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Full Online Book HomeEssays'in The Name Of The Bodleian'
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'in The Name Of The Bodleian' Post by :pkukic Category :Essays Author :Augustine Birrell Date :October 2011 Read :1929

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'in The Name Of The Bodleian'

With what feelings, I wonder, ought one to approach in a famous University an already venerable foundation, devoted by the last will and indented deed of a pious benefactor to the collection and housing of books and the promotion of learning? The Bodleian at this moment harbours within its walls well-nigh half a million of printed volumes, some scores of precious manuscripts in all the tongues, and has become a name famous throughout the whole civilized world. What sort of a poor scholar would he be whose heart did not beat within him when, for the first time, he found himself, to quote the words of 'Elia,' 'in the heart of learning, under the shadow of the mighty Bodley'?

Grave questions these! 'The following episode occurred during one of Calverley's (then Blayds) appearances at "Collections," the Master (Dr. Jenkyns) officiating. Question: "And with what feelings, Mr. Blayds, ought we to regard the decalogue?" Calverley who had no very clear idea of what was meant by the decalogue, but who had a due sense of the importance both of the occasion and of the question, made the following reply: "Master, with feelings of devotion, mingled with awe!" "Quite right, young man; a very proper answer," exclaimed the Master.'(A)


(Footnote A: Literary Remains of C.S. Calverley, p. 31.)


'Devotion mingled with awe' might be a very proper answer for me to make to my own questions, but possessing that acquaintance with the history of the most picturesque of all libraries which anybody can have who loves books enough to devote a dozen quiet hours of rumination to the pages of Mr. Macray's Annals of the Bodleian Library, second edition, Oxford, 'at the Clarendon Press, 1890,' I cannot honestly profess to entertain in my breast, with regard to it, the precise emotions which C.S.C. declared took possession of him when he regarded the decalogue. A great library easily begets affection, which may deepen into love; but devotion and awe are plants hard to rear in our harsh climate; besides, can it be well denied that there is something in a huge collection of the ancient learning, of mediaeval folios, of controversial pamphlets, and in the thick black dust these things so woefully collect, provocative of listlessness and enervation and of a certain Solomonic dissatisfaction? The two writers of modern times, both pre-eminently sympathetic towards the past, who have best described this somewhat melancholy and disillusioned frame of mind are both Americans: Washington Irving, in two essays in The Sketch-Book, 'The Art of Bookmaking' and 'The Mutability of Literature'; and Nathaniel Hawthorne, in many places, but notably in that famous chapter on 'The Emptiness of Picture Galleries,' in The Marble Faun.

It is perhaps best not to make too great demands upon our slender stock of deep emotions, not to rhapsodize too much, or vainly to pretend, as some travellers have done, that to them the collections of the Bodleian, its laden shelves and precious cases, are more attractive than wealth, fame, or family, and that it was stern Fate that alone compelled them to leave Oxford by train after a visit rarely exceeding twenty-four hours in duration.

Sir Thomas Bodley's Library at Oxford is, all will admit, a great and glorious institution, one of England's sacred places; and springing, as it did, out of the mind, heart, and head of one strong, efficient, and resolute man, it is matter for rejoicing with every honest gentleman to be able to observe how quickly the idea took root, how well it has thriven, by how great a tradition it has become consecrated, and how studiously the wishes of the founder in all their essentials are still observed and carried out.

Saith the prophet Isaiah, 'The liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things he shall stand.' The name of Thomas Bodley still stands all the world over by the liberal thing he devised.

A few pages about this 'second Ptolemy' will be grudged me by none but unlettered churls.

