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The Love Affairs Of A Bibliomaniac by Eugene Field

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see not only the maturer members, but, alas, the youth and even
the babes and sucklings drinking freely and gratefully at the
fountain-head of thy delights!''

Dr. O'Rell's library is one of the most charming apartments I
know of. It looks out upon every variety of scenery, for Dr.
O'Rell has had constructed at considerable expense a light iron
framework from which are suspended at different times cunningly
painted canvases representing landscapes and marines
corresponding to the most whimsical fancy.

In the dead of winter, the doctor often has a desire to look out
upon a cheery landscape; thereupon, by a simple manipulation of a
keyboard, there is unrolled a panorama of velvety hillsides and
flowery meads, of grazing sheep, and of piping rustics; so
natural is the spectacle that one can almost hear the music of
the reeds, and fancy himself in Arcadia. If in midsummer the
heat is oppressive and life seems burthensome, forthwith another
canvas is outspread, and the glories of the Alps appear, or a
stretch of blue sea, or a corner of a primeval forest.

So there is an outlook for every mood, and I doubt not that this
ingenious provision contributes potently towards promoting
bibliomaniac harmony and prosperity in my friend's household. It
is true that I myself am not susceptible to external influences
when once I am surrounded by books; I do not care a fig whether
my library overlooks a garden or a desert; give me my dear
companions in their dress of leather, cloth, or boards, and it
matters not to me whether God sends storm or sunshine, flowers or
hail, light or darkness, noise or calm. Yet I know and admit
that environment means much to most people, and I do most
heartily applaud Dr. O'Rell's versatile device.

I have always thought that De Quincey's workshop would have given
me great delight. The particular thing that excited De Quincey's
choler was interference with his books and manuscripts, which he
piled atop of one another upon the floor and over his desk, until
at last there would be but a narrow little pathway from the desk
to the fireplace and from the fireplace to the door; and his
writing-table--gracious! what a Pelion upon Ossa of confusion it
must have been!

Yet De Quincey insisted that he knew ``just where everything
was,'' and he merely exacted that the servants attempt no such
vandalism as ``cleaning up'' in his workshop. Of course there
would presently come a time when there was no more room on the
table and when the little pathway to the fireplace and the door
would be no longer visible; then, with a sigh, De Quincey would
lock the door of that room and betake himself to other quarters,
which in turn would eventually become quite as littered up,
cluttered up, and impassable as the first rooms.

From all that can be gathered upon the subject it would appear
that De Quincey was careless in his treatment of books; I have
read somewhere (but I forget where) that he used his forefinger
as a paper-cutter and that he did not hesitate to mutilate old
folios which he borrowed. But he was extraordinarily tender with
his manuscripts; and he was wont to carry in his pockets a soft
brush with which he used to dust off his manuscripts most
carefully before handing them to the publisher.

Sir Walter Scott was similarly careful with his books, and he
used, for purposes of dusting them, the end of a fox's tail set
in a handle of silver. Scott, was, however, particular and
systematic in the arrangement of his books, and his work-room,
with its choice bric-a-brac and its interesting collection of
pictures and framed letters, was a veritable paradise to the
visiting book-lover and curio-lover. He was as fond of early
rising as Francis Jeffrey was averse to it, and both these
eminent men were strongly attached to animal pets. Jeffrey
particularly affected an aged and garrulous parrot and an equally
disreputable little dog. Scott was so stanch a friend of dogs
that wherever he went he was accompanied by one or two--sometimes
by a whole kennel--of these faithful brutes.

In Mrs. Gordon's noble ``Memoirs'' we have a vivid picture of
Professor Wilson's workroom. All was confusion there: ``his room
was a strange mixture of what may be called order and untidiness,
for there was not a scrap of paper or a book that his hand could
not light upon in a moment, while to the casual eye, in search of
discovery, it would appear chaos.'' Wilson had no love for fine
furniture, and he seems to have crowded his books together
without regard to any system of classification. He had a habit
of mixing his books around with fishing-tackle, and his charming
biographer tells us it was no uncommon thing to find the ``Wealth
of Nations,'' ``Boxiana,'' the ``Faerie Queen,'' Jeremy Taylor,
and Ben Jonson occupying close quarters with fishing-rods,
boxing-gloves, and tins of barley-sugar.

