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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Alberto Nota (1775–1847)

The Purchase of a Greek Manuscript

From “The Bibliomaniac”

GERONZIO; FAUSTINA, his Niece; MENICA, his Housekeeper.

Ger.I cannot imagine, niece, how that young man, who knows nothing in the world, has made such a good impression on you. I am sure he has not a single book in his house beyond the almanac. Now, what would you do in such a house as that? Yes, what would there be to do?

Faus.I should be the mother of a family. When a woman knows how to keep her accounts and manage her household economically, there is no necessity for her to spend much time in reading or studying. My poor mother used to say—and you remember it too—that women who are bluestockings drive their husbands mad and turn their houses upside down.

Ger.Very well. But are you obliged to marry? Can you not live quietly with your uncle, and continue improving your mind more and more?

Men.A fine proposition!

Faus.No, that is not at all to my taste.

Ger.You would by degrees reject all base, material ideas——

Men.And in the meantime live on air——

Ger.And would taste the supreme joys of an intellectual life——

Men.The kitchen has been empty for three years——

Ger.Among the venerable fathers of Greek and Roman literature, and among rare manuscripts and prints——

Men.And, instead of dishes and kettles, full of old papers and dusty books——

Ger.Which are the proper possessions for all well-educated people.

Men.But there’s very little to eat.

Ger.A frugal existence keeps one healthy and strong, the passions are not inflamed, the mind is clear, the understanding is free, the——

Men.And this morning it is freer than ever, because we have had no breakfast yet.

Ger.Faustina, I hope you paid particular attention to that Dutch bookseller with whom we walked along the esplanade yesterday and the day before, and who was so much interested in you.

Faus.What do you mean?

Ger.He has a magnificent collection, and has come to Italy to increase it. As you insist on marrying, there is a splendid match for you.

Faus.It is no use; you know what my views are on that subject.

Ger.He is coming to see me to-day——

Men.Some money, sir, if you please——

Ger.And how astonished he will be to find that volume of Arabic poetry by Sathian-Mum-Gabner, which was carried off from the mosque at Mecca——

Men.But, master——

Ger.And the two valuable documents in Coptic——

Men.I beg of you——

Ger.And the three papyri from Herculaneum, and those volumes in the Basque language, and then those others I am expecting from Naples. But I must go and put that Petrarch away.


Erg.Sir, I did not expect to trouble you again——

Ger.An honor, I assure you. Make yourself at home.

Erg.I am in rather a hurry. This morning I sold you that beautiful, that superb edition of Petrarch.

Ger.Well? Do you regret the bargain?

Erg.No, but——

Ger.Ah, then you have more books to dispose of!

Men.Master, please remember——

Faus.Uncle, please consider——

Ger.Oh, hush, both of you, and go away!

Erg.I have a number of Elzevirs, Bodonianis, Barbous, Didots.

Ger.No, thank you, for the present.

Men.(to FAUSTINA).Thank the Lord!

Ger.But if you had some fine old codex——

Erg.I just came to show you a very rare Greek manuscript on Egyptian papyrus.

Ger.On Egyptian papyrus!

Erg.Yes, sir, on Egyptian papyrus.(Takes from Ms pocket a volume, which GERONZIO lays on a table and begins to examine minutely).You will also find some scholarly notes which will interest you.(Signs to FAUSTINA and MENICA that he has a letter.)

Ger.Ah, ah, very fine, very handsome! Patience, now, and I shall soon be able to tell you something about this.

Faus.(to MENICA).Did you see?

Men.(to FAUSTINA).Yes, a letter, it seems.

Ger.So your father was a learned bibliophile?

Erg.He was a great lover of books; he had over four thousand volumes.

Ger.But I have ten thousand. And are they really autograph notes?

Erg.I don’t understand.

Ger.(aside).Poor fellow!—I mean, are they handwritten?

Erg.Oh, I understand! Yes, sir, all in my father’s own handwriting! But pray observe the beauty of that papyrus; it is entirely unique.

Ger.Yes, quite unique.

Erg.So my father used to say.

Ger.Yes, there is no other specimen like it. Let us all look at it together. Come here, niece, and you, Menica, come too.

Erg.It cost my father fifty crowns.

Ger.(to the women).Don’t touch! Don’t touch! How beautiful! And in Greek characters! Fancy, niece! Fancy, Menica! Oh, how beautiful!

Faus.How magnificent!

Men.How splendid!(MENICA has meanwhile secretly got the letter from ERGILIO, and hands it to FAUSTINA, who slips aside to read it.)

Ger.But, my dear sir, fifty crowns! And in such times as these!(Aside.)I should not like him to show it to the Dutch bookseller.

Erg.I will be reasonable. My father bought it to gratify a hobby, and I am selling it from necessity. Examine the book, and we may come to terms.

Ger.What does it treat of?

Erg.What! you do not know Greek?

Ger.No, not I!

Erg.And you buy books in Greek?

Ger.I have books in Greek, in Hebrew, in Arabic, in German, in Chinese, and even in Sanskrit. You are surprised? Not every one who owns a large library can read the volumes he has bought.

Erg.My father knew Greek very well. He told me this book contained the famous dialogues between Socrates, his familiar demon, and Xantippe, the philosopher’s wife.

Ger.They must be delightful!

Erg.Yes; imagine a philosopher, a woman, and a demon, all together.

Ger.What exquisite things they must have said!

Erg.You will find in the notes that, after the philosopher’s death, the women of Athens rushed to his house to seize upon these writings, probably because they did not wish such savory comments on the state of marital bliss to be published.

Ger.And how was the papyrus saved?

Erg.Through a miracle of the gods. It was taken to Rome in the reign of Augustus, and placed in the renowned library of the Palatine Apollo.

Ger.What fine things must be there!

Erg.And my father acquired it from a bookseller in Germany.

Ger.Your father had more intellect than you, if I am not mistaken.

Erg.But less cheerfulness and happiness of disposition.

Ger.Have you not studied at all?

Erg.Music—nothing else. I play the piano, the violin, the violoncello; I sing tenor, compose little songs——

Ger.Let me consult my catalogues.(While doing so, mutters to himself.)He is in want of money, and he does not know the value of these precious articles. So much the better for me.—I do not find the title of this work in my index.

Erg.Then you don’t care to buy it?

Men.(aside).I hope he won’t.

Ger.If you could only leave it with me until to-morrow——

Erg.Not for an hour. I would rather make a sacrifice.

Ger.Well—er—about how much?

Erg.Oh, I am in a hurry! I will let you have it—yes, I will let you have it for—fifteen crowns.

Ger.If you could take ten——

Men.(aside).We are done for.

Erg.Ten is very little.

Ger.Well, here are ten crowns. You will not get a penny more out of me.

Erg.Let me see. Very well—take it, then, and think yourself lucky to get a philosopher, a woman, and a demon, all together, for ten crowns.