heard anybody speak of him as Mr. Chorley) has added something more than a mite to this history; he has made a very acceptable contribution to it. And yet his personal story is but a simple one. Intended for a stool in a Liverpool counting-house, and endowed by nature with strong musical affinities, he broke away from the drudgery of adding up columns of £ s. d., writing business letters, and checking invoices, and attached himself to literature in London. He began, on the 'Athenæum,' at the magnificent stipend of about eighty pounds a year, and, like the honest fellow that he was, contrived to live upon it till he got an increase, and was able, as Mrs. Moore said when “Anacreon” obtained his pension, to add butter to his potatoes. In time Chorley became the leading musical critic in London, and, we are happy to say, was intensely hated by a good many musical people to praise whom he would not go out of his way. Where he recognised merit he made joyful proclamation of the fact, and was as prompt with means to help the meritorious young as he was to make record of their deserts. As a novelist, dramatist, poet, &c., Chorley was a failure, but he was great and incorruptible as a musical critic; and that success should have compensated for many a disaster. While comparatively unknown he got on to the threshold of "society,” and he was soon welcomed to the fireside corners, where he permanently established himself. Then, Chorley could see what he saw (which many people cannot), and he noted it in a book and kept the log of his voyage through life. By aid of these and other materials, a most judicious friend-Mr. Hewlett-has furnished two most interesting volumes to the reading public. As we have done with similar works, we shall take note of some of the details respecting life and manners, for the benefit of readers of TEMPLE BAR.
One of the first illustrations we have in Chorley's memoirs of the honest men of the past is that of Dr. Rutter, who “had a dread of the shame of debt.” There is less dread and as little sense of shame nowadays—at least, in those who keep up a show by cheating their creditors, pay a few pence for every pound they owe, and are properly ranked as “thieves on the wrong side of Newgate." In strong contrast with such men as Dr. Rutter, we come upon the Chevalier Neukomm, the composer of The Sea! the Sea !'-"a man who had been largely knocked about, and had been hardened by the process into the habit or duty of knocking about any one whom he could fascinate into believing in him ... Once having gained entrance into a house, he remained there with a possession of self-possession the like of which I have never seen. There was no possibility of dislodging him save at his own deliberate will and pleasure. He would have hours and usages regulated in conformity with his own tastes ... He must dine at one particular hour—at no other .. He would have his own dinner expressly made and provided,” and so forth, This very agreeable creature was an exaggerated Horace Skimpole, with some musical ability, but a great deal more of pretence. Of pretence, there was another individual of that generation not without his share, namely, Mr. N. P. Willis, whose American sketches of the English homes where he had been most hospitably received, caused as much irritation in British bosoms as Mrs. Trollope's views of America gave to Uncle Sam. Willis's position in Vanity Fair may be judged of from this bit of etching. He was setting off for Scotland, “ full of the intention (as be professed himself) of marrying a Scotch lady with red hair who (according to his usual story) had fallen in love with him. But he fancied that Lady Blessington had already been smitten. As he had a box full of locks of hair, trophies of his Continental Don Giovannism, perhaps he was excusable.” A greater figure of the time was that stupendous personage Count d'Orsay. The Count, though a fop, was no foolexcept, it may be, when he thought that Louis Napoleon ought to establish him as French ambassador in England. Yet the Count could see the absurdity, real or imaginary, of other appointments. When Sir Henry Bulwer was sent on a diplomatic mission to Constantinople, D'Orsay said it was a folly to send among the bearded, shawled, big, handsome Turks "a little grey man like that. They might as well have sent one whitebait down the Dardanelles to give the Turks an idea of English fish.” The Count figured on the stage of the world much as the best and last of the old school of comedians, Mr. Charles Mathews, figures in a play when he is enacting an exceedingly airy unscrupulous gentleman. The Count took it for granted that “everybody had any conceivable quantity of five-pound notes.” And there were various silly lords and others, of what Chesterfield would have called “ the quality,” whose five-pound notes he spent for them, and whose convictions were that they were enjoying it. He was Neukomm, Skimpole, Brummell, and Count d'Orsay, all in one, worshipping self as the only god, and his prophet to boot, but doing it in a gentlemanlike fashion, as Claude Duval in his particular