Charles Lamb's favorite workshop was in an attic; upon the walls
of this room he and his sister pasted old prints and gay
pictures, and this resulted in giving the place a cheery aspect.
Lamb loved old books, old friends, old times; ``he evades the
present, he works at the future, and his affections revert to and
settle on the past,''--so says Hazlitt. His favorite books seem
to have been Bunyan's ``Holy War,'' Browne's ``Urn-Burial,''
Burton's ``Anatomy of Melancholy,'' Fuller's ``Worthies,'' and
Taylor's ``Holy Living and Dying.'' Thomas Westwood tells us
that there were few modern volumes in his library, it being his
custom to give away and throw away (as the same writer asserts)
presentation copies of contemporaneous literature. Says Barry
Cornwall: ``Lamb's pleasures lay amongst the books of the old
English writers,'' and Lamb himself uttered these memorable
words: ``I cannot sit and think--books think for me.''

Wordsworth, on the other hand, cared little for books; his
library was a small one, embracing hardly more than five hundred
volumes. He drew his inspiration not from books, but from
Nature. From all that I have heard of him I judge him to have
been a very dull man. Allibone relates of him that he once
remarked that he did not consider himself a witty poet.
``Indeed,'' quoth he, ``I don't think I ever was witty but once
in my life.''

His friends urged him to tell them about it. After some
hesitation, he said: ``Well, I will tell you. I was standing
some time ago at the entrance of Rydal Mount. A man accosted me
with the question: `Pray, sir, have you seen my wife pass by?'
Whereupon I retorted, `Why, my good friend, I didn't know till
this moment that you had a wife.' ''

Illustrative of Wordsworth's vanity, it is told that when it was
reported that the next Waverley novel was to be ``Rob Roy,'' the
poet took down his ``Ballads'' and read to the company ``Rob
Roy's Grave.'' Then he said gravely: ``I do not know what more
Mr. Scott can have to say on the subject.''

Wordsworth and Dickens disliked each other cordially. Having
been asked his opinion of the young novelist, Wordsworth
answered: ``Why, I'm not much given to turn critic on people I
meet; but, as you ask me, I will cordially avow that I thought
him a very talkative young person--but I dare say he may be very
clever. Mind, I don't want to say a word against him, for I have
never read a line he has written.''

The same inquirer subsequently asked Dickens how he liked

``Like him!'' roared Dickens, ``not at all; he is a dreadful Old



Where one has the time and the money to devote to the collection
of missals and illuminated books, the avocation must be a very
delightful one. I never look upon a missal or upon a bit of
antique illumination that I do not invest that object with a
certain poetic romance, and I picture to myself long lines of
monkish men bending over their tasks, and applying themselves
with pious enthusiasm thereto. We should not flatter ourselves
that the enjoyment of the delights of bibliomania was reserved to
one time and generation; a greater than any of us lived many
centuries ago, and went his bibliomaniacal way, gathering
together treasures from every quarter, and diffusing every where
a veneration and love for books.

Richard de Bury was the king, if not the father, of
bibliomaniacs; his immortal work reveals to us that long before
the invention of printing men were tormented and enraptured by
those very same desires, envies, jealousies, greeds, enthusiasms,
and passions which possess and control bibliomaniacs at the
present time. That vanity was sometimes the controlling passion
with the early collectors is evidenced in a passage in Barclay's
satire, ``The Ship of Fools''; there are the stanzas which apply
so neatly to certain people I know that sometimes I actually
suspect that Barclay's prophetic eye must have had these
nineteenth-century charlatans in view.

But yet I have them in great reverence
And honor, saving them from filth and ordure
By often brushing and much diligence.
Full goodly bound in pleasant coverture
Of damask, satin, or else of velvet pure,
I keep them sure, fearing lest they should be lost,
For in them is the cunning wherein I me boast.

