Page images
[ocr errors][ocr errors]














JULY 10, 1940


THIS miscellany was first formed, many years ago, when two of my friends were occupied in those anecdotical labours, which have proved so entertaining to themselves, and their readers.* I conceived that a collection of a different complexion, though much less amusing, might prove somewhat more instructive; and that literary history afforded an almost unexplored source of interesting facts. The work itself has been well enough received by the public to justify its design.

Every class of readers requires a book adapted to itself and that book which interests, and perhaps brings much new information to a multitude of readers, is not to be contemned, even by the learned. More might be alleged in favour of works like the present than can be urged against them. They are of a class which was well known to the ancients. The Greeks were not without them; the Romans loved them under the title of Varia Eruditio; and the Orientalists, more than either, were passionately fond of these agreeable collections. The fanciful titles, with which they decorated their variegated miscellanies, sufficiently express their delight.

The design of this work is to stimulate the literary curiosity of those, who, with a taste for its tranquil pursuits, are impeded in their acquirements. The characters, the events, and the singularities of modern literature, are not always familiar even to those who excel in classical studies. But a more numerous part of mankind, by their occupations, or their indolence, both unfavourable causes to literary improvement, require to obtain the materials for thinking, by the easiest and readiest means. This work has proved useful: it has been reprinted abroad, and it has been translated; and the honour which many writers at home have conferred on it, by referring to it, has exhilarated the zealous labour which seven editions have necessarily exacted.

* The late William Seward, Esq., and James Pettit Andrews, Esq.



THE passion for forming vast collections of books has necessarily existed in all periods of human curiosity; but long it required royal munificence to found a national library. It is only since the art of multiplying the productions of the mind has been discovered, that men of letters have been enabled to rival this imperial and patriotic honour. The taste for books, so rare before the fifteenth century, has gradually become general only within these four hundred years; in that small space of time the public mind of Europe has been created.

Of LIBRARIES, the following anecdotes seem most interesting, as they mark either the affection, or the veneration, which civilized men have ever felt for these perennia! repositories of their minds. The first national library founded in Egypt seemed to have been placed under the protection of the divinities, for their statues magnificently adorned this temple, dedicated at once to religion and to Literature. It was still farther embellished by a well known inscription, for ever grateful to the votary of literature; on the front was engraven, The nourishment of the soul or, according to Diodorus, The medicine of the mind.'

The Egyptian Ptolemies founded the vast library of Alexandria, which was afterwards the emulative labour of rival monarchs; the founder infused a soul into the vast body he was creating, by his choice of the librarian Demetrius Phalereus, whose skilful industry amassed from all nations their choicest productions. Without such a librarian, a national library would be little more than a literary chaos. His well exercised memory and critical judgment are its best catalogue. One of the Ptolemies refused supplying the famished Athenians with wheat, until they presented him with the original manuscripts of Eschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides; and in returning copies of these originals, he allowed them to retain the fifteen talents which he had pledged with them as a princely security.

Even when tyrants, or usurpers, possessed sense as well as courage, they have proved the most ardent patrons of literature; they know it is their interest to turn aside the public mind from political speculations, and to afford their subjects the inexhaustible occupations of curiosity, and the consoling pleasures of the imagination. Thus Pisistratus is said to have been among the earliest of the Greeks, who projected an immense collection of the works of the learned, and is believed to have been the collector of the scattered works, which passed under the name of Homer.

The Romans, after six centuries of gradual dominion, must have possessed the vast and diversified collections of the writings of the nations they conquered; among the most valued spoils of their victories, we know that manuscripts were considered as more precious than vases of gold. Paulus Emilius, after the defeat of Perseus, king of Macedon, brought to Rome a great number which he had amassed in Greece, and which he now distributed among his sons, or presented to the Roman people. Sylla followed his example. After the siege of Athens, he discovered an entire library in the temple of Apollo, which having carried to Rome he appears to have been the founder of the first Roman public library. After the taking of Carthage, the Roman senate rewarded the family of Regulus with the books found in the city. A library was a national gift, and the inost honourable they could bestow. From the intercourse of the Romans with the Greeks, the passion for forming libraries rapidly increased, and indiviuals began to pride themselves on their private collections. Of many illustrious Romans, their magnificent taste in their libraries has been recorded. Asinius Pollio, Crassus

Cæsar, and Cicero, have, among others, been celebrated for their literary splendour. Lucullus, whose incredible opulence exhausted itself on more than imperial luxuries, more honourably distinguished himself by his vast collec tions of books, and the happy use he made of them by the liberal access he allowed the learned. It was a library, says Plutarch, whose walks, galleries, and cabinets, were open to all visiters; and the ingenious Greeks, when at leisure, resorted to this abode of the Muses to hold literary conversations, in which Lucullus himself loved to join,' This library, enlarged by others, Julius Cæsar once proposed to open for the public, having chosen the erudite Varro for its librarian; but the daggers of Brutus and his party prevented the meditated projects of Cæsar. In this museum, Cicero frequently pursued his studies, during the time his friend Faustus had the charge of it, which he describes to Atticus in his 4th Book, Epist. 9. Amidst his public occupations and his private studies, either of them sufficient to have immortalized one man, we are astonished at the minute attention Cicero paid to the formation of his libraries, and his cabinets of antiquities.

The emperors were ambitious at length to give their names to the libraries they founded; they did not consider the purple as their chief ornament. Augustus was himself an author, and in one of those sumptuous buildings called Thermes, ornamented with porticoes, galleries, and statues, with shady walks, and refreshing baths, testified his love of literature by adding a magnificent library, one of these libraries he fondly called by the name of his sister Octavia; and the other, the temple of Apollo, became the haunt of the poets, as Horace, Juvenal, and Persius have commemorated. The successors of Augustus imitated his example, and even Tiberius had an imperial library chiefly consisting of works concerning the empire and the acts of its sovereigns. These Trajan augmented by the Ulpian library, so denominated from the family name of this prince.

In word we have accounts of the rich ornaments the ancients bestowed on their libraries; of their floors paved with marble, their walls covered with glass and ivory, and their shelves and desks of ebony and cedar.

The first public library in Italy, says Tiraboschi, was founded by a person of no considerable fortune: his credit, his frugality, and fortitude, were indeed equal to a treasury. This extraordinary man was Nicholas Niccoli, the son of a merchant, and in his youth himself a merchant; but after the death of his father he relinquished the beaten roads of gain, and devoted his soul to study, and his fortune to assist students. At his death he left his library to the public, but his debts being greater than his effects, the princely generosity of Cosmo de Medici realized the inten tion of its former possessor, and afterwards enriched it, by the addition of an apartment, in which he placed the Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldaic, and Indian MSS. The intre pid resolution of Nicholas V, laid the foundations of the Vatican; the affection of Cardinal Bessarion for his country, first gave Venice the rudiments of a public library; and to Sir T. Bodley we owe the invaluable one of Oxford. Sir Robert Cotton, Sir H. Sloane, Dr Birch, Mr Cracherode, and others of this race of lovers of books, have all contributed to form these literary treasures, which our na tion owe to the enthusiasm of individuals, who have found such pleasure in consecrating their fortunes and their days to this great public object; or, which in the result produces the same public good, the collections of such men have been frequently purchased on their deaths, by government, and thus have entered whole and entire into the great national collections.

Literature, like virtue, is its own reward, and the enthusiasm some experience in the permanent enjorments of

« PreviousContinue »