A VISIBLE library is a goodly sight. We do not underrate the external value of books, when we say it is the invisible which forms their chief charm. Sometimes rather too much is said about “ tall copies,” and “ large-paper copies,” and “first editions,” the binding, paper, type, and all the rest of the outside attraction, or the fancy price, which go to make up the collector's trade. The books themselves feel a little degraded, when this sort of conversation is carried on in their presence: some of them know well enough that occasionally they fall into hands which think more “of the coat than of the man who is under it.” We must, however, be honest enough to confess that we are ourself a bibliomaniac, and few possessions are more valued than an old manuscript, written on vellum some five hundred years ago, of which we cannot read one word. Nor do we prize less the modern extreme of external attraction,— volumes exquisitely printed and adorned, bound by Riviere, in full tree-marbled calf, with delicate tooling on the back, which looks as if the frostwork from the window-pane on a cold January morning had been transmuted into gold, and laid on the leather. Ah, these are sights fit for the gods !
Nevertheless, we come back to our starting-point, that what is unseen forms the real value of the library. The type, the paper, the binding, the age, are all visible ; but the soul that conceived it, the mind that arranged it, the hand that wrote it, the associations which cling to it, are the invisible links in a long chain of thought, effort, and history, which make the book what it is.
In wandering through the great libraries of Europe, how often has this truth been impressed upon the mind !—such a library as that in the old city of Nuremberg, housed in what was once a monastery, and looking so ancient, quaint, and black-lettered, visibly and invisibly, that, if the old monk in the legend who slipped over a thousand years while the little bird sang to him in the wood, and was thereby taught, what he could not understand in the written Word, that a thousand years in God's sight are but as a day,—if that old monk had walked out of the Nuremberg monastery and now walked back again, he might almost take up the selfsame manuscript he had laid down a thousand years ago.
What invisible heads have ached, and hands become weary, over those vellum volumes, with their bright initial letters ! What hearts have throbbed over the early printed book ! How triumphantly was the first copy, now worm-eaten and forgotten, contemplated by the author ! How was that invisible world which surrounded him to be stirred by that new book !
We remember looking into one of the cell-like alcoves arranged for students in a college library at Oxford, and watching a fellow of the college (a type of scholars, grown old among books, rarely found in our busy land) crooning over a strange black-letter folio, and laughing to himself with a sort of invisible chuckle. The unseen in that volume was revealed to us through that laugh of the old bookworm, and quite unseen we partook of his amusement. Another alcove was vacant ; a crabbed manuscript, just laid down by the writer, was on the desk. He was invisible ; but the watchful guardian at the head of the room saw us peering in, and warned us with a loud voice not to enter. Safely might we have been permitted to do so, for we could hardly have deciphered at a glance all the wisdom that lurked in the open page ; yet that hidden meaning, invisible to us, was of real value to the unseen writer.
There are many incidents connected with the visible and invisible of libraries existing in the great houses of England, which could point a moral in sketches of this subject One, concerning a pamphlet found at Woburn Abbey, has a peculiar interest.
Lord William Russell, eldest son of Francis, fourth Earl of Bedford, after completing his education at Oxford, and travelling abroad for two years, returned home in the winter of 1634. Young, handsome, accomplished, and the eldest son of the House of Russell, the fashionable world of London marked him as a prize in the matrimonial speculations of the times, and was quite in a flutter to know which of the reigning beauties would captivate the young Lord Russell. Lady Elizabeth Cecil, Lady Dorothy Sidney, Lady Anne Carr were the rival belles upon whom the eyes of the world were fixed. It was with no small consternation that the Earl of Bedford soon found that the affections of his son had been attracted by Lady Anne Carr, the daughter of the Earl and Countess of Somerset, more widely known as Robert Carr and Lady Essex. The Earl of Bedford had taken a prominent part in the Countess’s trial, and participated in the general abhorrence of her character. In vain his son pleaded the innocence of the daughter, who, early separated from her parents, knew nothing of their history or their crimes. The Earl of Bedford shrunk with a feeling of all but insurmountable aversion to such an alliance ; and not until the king interceded for the youthful lovers, did the father yield a reluctant consent, and their marriage was celebrated. The undisturbed happiness and harmony in which the parties lived reconciled the Earl to the connection ; he became much attached to his beautiful daughter-in-law; and in the sweetness and domestic purity of her character he could sometimes forget her parents. Lady Anne's life passed quietly in the discharge of the duties of a wife and mother, and of those which devolved upon her when her husband became fifth Earl of Bedford in 1641. In 1683, their eldest son, Lord William Russell, died on the scaffold.
“There is a life in the principles of freedom,” says the historian of the House of Russell, “ which the axe of the executioner does not, for it cannot, touch.” This great thought must have strengthened the souls of the parents under so terrible a trial. The mother’s health, however, sunk under the blow, which, in the sympathy of her celebrated daughter-in-law, the heroic Lady Rachel Russell, she endeavored to sustain. One day, seeking, perhaps, some book to cheer her thoughts, Lady Bedford entered the library, and in an anteroom seldom visited chanced to take a pamphlet from the shelves. She opened its pages, and read there, for the first time, the record of her mother’s guilt. The visible in that page rent aside the invisible veil which those who loved Lady Bedford had silently woven over her whole life, as a shield from a terrible truth. She was found by her attendants senseless, with the fatal book open in her hand. The revelations of the past, the sorrows of the present, were too much for her to bear, and she died. Lady Rachel Russell, writing from Woburn Abbey at the time, states her conviction that Lady Bedford’s reason would not have sustained the shock received from the contents of the pamphlet, even had her physical powers rallied.