He was a west countryman, an excellent thing to be in England if you want backing through thick and thin, and was born in Exeter on March 2nd, 1544--a most troublesome date. It seems our fate in the old home never to be for long quit of the religious difficulty--which is very hard upon us, for nobody, I suppose, would call the English a 'religious' people. Little Thomas Bodley opened his eyes in a land distracted with the religious difficulty. Listen to his own words; they are full of the times: 'My father, in the time of Queen Mary, being noted and known to be an enemy to Popery, was so cruelly threatened and so narrowly observed by those that maliced his religion, that for the safeguard of himself and my mother, who was wholly affected as my father, he knew no way so secure as to fly into Germany, where after a while he found means to call over my mother with all his children and family, whom he settled for a time in Wesel in Cleveland. (For there, there were many English which had left their country for their conscience and with quietness enjoyed their meetings and preachings.) From thence he removed to the town of Frankfort, where there was in like sort another English congregation. Howbeit we made no longer tarriance in either of these two towns, for that my father had resolved to fix his abode in the city of Geneva.'

Here the Bodleys remained 'until such time as our Nation was advertised of the death of Queen Mary and the succession of Elizabeth, with the change of religion which caused my father to hasten into England.'

In Geneva young Bodley and his brothers enjoyed what now would be called great educational advantages. Small creature though he was, he yet attended, so he says, the public lectures of Chevalerius in Hebrew, Bersaldus in Greek, and of Calvin and Beza in Divinity. He had also 'domestical teachers,' and was taught Homer by Robert Constantinus, who was the author of a Greek lexicon, a luxury in those days.

On returning to England, Bodley proceeded, not to Exeter College, as by rights he should have done, but to Magdalen, where he became a 'reading man,' and graduated Bachelor of Arts in 1563. The next year he shifted his quarters to Merton, where he gave public lectures on Greek. In 1566 he became a Master of Arts, took to the study of natural philosophy, and three years later was Junior Proctor. He remained in residence until 1576, thus spending seventeen years in the University. In the last-mentioned year he obtained leave of absence to travel on the Continent, and for four years he pursued his studies abroad, mastering the French, Spanish, and Italian languages. Some short time after his return home he obtained an introduction to Court circles and became an Esquire to Queen Elizabeth, who seems to have entertained varying opinions about him, at one time greatly commending him and at another time wishing he were hanged--an awkward wish on Tudor lips. In 1588 Bodley married a wealthy widow, a Mrs. Ball, the daughter of a Bristol man named Carew. As Bodley survived his wife and had no children, a good bit of her money remains in the Bodleian to this day. Blessed be her memory! Nor should the names of Carew and Ball be wholly forgotten in this connection. From 1588 to 1596 Bodley was in the diplomatic service, chiefly at The Hague, where he did good work in troublesome times. On being finally recalled from The Hague, Bodley had to make up his mind whether to pursue a public life. He suffered from having too many friends, for not only did Burleigh patronize him, but Essex must needs do the same. No man can serve two masters, and though to be the victim of the rival ambitions of greater men than yourself is no uncommon fate, it is a currish one. Bodley determined to escape it, and to make for himself after a very different fashion a name aere perennius.

'I resolved thereupon to possess my soul in peace all the residue of my days, to take my full farewell of State employments, to satisfy my mind with the mediocrity of worldly living that I had of mine own, and so to retire me from the Court.'

But what was he to do?

'Whereupon, examining exactly for the rest of my life what course I might take, and having sought all the ways to the wood to select the most proper, I concluded at the last to set up my staff at the Library door in Oxford, being thoroughly persuaded that in my solitude and surcease from the Commonwealth affairs I could not busy myself to better purpose than by reducing that place (which then in every part lay ruined waste) to the publick use of students.'

It is pleasant to be admitted into the birth-chamber of a great idea destined to be translated into action. Bodley proceeds to state the four qualifications he felt himself to possess to do this great bit of work: first, the necessary knowledge of ancient and modern tongues and of 'sundry other sorts of scholastical literature'; second, purse ability; third, a great store of honourable friends; and fourth, leisure.

Bodley's description of the state of the old library as lying in every part ruined and in waste was but too true.

Richard of Bury, the book-loving Bishop of Durham, seems to have been the first donor of manuscripts on anything like a large scale to Oxford, but the library he founded was at Durham College, which stood where Trinity College now stands, and was in no sense a University library. The good Bishop, known to all book-hunters as the author of the Philobiblon, died in 1345, but his collection remained intact, subject to rules he had himself laid down, until the dissolution of the monasteries, when Durham College, which was attached to a religious house, was put up for sale, and its library, like so much else of good learning at this sad period, was dispersed and for the most part destroyed.

