The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

XV. Scholars, Antiquaries and Bibliographers

§ 8. Bibliographers

Bibliography has been defined as “the systematic description and history of books, their authorship, publication, editions, etc.” It is only the handmaid of literature; it cannot be identified with literature any more than the bibliographer (as such) can be regarded as an author. But, although bibliography has only an ancillary position, it has, nevertheless, a lofty aim. The bibliographer aims at completeness; he dares not make any invidious selection; of his domain, it may be said, as of the grave, that “the small and great are there”; and works of comparatively slight importance have an undoubted right to his recognition. In fact, the only way in which he can conscientiously escape from this obligation is by labelling his list a “select bibliography.” The author, on the other hand, must always be making a selection out of all the possible words which we may use; and, against breaking this law of selection, he is sufficiently warned by the proverb: tout dire est rien dire. Sometimes, however, a bibliographer may produce a work which may rank as literature. A Dibdin may write a romance on bibliomania, and an Andrew Lang, who himself describes bibliography as “the quaint duenna of literature,” may discourse on it with all his wonted charm; but bibliographers, as such, are not authors, and it is only because of their loyal services to letters that they can claim a place in these pages.

The importance of a first-hand knowledge of books has been recognised by all bibliographers worthy of the name. It was the leading principle which guided Joseph Ames, a native of Yarmouth and a prosperous inhabitant of Wapping, in preparing the materials for his account of printing in England from 1471 to 1600. Discarding printed lists, and resorting to the title-pages of the books themselves, he also secured the direct co-operation of others in gathering information respecting the 215 English printers with whom he proposed to deal. He thus succeeded in producing his Typographical Antiquities (1749).

One of the first of English bibliographers, both in order of time and in talent, was Samuel Paterson, bookseller and auctioneer. We are told that “his talent at cataloguizing was unrivalled”; and that “perhaps we never had a bookseller who knew so much of the contents of books generally.” We also learn that his catalogues were masterly, and, some of them, perfect models of their kind. He was on terms of intimacy with his older contemporary, Dr. Johnson, who has himself a fair claim to be regarded as a bibliographer. He took part in cataloguing the Harleian library in 1742. In the preface to this work he observes that “by means of Catalogues only can it be known, what has been written on every part of Learning.” “The philosopher’s curiosity,” he adds elsewhere, “may be influenced by a catalogue of the works of Boyle or of Bacon, as Themistocles was kept awake by the trophies of Miltiades.” Johnson, as he says of Pope, “certainly was, in his early life, a man of great literary curiosity”; and he understood the whims and foibles of the bibliophile and collector. “In the purchase of old books,” he remarks, “let me recommend to you to inquire with great caution whether they are perfect.” He approved of the famous collection of editions of Horace by James Douglas, whose catalogue was ultimately published in 1739; and he adds: “Every man should try to collect one book in that manner, and present it to a public library.”

William Beloe, a pupil of Samuel Parr, and a graduate of Corpus Christi college, Cambridge, produced, in 1806–12, six volumes entitled Anecdotes of Literature and Scarce Books, in which he had the advantage of having a large number of rare works placed at his service by many eminent owners of libraries. Beloe’s Sexagenarian, published in two volumes after his death, contains anecdotes of the author’s literary contemporaries; but the notices of Porson are known to be inaccurate. Bibliographia Poetica, a catalogue of English poets of the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries, with a short account of their works, was published by Joseph Ritson in 1802. It was severely handled by Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges in his Censura Literaria. In allusion to Ritson’s abusive, yet often just, Observations on Warton’s History of English Poetry, he adds that, “above all men, the late Laureat, whom this pitiable critic has loaded with the coarsest epithets, has taught us what use to make of dark and forgotten materials.” Ritson’s Select Collection of English Songs (1783 and 1813) won the praise of Sir Walter Scott, who, however, describes his Collection of all the Songs, etc. on Robin Hood (1795, etc.), as a notable illustration of the excellences and defects of his system. He was a laborious and accurate investigator, but there was an almost morbid bitterness in his criticisms of other men’s labours. His place in the literary world is thus summed up in The Pursuits of Literature:

  • In Theron’s form, mark Ritson next contend;
  • Fierce, meagre, pale, no commentator’s friend.
  • Scott, in his song One Volume More, calls him “as bitter as gall, and as sharp as a razor.” His critical powers were, however, well applied in his detection and exposure of the Ireland forgeries in 1795.

    Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges, “a name to all the book-tribe dear,” produced, in the ten volumes of his Censura Literaria, of 1805–9 and 1815, “titles, abstracts, and opinions of OLD ENGLISH BOOKS.” He also published The British Bibliographer (1810–14), and Restituta; or Titles, Extracts, and Characters of OLD BOOKS in English Literature Revived (1814–16). He printed a large number of rare Elizabethan texts at the private press of his son, Lee priory, near Canterbury.

    A literary interest of a wide range is represented by the discursive works of Isaac D’Israeli, entitled Curiosities and Amenities of Literature, and Calamities and Quarrels of Authors. Curiosities of Literature begins with essays on libraries and on bibliomania, and ends with the “Life and Habits of a Literary Antiquary”; it also includes a passage, to our present purpose, in the chapter on the “Bibliognoste”:

  • Many secrets we discover in bibliography.… Bibliography will show what has been done, and suggest to our invention what is wanted. Many have often protracted their journey in a road which has already been worn out by the wheels which had traversed it: bibliography unrolls the whole map of the country we propose travelling over—the post-roads and the by-paths.
  • Of Calamities of Authors it was said by Southey:

  • The matter is as amusing as any lover of light reading can desire, and of such a desultory kind that a comment might easily be made as extensive as the text.
  • The second series of Curiosities was published in 1823; and, ten years later, Allan Cunningham said of these works in general that, “while they shed abundance of light on the character and condition of literary men, and show us the state of genius in this land, they have all the attractions, for general readers, of the best romances.”

    Among collectors of books a prominent place must be assigned to the duke of Roxburghe, whose books were ultimately sold in 10, 120 lots on 18 May, 1812, and on forty-five subsequent days. The excitement then produced by the competition between Lord Spencer and the future duke of Marlborough for the Valdarfer Boccaccio, printed at Venice in 1471, led to the formation of the Roxburghe club, with Lord Spencer as president and Dibdin as secretary. Much literary work of high value was accomplished by this club, when it had outgrown the pedantries in which it had been reared, and had come under the fostering care of the scholarly Beriah Botfield, and had secured the services of men like Sir Frederic Madden, and Thomas Wright. In 1819 the duke of Marlborough’s books were sold and the Boccaccio was now secured by Lord Spencer (who died in 1832), and thus passed, with the rest of the Althorp collection, into the hands of Mrs. Rylands in 1892, and into the John Rylands library at Manchester, founded by her in 1899.

    150,000 volumes were collected by Richard Heber, the half-brother of bishop Reginald Heber, at a total expense of more than £100,000, and were sold in 1834–7 for not much more than half that sum. From his very childhood he was an eager book-collector; and, in his maturer years, as library after library was sold, he added to his stores the choicest treasures from the shelves of great collectors such as Richard Farmer, George Steevens, the duke of Roxburghe, Benjamin Heath, Malone and Sir Mark Masterman Sykes. On hearing that a curious book was for sale, he would himself enter a mail-coach and travel three, four, or five hundred miles to obtain it, fearful to entrust his commission to a letter. He had a library at Hodnet, a second in Pimlico, a third in Westminster, besides those at Oxford, Paris, Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent and other places in the Low Countries, and in Germany. Heber knew his books, and was an expert bibliographer. He was the “Atticus” of Dibdin’s Bibliomania, and the friend of Scott, who has commemorated him in the introduction to the sixth canto of Marmion. He was also a generous lender of rare volumes to needy scholars and black-letter editors.

