My Friend's Library

THAT exquisite writer, Horæ Subsecivre Brown, quotes, (without comment,) as a motto to one of his volumes, an anecdote from Pierce Egan, which I reproduce here: —

“ A lady, resident in Devonshire, going into one of her parlors, discovered a young ass, who had found its way into the room, and carefully closed the door upon himself. He had evidently not been long in this situation before he had nibbled a part of Cicero’s Orations, and eaten nearly all the index of a folio edition of Seneca in Latin, a large part of a volume of La Bruyère’s ‘Maxims’ in French, and several pages of ‘ Cecilia.’ He had done no other mischief whatever.”

Spare your wit, Sir, or Madam ! Why should you laugh, and apply the sting in Mr. Egan’s story to the case of “ Yours Truly ” ?

I scarcely know a greater pleasure than to be allowed for a whole day to spend the hours unmolested in my friend’s library. So much privilege abounds there, I call it Urbanity Hall. It is a plain, modestly appointed apartment, overlooking a broad sheet of water; and I can see, from where I like to sit and read, the sail-boats go tilting by, and glancing across the bay. Sometimes, when a rainy day sets in, I run down to my friend’s house, and ask leave to browse about the library, — not so much for the sake of reading, as for the intense enjoyment I have in turning over the books that have a personal history as it were. Many of them once belonged to authors whose libraries have been dispersed. My friend has enriched her editions with autographic notes of those fine spirits who wrote the books which illumine her shelves, so that one is constantly coming upon some fresh treasure in the way of a literary curiosity. I am apt to discover something new every time I take down a folio or a miniature volume. As I ramble on from shelf to shelf,

“ Straight mine eye hath caught new pleasures,”

and the hours often slip by into the afternoon, and glide noiselessly into twilight, before dinner-time is remembered.

Drifting about only a few days ago, I came by accident upon a magic quarto, shabby enough in its exterior, with one of the covers hanging by the eyelids, and otherwise sadly battered, to the great disfigurement of its external aspect. I did not remember even to have seen it in the library before, (it turned out to be a new comer,) and was about to pass it by with an unkind thought as to its pauper condition, when it occurred to me, as the lettering was obliterated from the back, I might as well open to the title-page and learn the name at least of the tattered stranger. And I was amply rewarded for the attention. It turned out to be “ The Novels and Tales of the Renowned John Boccacio, The first Refiner of Italian Prose : containing A Hundred Curious Novels, by Seven Honorable Ladies and Three Noble Gentlemen, Framed in Ten Days.” It was printed in London in 1684, “for Awnsham Churchill, at the Black Swan at Amen Corner.” But what makes this old yellow-leaved book a treasure-volume for all time is the inscription on the first fly-leaf, in the handwriting of a man of genius, who, many years ago, wrote thus on the blank page_


“ Her Boccacio (alter et idem) come back to her after many years’ absence, for her good-nature in giving it away in a foreign country to a traveller whose want of books was still worse than her own.

“ From her affectionate husband,


“ August 23,1839 — Chelsea, England.”

This record tells a most interesting story, and reveals to us an episode in the life of the poet, well worth the knowing. I hope accident will ever cancel this old leather-bound veteran from the world’s bibliographic treasures. Spare it, Fire, Water, and Worms! for it does the heart good to handle such a quarto.

One does not need to look far among the shelves in my friend’s library to find companion-gems of this antiquated tome. Among so many of

“ The assembled souls of all that men held wise,”

there is no solitude of the mind. I reach out my hand at random, and, lo ! the first edition of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” ! It is a little brown volume, “ Printed by S. Simmons, and to be sold by S. Thomson at the Bishop’s-Head in Duck Lane, by H. Mortlack at the White Hart in Westminster Hall, M. Walker under St. Dunstan’s Church in Fleet Street, and R. Boulten at the Turk’s Head in Bishopsgate Street, 1668.” Foolish old Simmons deemed it necessary to insert over his own name the following notice, which heads the Argument to the Poem : —


“ Courteous Reader, There was no Argument at first intended to the Book, but for the satisfaction of many that have desired it, I have procured it, and withall a reason of that which stumbled many others, why the Poem Rimes not.”

The “ Argument,” which Milton omitted in subsequent editions, is very curious throughout; and the reason which the author gives, at the request of Mr. Publisher Simmons, why the poem “ Rimes not,” is quaint and well worth transcribing an extract here, as it does not always appear in more modern editions. Mr. Simmons’s Poet is made to say, —

“ The Measure is English Heroic Verse without Rime, as that of Homers in Greek, and of Virgil in Latin; Rime being no necessary Adjunct or true Ornament of Poem or good Verse, in longer Works especially, but the Invention of a barbarous Age, to set off wretched matter and lame Meeter; grac’t indeed since by the use of some famous modern Poets, carried away by Custom, but much to thir own vexation, hindrance, and constraint to express many things otherwise, and for the most part worse then else they would have exprest them.”