Bodley's real predecessor, the first begetter of a University library, was Thomas Cobham, Bishop of Worcester, who in 1320 prepared a chamber above a vaulted room in the north-east corner of St. Mary's Church for the reception of the books he intended to bestow upon his University. When the Bishop of Worcester (as a matter of fact, he had once been elected Archbishop of Canterbury; but that is another story, as Laurence Sterne has said) died in 1327, it was discovered that he had by his will bequeathed his library to Oxford, but he was insolvent! No rich relict of a defunct Ball was available for a Bishop in those days. The executors found themselves without sufficient estate to pay for their testator's funeral expenses, even then the first charge upon assets. They are not to be blamed for pawning the library. A good friend redeemed the pledge, and despatched the books--all, of course, manuscripts--to Oxford. For some reason or another Oriel took them in, and, having become their bailee, refused to part with them, possibly and plausibly alleging that the University was not in a position to give a valid receipt. At Oriel they remained for ten years, when all of a sudden the scholars of the University, animated by their notorious affection for sound learning and a good 'row,' took Oriel by storm, and carried off the books in triumph to Bishop Cobham's room, where they remained in chests unread for thirty years. In 1367 the University by statute ratified and confirmed its title to the books, and published regulations for their use, but the quarrel with Oriel continued till 1409, when the Cobham Library was for the first time properly furnished and opened as a place for study and reference.

The librarian of the old Cobham Library had an advantage over Mr. Nicholson, the Bodley librarian of to-day. Being a clerk in Holy Orders before the time when, in Bodley's own phrase, already quoted, we 'changed' our religion, he was authorized by the University to say masses for the souls of all dead donors of books, whether by gifts inter vivos or by bequest.

The first great benefactor of Cobham's Library was Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, the youngest son of Henry IV., and perhaps the most 'pushful' youngest son in our royal annals. Though a dissipated and unprincipled fellow, he lives in history as 'the good Duke Humphrey,' because he had the sense to patronize learning, collect manuscripts, and enrich Universities. He began his gifts to Oxford as early, so say some authorities, as 1411, and continued his donations of manuscripts with such vivacity that the little room in St. Mary's could no longer contain its riches. Hence the resolution of the University in 1444 to build a new library over the Divinity School. This new room, which was completed in 1480, forms now the central portion of that great reading-room so affectionately remembered by thousands of still living students.

Duke Humphrey's Library, as the new room was popularly called, continued to flourish and receive valuable accessions of manuscripts and printed books belonging to divinity, medicine, natural science, and literature until the ill-omened year 1550. Oxford has never loved Commissioners revising her statutes and reforming her schools, but the Commissioners of 1550 were worse than prigs, worse even than Erastians: they were barbarians and wreckers. They were deputed by King Edward VI., 'in the spirit of the Reformation,' to make an end of the Popish superstition. Under their hands the library totally disappeared, and for a long while the tailors and shoemakers and bookbinders of Oxford were well supplied with vellum, which they found useful in their respective callings. It was a hard fate for so splendid a collection. True it is that for the most part the contents of the library had been rescued from miserable ill-usage in the monasteries and chapter-houses where they had their first habitations, but at last they had found shelter over the Divinity School of a great University. There at least they might hope to slumber. But our Reformers thought otherwise. The books and manuscripts being thus dispersed or destroyed, a prudent if unromantic Convocation exposed for sale the wooden shelves, desks, and seats of the old library, and so made a complete end of the whole concern, thus making room for Thomas Bodley.

