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AN ACCOUNT OF THE
To solicit a subscription for a catalogue of books exposed to sale, is an attempt for which some apology cannot but be necessary; for few would willingly contribute to the expense of volumes, hy which neither instruction nor entertainment could be afforded, from which only the bookseller could expect advantage, and of which the only use must cease, at the dispersion of the library'.
Nor could the reasonableness of an universal rejection of our proposal be denied, if this catalogue were to be compiled with no other view, than that of promoting the sale of the books which it enumerates, and drawn with that inaccuracy and confusion which may be found in those that are daily published.
But our design, like our proposal, is uncommon, and to be prosecuted at a very uncommon expense: it being intended, that the books shall be distributed into their distinct classes, and every class ranged with some regard to the age of the writers; that every book shall be accurately described ; that the peculiarities of editions shall be remarked, and observations from the authors of literary history occasionally interspersed; that, by this catalogue, we may inform posterity of the excellence and value of this great collection, and promote the knowledge of scarce books, and elegant editions. For this purpose, men of letters are engaged, who cannot even be supplied with amanuenses, but at an expense above that of a common catalogue.
- This apology is no longer necessary, when the catalogue of Lord Spencer's library is published at 161. 16s. See Dibdin's Bibliomania, Ædes Althorpianæ, and the indignant complaints of the author of the Pursuits of Literature.—Ed.
To show that this collection deserves a particular degree of regard from the learned and the studious, that it excels any library that was ever yet offered to publick sale, in the value, as well as number, of the volumes, which it contains ; and that, therefore, this catalogue will not be of less use to men of letters, than those of the Thuanian, Heinsian, or Barberinian libraries, it may not be improper to exhibit a general account of the different classes, as they are naturally divided by the several sciences.
By this method we can, indeed, exhibit only a general idea, at once magnificent and confused; an idea of the writings of many nations, collected from distant parts of the world, discovered sometimes by chance, and sometimes by curiosity, amidst the rubbish of forsaken monasteries, and the repositories of ancient families, and brought hither from every part, as to the universal receptacle of learning.
It will be no unpleasing effect of this account, if those that shall happen to peruse it, should be inclined by it to reflect on the character of the late proprietors, and to pay some tribute of veneration to their ardour for literature, to that generous and exalted curiosity which they gratified with incessant searches and immense expense, and to which they dedicated that time, and that superfluity of fortune, which many others of their rank employ in the pursuit of contemptible amusements, or the gratification of guilty passions. And, surely, every man, who considers learning as ornamental and advantageous to the community, must allow them the honour of publick benefactors, who have introduced amongst us authors, not hitherto well known, and added to the literary treasures of their native country.
That our catalogue will excite any other man to emulate the collectors of this library, to prefer books and manuscripts to equipage and luxury, and to forsake noise and diversion for the conversation of the learned, and the satisfaction of extensive knowledge, we are very far from presuming to hope ; but shall make no scruple to assert, that, if any man should happen to be seized with such laudable ambition, he may find in this catalogue hints and informa
tions which are not easily to be met with ; he will discover, that the boasted Bodleian library is very far from a perfect model, and that even the learned Fabricius cannot completely instruct him in the early editions of the classick writers.
But the collectors of libraries cannot be numerous; and, therefore, catalogues could not very properly be recommended to the publick, if they had not a more general and frequent use, an use which every student has experienced, or neglected to his loss. By the means of catalogues only, can it be known what has been written on every part of learning, and the hazard avoided of encountering difficulties which have already been cleared, discussing questions which have already been decided, and digging in mines of literature which former ages have exhausted.
How often this has been the fate of students, every man of letters can declare; and, perhaps, there are very few who have not sometimes valued as new discoveries, made by themselves, those observations, which have long since been published, and of which the world, therefore, will refuse them the praise ; nor can the refusal be censured as any enormous violation of justice ; for, why should they not forfeit by their ignorance, what they might claim by their sagacity ?
To illustrate this remark, by the mention of obscure names, would not much confirm it; and to vilify, for this purpose, the memory of men truly great, would be to deny them the reverence which they may justly claim from those whom their writings have instructed. May the shade, at least, of one great English critick rest without disturb. ance; and may no man presume to insult his memory, who wants his learning, his reason, or his wit.
From the vexatious disappointment of meeting reproach, where praise is expected, every man will certainly desire to be secured ; and, therefore, that book will have some claim to his regard, from wbich he may receive informations of the labours of his predecessors, such as a catalogue of the Harleian library will copiously afford him.
m It is not quite clear to whom Johnson here alludes ; perhaps to Bentley, and with reference to some of Garth's expressions :
So diamonds take a lustre from their foil ;
Dispensary, Canto V.
Nor is the use of catalogues of less importance to those whom curiosity has engaged in the study of literary history, and who think the intellectual revolutions of the world more worthy of their attention, than the ravages of tyrants, the desolation of kingdoms, the rout of armies, and the fall of empires. Those who are pleased with observing the first birth of new opinions, their struggles against opposition, their silent progress under persecution, their general reception, and their gradual decline, or sudden extinction; those that amuse themselves with remarking the different periods of human knowledge, and observe how darkness and light succeed each other; by what accident the most gloomy nights of ignorance have given way to the dawn of science; and how learning has languished and decayed, for want of patronage and regard, or been overborne by the prevalence of fashionable ignorance, or lost amidst the tumults of invasion, and the storms of violence. All those who desire any knowledge of the literary transactions of past ages, may find in catalogues, like this at least, such an account as is given by annalists, and chronologers of civil history.
How the knowledge of the sacred writings has been diffused, will be observed from the catalogue of the various editions of the Bible, from the first impression by Fust, in 1462, to the present time; in which will be contained the polyglot editions of Spain, France, and England, those of the original Hebrew, the Greek Septuagint, and the Latin Vulgate ; with the versions which are now used in the remotest parts of Europe, in the country of the Grisons, in Lithuania, Bohemia, Finland, and Iceland.
With regard to the attempts of the same kind made in our own country, there are few whose expectations will not be exceeded by the number of English Bibles, of which not one is forgotten, whether valuable for the pomp and beauty of the impression, or for the notes with which the
text is accompanied, or for any controversy or persecution that it produced, or for the peculiarity of any single passage. With the same care have the various editions of the book of Common Prayer been selected, from which all the alterations which have been made in it may be easily remarked.
Amongst a great number of Roman missals and breviaries, remarkable for the beauty of their cuts and illuminations, will be found the Mosarabick missal and breviary, that raised such commotions in the kingdom of Spain.
The controversial treatises written in England, about the time of the Reformation, have been diligently collected, with a multitude of remarkable tracts, single sermons, and small treatises; which, however worthy to be preserved, are, perhaps, to be found in no other place.
The regard which was always paid, by the collectors of this library, to that remarkable period of time, in which the art of printing was invented, determined them to accumulate the ancient impressions of the fathers of the church; to which the later editions are added, lest antiquity should have seemed more worthy of esteem than accuracy.
History has been considered with the regard due to that study by which the manners are most easily formed, and from which the most efficacious instruction is received ; nor will the most extensive curiosity fail of gratification in this library, from which no writers have been excluded, that relate either the religious, or civil affairs of any pation.
Not only those authors of ecclesiastical history have been procured, that treat of the state of religion in general, or deliver accounts of sects or nations, but those, likewise, who have confined themselves to particular orders of men in every church; who have related the original, and the rules of every society, or recounted the lives of its founder and its members; those who have deduced in every country the succession of bishops, and those who have employed their abilities in celebrating the piety of particular saints, or martyrs, or monks, or nuns.
The civil history of all nations has been amassed toge