We give the orthography precisely as Milton gave it in this his first edition.

There is a Table of Errata prefixed to this old copy, in which the reader is told,

“ for hundreds read hunderds.
“ for we read wee.”

Master Simmons’s proof-reader was no adept in his art, if one may judge from the countless errors which he allowed to creep into this immortal poem when it first appeared in print. One can imagine the identical copy now before us being handed over the counter in Duck Lane to some eager scholar on the look-out for something new, and handed back again to Mr. Thomson as too dull a looking poem for his perusal. Mr. Edmund Waller entertained that idea of it, at any rate.

One of the sturdiest little books in my friend’s library is a thick-set, stumpy old copy of Richard Baxter’s “ Holy Commonwealth,” written in 1659, and, as the title-page informs us, “ at the invitation of James Harrington Esquire,”— as one would take a glass of Canary, — by invitation ! There is a preface addressed “ To all those in the Army or elsewhere, that have caused our many and great Eclipses since 1646.” The worms have made dagger-holes through and through the “inspired leaves” of this fat little volume, till much strong thinking is now very perforated printing. On the flyleaf is written, in a rough, straggling hand,


“ Rydal Mount.”

The poet seems to have read the old book pretty closely, for there are evident marks of his liking throughout its pages.

Connected with the Bard of the Lakes is another work in my friend’s library, which I always handle with a tender interest. It is a copy of Wordsworth’s Poetical Works, printed in 1815, with all the alterations afterwards made in the pieces copied in by the poet from the edition published in 1827. Some of the changes are marked improvements, and nearly all make the meaning clearer. Now and then a prosaic phrase gives place to a more poetical expression. The wellknown lines,

“ Of Him who walked in glory and in joy,
Following his plough along the mountainside,”

read at first,

Behind his plough upon the mountain-side.”

In a well-preserved quarto copy of “ Rasselas,” with illustrations by Smirke, which, my friend picked up in London a few years ago, I found the other day an unpublished autograph letter from Dr. Johnson, so characteristic of the great man that it is worth transcribing. It is addressed

To the Reverend Mr. Compton.

To he sent to Mrs. Williams.”

And it is thus worded : —

“ SIR,

“ Your business, I suppose, is in a way of as easy progress as such business ever has. It is seldom that event keeps pace with expectation.

“ The scheme of your book I cannot say that I fully comprehend. I would not have you ask less than an hundred guineas, for it seems a large octavo.

“ Go to Mr. Davis, in Russell Street, show him this letter, and show him the book if he desires to see it. He will tell you what hopes you may form, and to what Bookseller you should apply.

“If you succeed in selling your book, you may do better than by dedicating it to me. You may perhaps obtain permission to dedicate it to the Bishop of London, or to Dr. Vyse, and make way by your book to more advantage than I can procure you.

“Please to tell Mrs. ‘Williams that I grow better, and that I wish to know how she goes on. You, Sir, may write for her to,

“ Sir,

“ Your most humble Servant,


Oct0. 21,1782.”

Dear kind-hearted old bear ! On turning to Boswell’s Life of his Ursine Majesty, we learn who Mr. Compton was. When the Doctor visited France in 1775, the Benedictine Monks in Paris entertained him in the most friendly way. One of them, the Rev. James Compton, who had left England at the early age of six to reside on the Continent, questioned him pretty closely about the Protestant faith, and proposed, if at some future time he should go to England to consider the subject more deeply, to call at Bolt Court. In the summer of 1782 he paid the Doctor a visit, and informed him of his desire to be admitted into the Church of England. Johnson managed the matter satisfactorily for him, and he was received into communion in St. James’s Parish Church. Till the end of January, 1783, he lived entirely at the Doctor’s expense, his own means being very scanty. Through Johnson’s kindness he was nominated Chaplain at the French Chapel of St. James’s, and in 1802 we hear of him as being quite in favor with the excellent Bishop Porteus and several other distinguished Londoners. Thus, by the friendly hand of the hard-working, earnest old lexicographer, Mr. Compton was led from deep poverty up to a secure competency, and a place among the influential dignitaries of London society. Poor enough himself, Johnson never shrank back, when there was an honest person in distress to be helped on in the battle of life. God’s blessing on his memory for all his sympathy with struggling humanity !