    In 1809 John Ferriar, of Manchester, who, in his Illustrations of Sterne, “has traced our author through the hidden sources whence he borrowed most of his striking and peculiar expressions,” addressed to Richard Heber a poetical epistle entitled Bibliomania, large portions of which are quoted by Dibdin, who borrowed the name as the title of his own amusing and instructive romance. Here is one of these quotations:

  • At ev’ry auction, bent on fresh supplies,
  • He cons his catalogue with anxious eyes:
  • Where’er the slim Italics mark the page,
  • Curious and rare his ardent mind engage.(l. 29)
  • It was in 1802 that Thomas Frognall Dibdin published the first edition of his Introduction to the Greek and Latin Classics. This was followed, in 1809, by the first issue of his Bibliomania, a small octavo volume of 87 pages, an enlarged edition of which appeared in 1811, with A Bibliographical Romance added to the former title, while a third edition, that of 1842, includes a key to the several characters in the story. On receiving a copy of the second edition, Isaac D’Israeli wrote to the author: “I have not yet recovered from the delightful delirium into which your Bibliomania has completely thrown me.” After fully describing the various symptoms of the form of madness known as bibliomania, the author suggests several cures for the disease, the fifth and last being the study of bibliography.

    The first edition of Dibdin’s Bibliomania was followed by the four volumes of his enlarged edition (1810–19) of Ames’s Typographical Antiquities, already mentioned. Dibdin was librarian to Lord Spencer, at Althorp, and, in that capacity, prepared Bibliotheca Spenceriana. The four volumes of this catalogue, published in 1814, were soon followed by a supplement in 1815, by the two volumes entitled Aedes Althorpianae, being a description of the house and its artistic treasures (1822), and, finally, by a seventh volume, containing the catalogue of the Cassano library. The author, in reviewing the result of his endeavours, has the satisfaction of adding:

  • I have done everything in my power to establish, on a firm foundation, the celebrity of a library of which the remembrance can only perish with every other record of individual fame.
  • Of the three royal octavo volumes entitled The Bibliographical Decameron, or Ten Days’ Pleasant Discourse upon illuminated Manuscripts, and subjects connected with Early Engraving, Topography, and Bibliography (1817), Isaac D’Israeli wrote: “The volumes not only exceed my expectation, but even my imagination.” Overtures were made for the re-publication of this beautifully illustrated work in France; but they were too late. The costly woodcuts, which had been executed for its production, had already been purposely destroyed by Dibdin and his friends, who had used them to feed the fire on a convivial occasion. In 1821 Dibdin published his Bibliographical, Antiquarian, and Picturesque Tour in France and Germany. Scott welcomed this “splendid work” as “one of the most handsome which ever came from the British Press.” Dibdin’s Library Companion (1824) has been severely criticised by some, but has been more justly regarded by others as a work of considerable value. It was followed in 1827 by the fourth edition of his Introduction to the Greek and Latin Classics, and by an anonymous pamphlet entitled Bibliophobia: “Remarks on the present languid and depressed state of Literature and the Book Trade” (1831), an entertaining, but, in some respects, melancholy work. His Reminiscences of a Literary Life, “a storehouse of biographical and bibliographical anecdote,” appeared in 1836, succeeded in 1838 by his Bibliographical, Antiquarian, and Picturesque Tour in the Northern Counties of England, a handsome work, but inferior to that on his tour in France and Germany. Dibdin must have been well content with the tribute paid him by Scott for the charm with which he had invested the dry details of bibliography:

  • You have contrived to strew flowers over a path which, in other hands, would have proved a very dull one; and all Bibliomanes must remember you long, as he (sic) who first united their antiquarian details with good-humoured raillery and cheerfulness.
  • The library of the duke of Sussex was catalogued in two splendid volumes (1827–39) by Thomas Joseph Pettigrew, who, apart from his publications on the history of medicine, produced in 1849 a Life of Lord Nelson, including upwards of six hundred letters and documents, then published for the first time. The keeper of the Lambeth manuscripts from 1837 to 1848 was Samuel Roffey Maitland, who published, in 1843, a list of some of the early printed books in that library, and, in 1845, and index of the English books printed before 1600. His historical productions are noticed elsewhere.