On February 23, 1597/8, Thomas Bodley sat himself down in his London house and addressed to the Vice-Chancellor of his University a certain famous letter:

'SIR,

'Altho' you know me not as I suppose, yet for the farthering of an offer of evident utilitie to your whole University I will not be too scrupulous in craving your assistance. I have been alwaies of a mind that if God of his goodness should make me able to do anything for the benefit of posteritie, I would shew some token of affiction that I have ever more borne to the studies of good learning. I know my portion is too slender to perform for the present any answerable act to my willing disposition, but yet to notify some part of my desire in that behalf I have resolved thus to deal. Where there hath been heretofore a public library in Oxford which you know is apparent by the room itself remaining and by your statute records, I will take the charge and cost upon me to reduce it again to its former use and to make it fit and handsome with seats and shelves and desks and all that may be needful to stir up other mens benevolence to help to furnish it with books. And this I purpose to begin as soon as timber can be gotten to the intent that you may be of some speedy profit of my project. And where before as I conceive it was to be reputed but a store of books of divers benefactors because it never had any lasting allowance for augmentation of the number or supply of books decayed, whereby it came to pass that when those that were in being were either wasted or embezzled, the whole foundation came to ruin. To meet with that inconvenience, I will so provide hereafter (if God do not hinder my present design) as you shall be still assured of a standing annual rent to be disbursed every year in buying of books, or officers stipends and other pertinent occasions, with which provision and some order for the preservation of the place and the furniture of it from accustomed abuses, it may perhaps in time to come prove a notable treasure for the multitude of volumes, an excellent benefit for the use and ease of students, and a singular ornament of the University.'

The letter does not stop here, but my quotation has already probably wearied most of my readers, though for my own part I am not ashamed to confess that I seldom tire of retracing with my own hand the ipsissima verba whereby great and truly notable gifts have been bestowed upon nations or Universities or even municipalities for the advancement of learning and the spread of science. Bodley's language is somewhat involved, but through it glows the plain intention of an honest man.

Convocation, we are told, embraced the offer with wonderful alacrity, and lost no time in accepting it in good Latin.

From February, 1598, to January, 1613 (when he died), Bodley was happy with as glorious a hobby-horse as ever man rode astride upon. Though Bodley, in one of his letters, modestly calls himself a mere 'smatterer,' he was, as indeed he had the sense to recognise, excellently well fitted to be a collector of books, being both a good linguist and personally well acquainted with the chief cities of the Continent and with their booksellers. He was thus able to employ well-selected agents in different parts of Europe to buy books on his account, which it was his pleasure to receive, his rapture to unpack, his pride to despatch in what he calls 'dry-fats'--that is, weather-tight chests--to Dr. James, the first Bodley librarian. Despite growing and painful infirmities (stone, ague, dropsy), Bodley never even for a day dismounted his hobby, but rode it manfully to the last. Nor had he any mean taint of nature that might have grudged other men a hand in the great work. The more benefactors there were, the better pleased was Bodley. He could not, indeed--for had he not been educated at Geneva and attended the Divinity Lectures of Calvin and Beza?--direct Dr. James to say masses for the souls of such donors of money or books as should die, but he did all a poor Protestant can do to tempt generosity: he opened and kept in a very public place in the library a great register-book, containing the names and titles of all benefactors. Bodley was always on the look-out for gifts and bequests from his store of honourable friends; and in the case of Sir Henry Savile he even relaxed the rule against lending books from the library, because, as he frankly admits to Dr. James, he had hopes (which proved well founded) that Sir Henry would not forget his obligations to the Bodleian.

The library was formally opened on November 8, 1602, and then contained some 2,000 volumes. Two years later its founder was knighted by King James, who on the following June directed letters patent to be issued styling the library by the founder's name and licensing the University to hold land in mortmain for its maintenance. The most learned and by no means the most foolish of our Kings, this same James I., visited the Bodleian in May, 1605. Sir Thomas was not present. There it was that the royal pun was made that the founder's name should have been Godly and not Bodley. King James handled certain old manuscripts with the familiarity of a scholar, and is reported to have said, I doubt not with perfect sincerity, that were he not King James he would be an University man, and that were it his fate at any time to be a captive, he would wish to be shut up in the Bodleian and to be bound with its chains, consuming his days amongst its books as his fellows in captivity. Indeed, he was so carried away by the atmosphere of the place as to offer to present to the Bodleian whatever books Sir Thomas Bodley might think fit to lay hands upon in any of the royal libraries, and he kept this royal word so far as to confirm the gift under the Privy Seal. But there it seems to have stopped, for the Bodleian does not contain any volumes traceable to this source. The King's librarians probably obstructed any such transfer of books.