My friend has an ardent affection for Walter Scott and Charles Lamb. I find the first edition of “Marmion,” printed in 1808, “by J. Ballantyne & Co, for Archibald Constable and Company, Edinburgh,” most carefully bound in savory Russia, standing in a pleasant corner of the room. Being in quarto, the type is regal. Of course the copy is enriched with a letter in the handwriting of Sir Walter. It is addressed to a personal friend, and is dated April 17,1825. The closing passage in it is of especial interest.

“ I have seen Sheridan’s last letter imploring Rogers to come to his assistance. It stated that he was dying, and concluded abruptly with these words ‘ they are throwing the things out of window.’ The memorialist certainly took pennyworths out of his friend’s character. — I sate three hours for my picture to Sir Thomas Lawrence during which the whole conversation was filled up by Rogers with stories of Sheridan, for the least of which if true he deserved the gallows.

“Ever Yours,


In the April of 1802 Scott was living in a pretty cottage at Lasswade; and while there he sent off the following letter, which I find attached with a wafer to my friend’s copy of the Abbotsford edition of his works, and written in a much plainer hand than he afterwards fell into. The address is torn off.

“ SIR,

“ I esteem myself honored by the polite reception which you have given to the Border Minstrelsy and am particularly flattered that so very good a judge of poetical Antiquities finds any reason to be pleased with the work. — There is no portrait of the Flower of Yarrow in existence, nor do I think it very probable that any was ever taken. Much family anecdote concerning her has been preserved among her descendants of whom I have the honor to be one. The epithet of 'Flower of Yarrow’ was in later times bestowed upon one of her immediate posterity, Miss Mary Lillias Scott, daughter of John Scott Esq. of Harden, and celebrated for her beauty in the pastoral song of Tweedside, — I mean that set of modern words which begins ‘What beauty does Flora disclose.’ This lady I myself remember very well, and I mention her to you least you should receive any inaccurate information owing to her being called like her predecessor the ‘Flower of Yarrow.’ There was a portrait of this latter lady in the collection at Hamilton which the present Duke transferred through my hands to Lady Diana Scott relict of the late Walter Scott Esq. of Harden, which picture was vulgarly but inaccurately supposed to have been a resemblance of the original Mary Scott, daughter of Philip Scott of Dryhope, and married to Auld Wat of Harden in the middle of the l6th century.

“I shall be particularly happy if upon any future occasion I can in the slightest degree contribute to advance your valuable and patriotic labours, and I remain, Sir, “ Your very faithful

“ Your very faithful

“ and obt Servant


This letter is worthy to he printed, and the readers of the “ Atlantic Monthly ” now see it for the first time, I believe, set in type.

Old Bernard Lintott, at the CrossKeys in Fleet Street, brought out in 1714 “The Rape of the Lock, an Heroi-Comical Poem, in Five Cantos, written by Mr. Pope.” He printed certain words in the title-page in red, and other certain words in black ink. His own name and Mr. Pope’s he chose to exhibit in sanguinary tint. A copy of this edition, very much thumbed and wanting half a dozen leaves, fell into the hands of Charles Lamb more than a hundred years after it was published. Charles bore it home, and set to work to supply, in his small neat hand, from another edition, what was missing from the text in his stall-bought copy. As be paid only sixpence for his prize, he could well afford the time it took him to write in on blank leaves, which he inserted, the lines from

“ Thus far both armies to Belinda yield,”

onward to the couplet,

“And thrice they twitch’d the Diamond in her Ear,
“Thrice she look’d back, and thrice the Foe drew near.”

Besides this autographic addition, enhancing forever the value of this old copy of Pope’s immortal poem, I find the following little note, in Lamb’s clerkly chirography, addressed to

“ Mr. Wainright, on Thursday.


“ The Wits (as Clare calls us) assemble at my cell {20 Russell Street, Cov. Gar.) this evening at before 7. Cold meat at 9. Puns at — a little after. Mr. Cary wants to see you, to scold you. I hope you will not fail.

“ Yours &c. &c. &e.

“ C. LAMB.”

There are two books in my friend's library which once Belonged to the author of the “Elegy in a Country Churchyard.” One of them is “ A Voyage to and from the Island of Borneo, in the East Indies : printed for T. Warner at the Black Boy, and F. Batley at the Dove, in 1718.” It has the name of T. Gray, written by himself, in the middle of the title-page, as was his custom always. Before Gray owned this book, it belonged to Mr. Antrobus, his uncle, who wrote many original notes in it. The volume has also this manuscript memorandum on one of the fly-leaves, signed by a wellknown naturalist, now living in England : —

August 28, 1851.