But if it fortune that any learned man
Within my house fall to disputation,
I draw the curtains to show my books them,
That they of my cunning should make probation;
I love not to fall into altercation,
And while they come, my books I turn and wind,
For all is in them, and nothing in my mind.

Richard de Bury had exceptional opportunities for gratifying his
bibliomaniac passions. He was chancellor and treasurer of Edward
III., and his official position gained him access to public and
private libraries and to the society of literary men. Moreover,
when it became known that he was fond of such things, people from
every quarter sent him and brought him old books; it may be that
they hoped in this wise to court his official favor, or perhaps
they were prompted by the less selfish motive of gladdening the
bibliomaniac soul.

``The flying fame of our love,'' says de Bury, ``had already
spread in all directions, and it was reported not only that we
had a longing desire for books, and especially for old ones, but
that any one could more easily obtain our favors by quartos than
by money. Wherefore, when supported by the bounty of the
aforesaid prince of worthy memory, we were enabled to oppose or
advance, to appoint or to discharge; crazy quartos and tottering
folios, precious however in our sight 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. Then the cabinets of the most noble monasteries were
opened, cases were unlocked, caskets were unclasped, and sleeping
volumes which had slumbered for long ages in their sepulchres
were roused up, and those that lay hid in dark places were
overwhelmed with the rays of a new light. Among these, as time
served, we sat down more voluptuously than the delicate physician
could do amidst his stores of aromatics, and where we found an
object of love we found also an assuagement.''

``If,'' says de Bury, ``we would have amassed cups of gold and
silver, excellent horses, or no mean sums of money, we could in
those days have laid up abundance of wealth for ourselves. But
we regarded books, not pounds; and valued codices more than
florins, and preferred paltry pamphlets to pampered palfreys. On
tedious embassies and in perilous times, we carried about with
us that fondness for books which many waters could not

And what books they were in those old days! What tall folios!
What stout quartos! How magnificent were the bindings, wrought
often in silver devices, sometimes in gold, and not infrequently
in silver and gold, with splendid jewels and precious stones to
add their value to that of the precious volume which they
adorned. The works of Justin, Seneca, Martial, Terence, and
Claudian were highly popular with the bibliophiles of early
times; and the writings of Ovid, Tully, Horace, Cato, Aristotle,
Sallust, Hippocrates, Macrobius, Augustine, Bede, Gregory,
Origen, etc. But for the veneration and love for books which the
monks of the mediaeval ages had, what would have been preserved
to us of the classics of the Greeks and the Romans?

The same auspicious fate that prompted those bibliomaniacal monks
to hide away manuscript treasures in the cellars of their
monasteries, inspired Poggio Bracciolini several centuries later
to hunt out and invade those sacred hiding-places, and these
quests were rewarded with finds whose value cannot be
overestimated. All that we have of the histories of Livy come to
us through Poggio's industry as a manuscript-hunter; this same
worthy found and brought away from different monasteries a
perfect copy of Quintilian, a Cicero's oration for Caecina, a
complete Tertullian, a Petronius Arbiter, and fifteen or twenty
other classics almost as valuable as those I have named. From
German monasteries, Poggio's friend, Nicolas of Treves, brought
away twelve comedies of Plautus and a fragment of Aulus Gellius.

Dear as their pagan books were to the monkish collectors, it was
upon their Bibles, their psalters, and their other religious
books that these mediaeval bibliomaniacs expended their choicest
art and their most loving care. St. Cuthbert's ``Gospels,''
preserved in the British Museum, was written by Egfrith, a monk,
circa 720; Aethelwald bound the book in gold and precious stones,
and Bilfrid, a hermit, illuminated it by prefixing to each gospel
a beautiful painting representing one of the Evangelists, and a
tessellated cross, executed in a most elaborate manner. Bilfrid
also illuminated the large capital letters at the beginning of
the gospels. This precious volume was still further enriched by
Aldred of Durham, who interlined it with a Saxon Gloss, or
version of the Latin text of St. Jerome.