Authors seem at once to have recognised the importance of the library, and to have made presentation copies of their works, and in 1605 we find Bacon sending a copy of his Advancement of Learning to Bodley, with a letter in which he said: 'You, having built an ark to save learning from deluge, deserve propriety (ownership) in any new instrument or engine whereby learning should be improved or advanced.' The most remarkable letter Bodley ever wrote, now extant, is one to Bacon; but it has no reference to the library, only to the Baconian philosophy. We do not get many glimpses of Bodley's habits of life or ways of thinking, but there is no difficulty in discerning a strenuous, determined, masterful figure, bent during his later years, perhaps tyrannously bent, on effecting his object. He was not, we learn from a correspondent, 'hasty to write but when the posts do urge him, saying there need be no answer to your letters till more leisure breed him opportunity.' 'Words are women, deeds are men,' is another saying of his which I reprint without comment.

By an indenture dated April 20, 1609, Bodley, after reciting how he had, out of his zealous affection to the advancement of learning, lately erected upon the ruins of the old decayed library of Oxford University 'a most ample, commodious, and necessary building, as well for receipt and conveyance of books as for the use and ease of students, and had already furnished the same with excellent writers on all sorts of sciences, arts, and tongues, not only selected out of his own study and store, but also of others that were freely conferred by many other men's gifts,' proceeded to grant to trustees lands and hereditaments in Berkshire and in the city of London for the purpose of forming a permanent endowment of his library; and so they, or the proceeds of sale thereof, have remained unto this day.

Sir Thomas Bodley died on January 20, 1613, his last days being soothed by a letter he received from the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University condoling his sickness and signifying how much the Heads of Houses, etc., prayed for his recovery. A cynical friend--not much of a friend, as we shall see--called John Chamberlain, was surprised to observe what pleasure this assurance gave to the dying man. 'Whereby,' writes Chamberlain to Sir Ralph Winwood, 'I perceive how much fair words work, as well upon wise men as upon others, for indeed it did affect him very much.'

Bodley was rather put out in his last illness by the refusal of a Cambridge doctor, Batter, to come to see him, the doctor saying: 'Words cannot cure him, and I can do nothing else for him.' There is an occasional curtness about Cambridge men that is hard but not impossible to reconcile with good feeling.

Bodley's will gave great dissatisfaction to some of his friends, including this aforesaid John Chamberlain, and yet, on reading it through, it is not easy to see any cause for just complaint. Bodley's brother did not grumble, there were no children, Lady Bodley had died in 1611, and everybody who knew the testator must have known that the library would be (as it was) the great object of his bounty. What annoyed Chamberlain seems to be that, whilst he had (so he says, though I take leave to doubt it) put down Bodley for some trifle in his will, Bodley forgot to mention Chamberlain in his. There is always a good deal of human nature exhibited on these occasions. I will transcribe a bit of one of this gentleman's grumbling letters, written, one may be sure, with no view to publication, the day after Bodley's death:

'Mr. Gent came to me this morning as it were to bemoan himself of the little regard hath been had of him and others, and indeed for ought I hear there is scant anybody pleased, but for the rest it were no great matter if he had had more consideration or commiseration where there was most need. But he was so carried away with the vanity and vain-glory of his library, that he forgot all other respects and duties, almost of Conscience, Friendship, or Good-nature, and all he had was too little for that work. To say the truth I never did rely much upon his conscience, but I thought he had been more real and ingenuous. I cannot learn that he hath given anything, no, not a good word nor so much as named any old friend he had, but Mr. Gent and Thos. Allen, who like a couple of Almesmen must have his best and second gown, and his best and second cloak, but to cast a colour or shadow of something upon Mr. Gent, he says he forgives him all he owed him, which Mr. Gent protests is never a penny. I must intreat you to pardon me if I seem somewhat impatient on his (i.e., Gent's) behalf, who hath been so servile to him, and indeed such a perpetual servant, that he deserved a better reward. Neither can I deny that I have a little indignation for myself that having been acquainted with him for almost forty years, and observed and respected him so much, I should not be remembered with the value of a spoon, or a mourning garment, whereas if I had gone before him (as poor a man as I am), he should not have found himself forgotten.'(A)

(Footnote A: Winwood's Memorials, vol. iii., p. 429.)