“ This book has Gray’s autograph on the title page, written in his usual neat hand. It has twice been my fate to witness the sale of Gray’s most interesting collection of manuscripts and books, and at the last sale I purchased this volume. I present it to—as a little token of affectionate regard by her old friend, now in his 85th year.”

Who will not be willing to admit the great good-luck of my friend in having such a donor for an acquaintance ?

But one of the chief treasures in the library of which I write is Gray’s copy of Milton’s “ Poems upon several occasions. Both English and Latin. Printed at the Blew Anchor next Mitre Court over against Fetter Lane in Fleet Street.” When a boy at school, Gray owned and read this charming old volume, and he has printed his name, school-boy fashion, all over the title-page. Wherever there is a vacant space big enough to hold Thomas Gray, there it stands in faded ink, still fading as time rolls on. The Latin poems seem to have been most carefully conned by the youthful Etonian, and we know how much he esteemed them in after-life.

Scholarly Robert Southey once owned a book that now towers aloft in my friend’s library. It is a princely copy of Ben Jonson, the Illustrious. Southey lent it, when he possessed the magnifico, to Coleridge, who has begemmed it all over with his fine pencilling. As Ben once handled the trowel, and did other honorable work as a bricklayer, Coleridge discourses with much golden gossip about the craft to which the great dramatist once belonged. The editor of this magazine would hardly thank me, if I filled ten of his pages with extracts from the rambling dissertations in S. T. C.’s handwriting which I find in this rare folio, but I could easily pick out that amount of readable matter from the margins. One manuscript anecdote, however, I must transcribe from the last leaf. I think Coleridge got the story from “ The Seer.”

“ An Irish laborer laid a wager with another hod bearer that the latter could not carry him up the ladder to the top of a house in his hod, without letting him fall. The bet is accepted, and up they go. There is peril at every step. At the top of the ladder there is life and the loss of the wager, — death and success below ! The highest point is reached in safety; the wagerer looks humbled and disappointed. ‘ Well,’ said he, ‘ you have won ; there is no doubt of that; worse luck to you another time; but at the third story I HAD HOPES.”’

In a quaint old edition of “ The Spectator,” which seems to have been through many sieges, and must have come to grief very early in its existence, if one may judge anything from the various names which are scrawled upon it in different years, reaching back almost to the date of its publication, I find this note in the handwriting of Addison, sticking fast on the reverse side of his portrait. It is addressed to Ambrose Philips, and there is no doubt that he went where he was bidden, and found the illustrious Joseph all ready to receive him at a well-furnished table.

“Tuesday Night.

“ SIR,

“ If you are at leisure for an hour, your company will be a great obligation to

“ Yr. most humble sevt.


“ Fountain Tavern.”

That night at the “Fountain,” perchance, they discussed that war of words which might then have been raging between the author of the “ Pastorals ” and Pope, moistening their clay with a frequency to which they were both somewhat notoriously inclined.

My friend rides hard her hobby for choice editions, and she hunts with a will whenever a good old copy of a well-beloved author is up for pursuit. She is not a fop in binding, but she must have appropriate dresses for her favorites. She knows what

“Adds a precious seeing to the eye”

as well as Hayday himself, and never lets her folios shiver when they ought to be warm. Moreover, she reads her books, and, like the scholar in Chaucer, would rather have

“ At her beddès head
A twenty bokes, clothed in black and red,
Of Aristotle and his philosophy,
Than robès rich, or fiddle, or psaltrie.”

I found her not long ago deep in a volume of “Mr. Welsted’s Poems”; and as that author is not particularly lively or inviting to a modern reader, I begged to know why he was thus honored. “ I was trying,” said she, “to learn, if possible, why Dicky Steele should have made his daughter a birth-day gift of these poems. This copy I found on a stall in Fleet Street many years ago, and it has in Sir Richard’s handwriting this inscription on one of the fly-leaves: —


Giv’n by Her Father


March 20th. 1723.

Running my eye over the pieces, I find a poem in praise of ̀ Apple-Pye,’ and one of the passages in it is marked, as If to call the attention of young Eliza to something worthy her notice. These are the lines the young lady is charged to remember: —

'Dear Nelly, learn with Care the Pastry-Art,
And mind the easy Precepts I impart:
Draw out your Dough elaborately thin,
And cease not to fatigue your Rolling-Pin:
Of Eggs and Butter see you mix enough;
For then the Paste will swell into a Puff,
Which will in crumpling Sounds your Praise report,
And eat, as Housewives speak, exceeding short.’ ”

Who was Abou Ben Adhem ? Was his existence merely in the poet’s brain, or did he walk this planet somewhere,— and when ? In a copy of the “ Bibliothèque Orientale,” which once belonged to the author of that exquisite little gem of poesy beginning with a wish that Abou’s tribe might increase, I find (the leaf is lovingly turned down and otherwise noted) the following account of the forever famous dreamer.