``Of the exact pecuniary value of books during the middle ages,''
says Merryweather, ``we have no means of judging. The few
instances that have accidentally been recorded are totally
inadequate to enable us to form an opinion. The extravagant
estimate given by some as to the value of books in those days is
merely conjectural, as it necessarily must be when we remember
that the price was guided by the accuracy of the transcription,
the splendor of the binding (which was often gorgeous to excess),
and by the beauty and richness of the illuminations. Many of the
manuscripts of the middle ages are magnificent in the extreme;
sometimes inscribed in liquid gold on parchment of the richest
purple, and adorned with illuminations of exquisite

With such a veneration and love for books obtaining in the
cloister and at the fireside, what pathos is revealed to us in
the supplication which invited God's blessing upon the beloved
tomes: ``O Lord, send the virtue of thy Holy Spirit upon these
our books; that cleansing them from all earthly things, by thy
holy blessing, they may mercifully enlighten our hearts and give
us true understanding; and grant that by thy teachings they may
brightly preserve and make full an abundance of good works
according to thy will.''

And what inspiration and cheer does every book-lover find in the
letter which that grand old bibliomaniac, Alcuin, addressed to
Charlemagne: ``I, your Flaccus, according to your admonitions
and good will, administer to some in the house of St. Martin the
sweets of the Holy Scriptures; others I inebriate with the study
of ancient wisdom; and others I fill with the fruits of
grammatical lore. Many I seek to instruct in the order of the
stars which illuminate the glorious vault of heaven, so that they
may be made ornaments to the holy church of God and the court of
your imperial majesty; that the goodness of God and your kindness
may not be altogether unproductive of good. But in doing this I
discover the want of much, especially those exquisite books of
scholastic learning which I possessed in my own country, through
the industry of my good and most devout master, Egbert. I
therefore entreat your Excellence to permit me to send into
Britain some of our youths to procure those books which we so
much desire, and thus transplant into France the flowers of
Britain, that they may fructify and perfume, not only the garden
at York, but also the Paradise of Tours, and that we may say in
the words of the song: `Let my beloved come into his garden and
eat his pleasant fruit;' and to the young: `Eat, O friends;
drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved;' or exhort in the words
of the prophet Isaiah: `Every one that thirsteth to come to the
waters, and ye that have no money, come ye, buy and eat: yea,
come buy wine and milk, without money and without price.' ''

I was meaning to have somewhat to say about Alcuin, and had
intended to pay my respects to Canute, Alfred, the Abbot of St.
Albans, the Archbishop of Salzburg, the Prior of Dover, and
other mediaeval worthies, when Judge Methuen came in and
interrupted the thread of my meditation. The Judge brings me
some verses done recently by a poet-friend of his, and he asks me
to give them a place in these memoirs as illustrating the vanity
of human confidence.

One day I got a missive
Writ in a dainty hand,
Which made my manly bosom
With vanity expand.
'T was from a ``young admirer''
Who asked me would I mind
Sending her ``favorite poem''
``In autograph, and signed.''

She craved the boon so sweetly
That I had been a churl
Had I repulsed the homage
Of this gentle, timid girl;
With bright illuminations
I decked the manuscript,
And in my choicest paints and inks
My brush and pen I dipt.

Indeed it had been tedious
But that a flattered smile
Played on my rugged features
And eased my toil the while.
I was assured my poem
Would fill her with delight--
I fancied she was pretty--
I knew that she was bright!

And for a spell thereafter
That unknown damsel's face
With its worshipful expression
Pursued me every place;
Meseemed to hear her whisper:
``O, thank you, gifted sir,
For the overwhelming honor
You so graciously confer!''

But a catalogue from Benjamin's
Disproves what things meseemed--
Dispels with savage certainty
The flattering dreams I dreamed;
For that poor ``favorite poem,''
Done and signed in autograph,
Is listed in ``Cheap Items''
At a dollar-and-a-half.

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