Bodley did no more by his will, which is dated January 2, 1613, and is all in his own handwriting, than he had bound himself to do in his lifetime, and I feel as certain as I can feel about anything that happened nearly 300 years ago, that Mr. Gent, of Gloucester Hall, did owe Bodley money, though, as many another member of the University of Oxford has done with his debts, he forgot all about it.

The founder of the Bodleian was buried with proper pomp and circumstance in the chapel of Merton College on March 29, 1613. Two Latin orations were delivered over his remains, one, that of John Hales (the ever-memorable), a Fellow of Merton, being of no inconsiderable length. After all was over, those who had mourning weeds or 'blacks' retired, with the Heads of Houses, to the refectory of Merton and had a funeral dinner bestowed upon them, 'amounting to the sum of L100,' as directed by the founder's will.

The great foundation of Sir Thomas Bodley has, happily for all of us, had better fortune than befell the generous gifts of the Bishops of Durham and Worcester. The Protestant layman has had the luck, not the large-minded prelates of the old religion. Even during the Civil War Bodley's books remained uninjured, at all events by the Parliament men. 'When Oxford was surrendered (June 24, 1646), the first thing General Fairfax did was to set a good guard of soldiers to preserve the Bodleian Library. 'Tis said there was more hurt done by the Cavaliers (during their garrison) by way of embezzling and cutting of chains of books than there was since. He was a lover of learning, and had he not taken this special care that noble library had been utterly destroyed, for there were ignorant senators enough who would have been contented to have it so' (see Macray, p. 101).

Oliver Cromwell, while Lord Protector, presented to the library twenty-two Greek manuscripts he had purchased, and, what is more, when Bodley's librarian refused the Lord Protector's request to allow the Portugal Ambassador to borrow a manuscript, sending instead of the manuscript a copy of the statutes forbidding loans, Oliver commended the prudence of the founder, and subsequently made the donation just mentioned.

A great wave of generosity towards this foundation was early noticeable. The Bodleian got hold of men's imaginations. In those days there were learned men in all walks of life, and many more who, if not learned, were endlessly curious. The great merchants of the city of London instructed their agents in far lands to be on the look-out for rare things, and transmit them home to find a resting-place in Bodley's buildings. All sorts of curiosities found their way there--crocodiles, whales, mummies, and black negro-boys in spirits. The Ashmolean now holds most of them; the negro-boy has been conveniently lost.

In 1649 the total of 2,000 printed books had risen to more than 12,000--viz., folios, 5,889; quartos, 2,067; octavos, 4,918; whilst of manuscripts there were 3,001. One of the first gifts in money came from Sir Walter Raleigh, who in 1605 gave L50, whilst among the early benefactors of books and manuscripts it were a sin not to name the Earl of Pembroke, Archbishop Laud (one of the library's best friends), Robert Burton (of the Anatomy of Melancholy), Sir Kenelm Digby, John Selden, Lord Fairfax, Colonel Vernon, and Barlow, Bishop of Lincoln. No nobler library exists in the world than the Bodleian, unless it be in the Vatican at Rome. The foundation of Sir Thomas Bodley, though of no antiquity, shines with unrivalled splendour in the galaxy of Oxford

'Amidst the stars that own another birth.'
I must not say, being myself a Cambridge man, that the Bodleian dominates Oxford, yet to many an English, American, and foreign traveller to that city, which, despite railway-stations and motor-cars and the never-ending villas and perambulators of the Banbury Road, still breathes the charm of an earlier age, the Bodleian is the pulsing heart of the University. Colleges, like ancient homesteads, unless they are yours, never quite welcome you, though ready enough to receive with civility your tendered meed of admiration. You wander through their gardens, and pace their quadrangles with no sense of co-ownership; not for you are their clustered memories. In the Bodleian every lettered heart feels itself at home.