    Memoirs of Libraries, together with a practical hand-book of library economy, was published in 1859 by Edward Edwards, who subsequently wrote Lives of the Founders of the British Museum (1870). The plan of the great reading-room of that Museum was first formed by Antonio (afterwards Sir Anthony) Panizzi, keeper of the printed books from 1837, and chief librarian from 1856 to 1866. In addition to many other public services, it was owing to Panizzi’s personal influence that, in 1846, the bequest of the Grenville library was obtained for the Museum.

    Two bibliographical works of the highest importance were produced by a London bookseller, William Thomas Lowndes: (1) the four volumes of The Bibliographer’s Manual of English Literature, “containing an account of rare, curious, and useful books relating to Great Britain and Ireland, from the invention of printing, with bibliographical and critical notices, etc.,” the first systematic work of the kind published in England (1834); and (2) The British Librarian, or “book-collector’s guide to the formation of a library” (parts I–II, 1839). The Bibliographer’s Manual was enlarged, with revisions and corrections, and with interesting prefatory notes, in 1857–8, etc., by Henry George Bohn, whose own magnum opus was the Guinea Catalogue of old books (1841), filling nearly 2000 pages and describing 300,000 volumes. Among Bohn’s many other undertakings was The Antiquarian Library of thirty-five volumes, including (apart from historical works of earlier date) George Ellis’s Specimens of Early English Metrical Romances, Thomas Keightley’s Fairy Mythology, Mallet’s Northern Antiquities and Benjamin Thorpe’s Yule-tide Stories. Bohn’s Guinea Catalogue, vast as it was, was surpassed in size, though not in quality or character, by the seven volumes of Bernard Quaritch’s General Catalogue of Old Books and MSS. (1887–9; index, 1892).

    A bibliographical and critical account of the rarest books in the English language was supplied in the Notes on rare English Books, published in 1865 by John Payne Collier, who also printed Extracts from the Registers of the Stationers’ Company for 1555–70, and edited The Roxburghe Ballads, as well as several works for the Camden, Percy and Shakespeare societies, and the two volumes entitled Shakespeare’s Library (1843). In 1849 he published a large number of emendations of the text of Shakespeare from the “Perkins folio,” which he presented to the duke of Devonshire, after whose death it was deposited in the British Museum in 1859, with the result that the marginal corrections were proved to be modern fabrications. A catalogue of the MSS. of the Chetham library, in Manchester, was produced in 1841–2 by James Orchard Halliwell(-Phillipps), who edited many works for the Camden, Percy and Shakespeare societies, and produced a magnificent edition of Shakespeare in twenty folio volumes, and facsimiles of the Shakespeare quartos. He also wrote several important works on the life of the poet, besides arranging and describing the archives of Stratford-on-Avon, and compiling A Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, and A Dictionary of Old English Plays.

    Richard Copley Christie bequeathed to the university of Manchester a library rich in the literature of the revival of learning. Walter Arthur Copinger, long Christie’s colleague at Manchester and, like him, a barrister in practice there, founded, in 1892, the London Bibliographical society, printed in the same year his Incunabula Biblica and published in 1895–8, his important supplement to Hain’s Repertorium Bibliographicum, in which 6832 works printed in the fifteenth century were added to the 16,311 registered by Hain. Three thousand incunabula (or early printed books) in the Bodleian were catalogued in 1891–3 by Robert Proctor, who included notes upon these in his Index of Early Printed Books in the British Museum (1898). He also prepared for the Bibliographical society in 1900 an illustrated monograph entitled The Printing of Greek in the Fifteenth Century. This able bibliographer met with a mysterious end in the Tyrol in 1903, and his Bibliographical Essays, which everywhere reveal the wide knowledge of an expert, were collected two years later. A useful Register of National Bibliography was produced in two volumes in 1905 by William Prideaux Courtney.