“ Adhem was the name of a Doctor celebrated for Mussulman traditions. He was the contemporary of Aamarsch, another relater of traditions of the first class. Adhem had a son noted for his doctrine and his piety. The Mussulmans place him among the number of their Saints who have done miracles. He was named Abou-Ishak-Ben-Adhem. It is said he was distinguished for his piety from his earliest youth, and that he joined the Sofis, or the Religious sect in Mecca, under the direction of Fodhail. He went from there to Mamas, where he died in the year 166 of the Hegira. He undertook, it is said, to make a pilgrimage from Mecca, and to pass through the desert alone and without provisions, making a thousand genuflexions for every mile of the way. It is added that he was twelve years in making this journey, during which he was often tempted and alarmed by Demons. The Khalife Haroun Raschid, making the same pilgrimage, met him upon the way and inquired after his welfare ; the Sofi answered him with an Arabian quatrain, of which this is the meaning : —

“‘We mend the rags of this worldly robe with the pieces of the robe of Religion, which we tear apart for this end;

“ ‘ And we do our work so thoroughly that nothing remains of the latter,

“ ‘ And the garment we mend escapes out of our hands.

“ ‘ Happy is the servant who has chosen God for his master, and who employs his present good only to acquire those which he awaits.’

“ It is related also of Abou, that he saw in a dream an Angel who wrote, and that having demanded what he was doing, the Angel answered, ‘ I write the names of those who love God sincerely, those who perform Malek-Ben-Dinàr, Thaber-all-Bernàni, Aioud-al-Sakhtiàni, etc.’ Then said he to the Angel, ‘ Am I not placed among these?’ ‘No,’ replied the Angel. ‘ Ah, well,’ said he, ‘write me, then, I pray you, for love of these, as the friend of all who love the Lord.’ It is added, that the same Angel revealed to him soon after that he had received an order from God to place him at the head of all the rest. This is the same Abon who said that he preferred Hell with the will of God to Paradise without it; or, as another writer relates it: ‘ I love Hell, if I am doing the will of God, better than the enjoyments of Paradise and disobedience.’ ”

With books printed by "B. Franklin, Philadelphia,” my friend’s library is richly stored. One of them is “ The Charter of Privileges, granted by William Penn Esq: to the Inhabitants of Pennsylvania and Territories.” " PRINTED AND SOLD BY B. FRANKLIN ” looks odd enough on the dingy title-page of this old volume, and the contents are full of interest. Rough days were those when "Jehu Curtis” was “Speaker of the House,” and put his name to such documents as this : —

“And Be it Further Enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any Person shall wilfully or premeditately be guilty of Blasphemy, and shall thereof be legally convicted, the Person so offending shall, for every such Offence, be set in the Pillory for the space of Two Hours, and be branded on his or her Foreshead with the letter B, and be publickly whipt, on his or her bare Back, with Thirty nine Lashes well laid on”

But I am rambling on too far and too fast for to-day. Here is one more book, however, that I must say a word about, as it lies open on my knee, the gift of PUIR ROBBIE BURNS to a female friend,

— his own poems, — the edition which gave him " so much real happiness to sec in print.” Laid in this copy of his works is a sad letter, in the poet’s handwriting, which perhaps has never been printed. Addressed to Captain Hamilton, Dumfries, it is in itself a touching record of dear Robin’s poverty, and a’ that.

“ SIR,

“ It is needless to attempt an apology for my remissness to you in money matters ; my conduct is beyond all excuse. — Literally, Sir, I had it not. The Distressful state of commerce at this town has this year taken from my otherwise scanty income no less than £20. — That part of my salary depends upon the Imposts, and they are no more for one year. I inclose you three guineas; and shall soon settle all with you. I shall not mention your goodness to me; it is beyond my power to describe either the feelings of my wounded soul at not being able to pay you as I ought; or the grateful respect with which I have the honor to be

“ Sir, Your deeply obliged humble servant,


“Dumfries, Jany. 29, 1795.”

And so I walk out of my friend’s leaf-y paradise this July afternoon, thinking of the bard who in all his songs and sorrows made

“ rustic life and poverty
Grow beautiful beneath his touch,”

and whose mission it was

“ To weigh the inborn worth of man.”