Bodley drafted with his own hand the first statutes or rules to be observed in his library. Speaking generally, they are wise rules. One mistake, indeed, he made--a great mistake, but a natural one. Let him give his own reasons:

'I can see no good reason to alter my rule for excluding such books as Almanacks, Plays, and an infinite number that are daily printed of very unworthy matters--handling such books as one thinks both the Keeper and Under-Keeper should disdain to seek out, to deliver to any man. Haply some plays may be worthy the keeping--but hardly one in forty.... This is my opinion, wherein if I err I shall err with infinite others; and the more I think upon it, the more it doth distaste me that such kinds of books should be vouchsafed room in so noble a library.'(A)


(Footnote A: See correspondence in Reliquiae Bodleianae, London, 1703.)

'Baggage-books' was the contemptuous expression elsewhere employed to describe this 'light infantry' of literature--Belles Lettres, as it is now more politely designated.

One play in forty is liberal measure, but who is to say out of the forty plays which is the one worthy to be housed in a noble library? The taste of Vice-Chancellors and Heads of Houses, of keepers and under-keepers of libraries--can anybody trust it? The Bodleian is entitled by imperial statutes to receive copies of all books published within the realm, yet it appears, on the face of a Parliamentary return made in 1818, that this 'noble library' refused to find room for Ossian, the favourite poet of Goethe and Napoleon, and labelled Miss Edgeworth's Parent's Assistant and Miss Hannah More's Sacred Dramas 'Rubbish.' The sister University, home though she be of nearly every English poet worth reading, rejected the Siege of Corinth, though the work of a Trinity man; would not take in the Thanksgiving Ode of Mr. Wordsworth, of St. John's College; declined Leigh Hunt's Story of Rimini; vetoed the Headlong Hall of the inimitable Peacock, and, most wonderful of all, would have nothing to say to Scott's Antiquary, being probably disgusted to find that a book with so promising a title was only a novel.

Now this is altered, and everything is collected in the Bodleian, including, so I am told, Christmas-cards and bills of fare.

Bodley's rule has proved an expensive one, for the library has been forced to buy at latter-day prices 'baggage-books' it could have got for nothing.

Another ill-advised regulation got rid of duplicates. Thus, when the third Shakespeare Folio appeared in 1664, the Bodleian disposed of its copy of the First Folio. However, this wrong was righted in 1821, when, under the terms of Edmund Malone's bequest, the library once again became the possessor of the edition of 1623. Quite lately the original displaced Folio has been recovered.

Against lending books Bodley was adamant, and here his rule prevails. It is pre-eminently a wise one. The stealing of books, as well as the losing of books, from public libraries is a melancholy and ancient chapter in the histories of such institutions; indeed, there is too much reason to believe that not a few books in the Bodleian itself were stolen to start with. But the long possession by such a foundation has doubtless purged the original offence. In the National Library in Paris is at least one precious manuscript which was stolen from the Escurial. There are volumes in the British Museum on which the Bodleian looks with suspicion, and vice versa. But let sleeping dogs lie. Bodley would not give the divines who were engaged upon a bigger bit of work even than his library--the translation of the Bible into that matchless English which makes King James's version our greatest literary possession--permission to borrow 'the one or two books' they wished to see.

Bodley's Library has sheltered through three centuries many queer things besides books and strangely-written manuscripts in old tongues; queerer things even than crocodiles, whales, and mummies--I mean the librarians and sub-librarians, janitors, and servants. Oddities many of them have been. Honest old Jacobites, non-jurors, primitive thinkers, as well as scandalously lazy drunkards and illiterate dogs. An old foundation can afford to have a varied experience in these matters.