    A remarkable knowledge of bibliography was possessed by Henry Bradshaw, librarian of the Cambridge university library from 1867 to 1886. His “Memoranda,” which are of special interest as indicating the processes by which advances in knowledge are made, are included in the Collected Papers published in 1889. A society for publishing rare liturgical tracts was founded in his memory in the following year. The book rarities in the university of Cambridge were reviewed with enthusiasm in 1829 by Charles Henry Hartshorne, who gives a complete list of Capell’s Shakespeariana in the library of Trinity college. The fifteenth century printed books, and the English books printed before 1601, in Trinity college library, at Cambridge, were catalogued, in 1876 and 1885, by the librarian, Robert Sinker, who also wrote a popular monograph on the library. The early English printed books in the university library (1475 to 1640), and the MSS. in the college libraries, have likewise been catalogued.

    Among the bibliographers specially associated with Scotland, Sir Walter Scott was undoubtedly a sound bibliographer. It was on a plan of his own that his library was catalogued by his secretary; and (as already observed) he was president of the Bannatyne club from its foundation to the day of his death. But the first great bibliographer of Scotland was Robert Watt, of Glasgow, who published A Catalogue of Medical Books during his lifetime (in 1812), and left behind him the materials for his great Bibliotheca Britannica, or a general Index to British and Foreign Literature, published in four volumes at Edinburgh in 1824, the first two containing the alphabetical list of authors (with their works), and the third and fourth an alphabetical classification of subjects.

  • “Dr. Watt,” writes Isaac D’Israeli, “may serve as a mortifying example of the length of labour and the brevity of life. To this gigantic work the patient zeal of the writer had devoted twenty years; he had just arrived at the point of publication when death folded down his last page; the son who, during the last four years, had toiled under the direction of his father, was chosen to occupy his place. The work was in the progress of publication, when the son also died; and strangers now reap the fruits of their combined labours.”
  • The work has been justly described as “a remarkable performance, despite of all its imperfections, and one in which Watt’s name will live for centuries to come.”

    A catalogue of the law books in the Advocates’ library, Edinburgh, was produced in 1831 by David Irving, author of Memoirs of … George Buchanan and Lives of Scotish Poets, and of The History of Scotish Poetry. The bibliographical erudition of Sir William Hamilton, professor of logic and metaphysics in Edinburgh, is clearly shown in the notes to his published works, such as Discussions on Philosophy and Literature of 1852–3, and his posthumous Lectures on Logic and Metaphysics. Augustus de Morgan held that Hamilton was not a bibliographer: “he knew nothing but the insides of books”; but he suggested that a list of the books quoted in Hamilton’s lectures on logic would form a good bibliography of the subject. The American editor of his Philosophy regarded “his erudition, both in its extent and in its exactness,” as “perfectly provoking”; and a fellow-countryman, with all the instincts of a bibliographer, has more aptly said of him:

  • Summing up the thousands upon thousands of volumes upon all matters of human study and in many languages, which he has passed through his hands, you think he has merely dipped into them or skimmed them, or in some other shape put them to superficial use. You are wrong; he has found his way at once to the very heart of the living matter of each one; between it and him there are henceforth no secrets.
  • The Book-Hunter, a discursive volume describing the delights of book-collecting, was written by John Hill Burton, the publication of whose History of Scotland led to his appointment as historiographer royal for that country. A Scotsman who lived long in England, Andrew Lang, wrote a delightful volume, The Library (1881), besides discoursing on “Elzevirs” and on “Bibliomania in France” in his Books and Bookmen (1887).

    A Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous Literature of Great Britain was published in 1882–8 by Samuel Halkett, keeper of the Advocates’ library (of which he planned the catalogue), and John Laing, librarian of the New college, Edinburgh, author of the excellent catalogue of its library. The religious history of the sixteenth century was the special province of Thomas Graves Law, keeper of the Signet library, Edinburgh, from 1876 to 1904, whose Collected Essays appeared in the latter year. Finally, a new catalogue of the Glasgow university library (with an excellent subject-index) has been prepared by William Purdie Dickson, honorary curator of the library, and papers on the bibliography of chemistry and technology have been written by John Ferguson, of Glasgow, author of Bibliotheca Chemica (1906), Witchcraft Literature of Scotland, and Some Aspects of Bibliography with a list of special bibliographies in the appendix (1907).