One of the most original of these originals was the famous Thomas Hearne, an 'honest gentleman'--that is, a Jacobite--and one whose collections and diaries have given pleasure to thousands. He was appointed janitor in 1701, and sub-librarian in 1712, but in 1716, when an Act of Parliament came into operation which imposed a fine of L500 upon anyone who held any public office without taking the oath of allegiance to the Hanoverians, Hearne's office was taken away from him; but he shared with his King over the water the satisfaction of accounting himself still de jure, and though he lived till 1735, he never failed each half-year to enter his salary and fees as sub-librarian as being still unpaid. He was perhaps a little spiteful and vindictive, but none the less a fine old fellow. I will write down as specimens of his humour a prayer of his and an apology, and then leave him alone. His prayer ran as follows:

'O most gracious and merciful Lord God, wonderful in Thy Providence, I return all possible thanks to Thee for the care Thou hast always taken of me. I continually meet with most signal instances of this Thy Providence, and one act yesterday, when I unexpectedly met with three old manuscripts, for which in a particular manner I return my thanks, beseeching Thee to continue the same protection to me, a poor helpless sinner, and that for Jesus Christ his sake' (Aubrey's Letters, i. 118).

His apology, which I do not think was actually published, though kept in draft, was after this fashion:

'I, Thomas Hearne, A.M. of the University of Oxford, having ever since my matriculation followed my studies with as much application as I have been capable of, and having published several books for the honour and credit of learning, and particularly for the reputation of the foresaid University, am very sorry that by my declining to say anything but what I knew to be true in any of my writings, and especially in the last book I published entituled, &c, I should incur the displeasure of any of the Heads of Houses, and as a token of my sorrow for their being offended at truth, I subscribe my name to this paper and permit them to make what use of it they please.'

Leaping 140 years, an odd tale is thus lovingly recorded of another sub-librarian, the Rev. A. Hackman, who died in 1874:

'During all the time of his service in the library (thirty-six years) he had used as a cushion in his plain wooden armchair a certain vellum-bound folio, which by its indented side, worn down by continual pressure, bore testimony to the use to which it had been put. No one had ever the curiosity to examine what the book might be, but when, after Hackman's departure from the library, it was removed from its resting-place of years, some amusement was caused by finding that the chief compiler of the last printed catalogue had omitted from his catalogue the volume on which he sat, of which, too, though of no special value, there was no other copy in the library' (Macray, p. 388A).

The spectacle in the mind's eye of this devoted sub-librarian and sound divine sitting on the vellum-bound folio for six-and-thirty years, so absorbed in his work as to be oblivious of the fact that he had failed to include in what was his magnum opus, the Great Catalogue, the very book he was sitting upon, tickles the midriff.

Here I must bring these prolonged but wholly insufficient observations to a very necessary conclusion. Not a word has been said of the great collection of bibles, or of the unique copies of the Koran and the Talmud and the Arabian Nights, or of the Dante manuscripts, or of Bishop Tanner's books (many bought on the dispersion of Archbishop Sancroft's great library), which in course of removal by water from Norwich to Oxford fell into the river and remained submerged for twenty hours, nor of many other splendid benefactions of a later date.

One thing only remains, not to be said, but to be sent round--I mean the hat. Ignominious to relate, this glorious foundation stands in need of money. Shade of Sir Thomas Bodley, I invoke thy aid to loosen the purse-strings of the wealthy! The age of learned and curious merchants, of high-spirited and learning-loving nobles, of book-collecting bishops, of antiquaries, is over. The Bodleian cannot condescend to beg. It is too majestical. But I, an unauthorized stranger, have no need to be ashamed.

Especially rich is this great library in Americana, and America suggests multi-millionaires. The rich men of the United States have been patriotically alive to the first claims of their own richly endowed universities, and long may they so continue; but if by any happy chance any one of them should accidentally stumble across an odd million or even half a million of dollars hidden away in some casual investment he had forgotten, what better thing could he do with it than send it to this, the most famous foundation of his Old Home? It would be acknowledged by return of post in English and in Latin, and the donor's name would be inscribed, not indeed (and this is a regrettable lapse) in that famous old register which Bodley provided should always be in a prominent place in his library, but in the Annual Statement of Accounts now regularly issued. To be associated with the Bodleian is to share its fame and partake of the blessing it has inherited. 'The liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things he shall stand.'


(The end)
Augustine Birrell's essay: 'In The Name Of The Bodleian'

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