Turning aside one moment from our subject, we stand in awe before the striking contrast presented by the characters of two women, each so closely linked with Lady Bedford’s life, — the one who heard her first breath, and the other who received her last sigh. If Lady Somerset causes us to shrink with horror from the depth of depravity of which woman’s nature is capable, let us thank God that in Lady Rachel Russell we have a witness of the purity, self-sacrifice, and holiness a true woman’s soul can attain.
In the library at Wilton House, the seat of the Sidneys, we were shown a lock of Queen Elizabeth’s hair, hidden for more than a hundred years in one of the books. A day came when some member of the family took down an old volume to see what treasures of wisdom lurked therein. “ She builded better than she knew,” for between the leaves lay folded a paper which contained a faded lock of the once proud Queen Bess. How it came there, and by whose hand it was placed in the book, is one of the invisible things of the library, but the writing within the paper authenticated the relic beyond doubt; and it is now shown as one of the visible treasures of the library of Wilton House.
Magdalen College, Cambridge, contains the Pepysian Library,—placed there by the will of Pepys, under stringent conditions, in default of whose fulfilment the bequest falls to Trinity. One of the fellows of Magdalen is always obliged to mount guard over visitors to the library. Such an escort being provided, we ascended the stairs, and found ourselves in the presence of the bookcases which once adorned Pepys's house in London, containing the "three thousand bookes ” of which he was so proud. The bookcases are handsome, with small mirrors let into them, in which, doubtless, Mrs. Pepys often surveyed the effect of those “ newe gownes” which pleased her husband’s vanity so well, although he rather reluctantly paid the cost. There, too, is the original manuscript of that entertaining Diary, wherein Pepys daguerrotyped the age in which he lived, and himself with all his sense and nonsense. That Diary would have remained one of the invisible treasures of libraries, for it was written in a cipher of his own invention, but, by a very curious chance, the key to that cipher was unintentionally betrayed through comparison with another paper, and the journal was brought to light, and many things made visible which the writer dreamed not of confiding to future ages. Pepys was an indefatigable, and, we cannot but half suspect, an unscrupulous collector. Volumes of autographs, great scrap-books filled with prints, tickets, invitations, ballads, let us into the visible and invisible of the reign of Charles II. A manuscript music-book, elegantly bound, and labelled, “ Songs altered to suit my Voice,” carried us back to the days when, after going to the play in the afternoon, Pepys and some of his companions “ came back to my house and had musique.”
Pepys certainly never meant to be one of the invisible things in his own library, for every book contains an engraving from his own portrait. Should he ever come back to look after the possessions he so much valued, he can surely be at no loss to find the likeness, of the form he once wore. If a spirit can retain any human vanity and self-importtance, his must certainly be unpleasantly surprised that the great collection looks small in these days, and attracts but little attention. To antiquaries and lovers of the odd and curious it must ever be valuable ; but the obligation of having a fellow of Magdalen at one’s elbow much interferes with that quiet, cozy “mousing” so dear to the soul of a bibliomaniac. We heartily wished that we could have made an appointment with the shade of old Pepys, and, returning to the library in the stillness of midnight, have found him ready to show off his collections. That would have been, indeed, the visible and the invisible of the Pepysian Library. The Cambridge men of to-day are too busy about their own affairs to look much into Pepys’s collections, which remain quietly ensconced under the guardianship of Old Magdalen, one of the visible links between the seen and unseen in libraries.
Nestled quietly in an old Elizabethan house, among the great trees at Wotton, is the library of John Evelyn. Belonging to the same age as that of Pepys, but collected by a man of widely different tastes and character, there is much outwardly to charm as well as to elevate the mind in the influences shed around it. Here are tall copies and folios of grave works, classic and historical, the solid literary food of a man who kept his soul pure amid a corrupt age, books as harmonious with the reflective mind of Evelyn as were the grand old woods of Wotton with the refined tastes of the author of “ Sylva.” Here is preserved the original manuscript of Evelyn’s Journal, the paper yellow with the mellow tints of two hundred autumns, yet the thought as fresh as if written yesterday. Near the manuscript is seen the prayer-book which Charles I. held in his hand when he mounted the scaffold at Whitehall. There is much of the visible and invisible in that quaint old library at Wotton.
The internal treasures of Christian faith opened a wide field for the outward decoration of religious books. “ The Hours ” (meaning devotional hours) of kings and queens are magnificent specimens of chirography, showing also the skill of artists in the earliest centuries. The art of preparing these volumes was divided into two branches: that of the Miniatori, or illuminators, who furnished the paintings, the borders, and arabesques, and also laid on the gold ; and that of the Miniatori calligrafi, who wrote the whole of the book, and drew the initial letters of blue and red with their fanciful ornaments. Many of the great libraries of Europe contain these splendid manuscripts, and although but one page is open to the passing visitor, which he sees “through a glass darkly,” yet that page is written over and illuminated with associations and memories. Could a glance reveal thoughts which have looked out of eyes bending over these pages, when they were held in the hand of their first owner, what messages from the invisible would be received ! Some of these rare and regal possessions have gone a little astray, and wandered about in the wilderness of the world, as is confirmed by an anecdote we recently received from good authority. A magnificent volume, illustrated by views of French chateaux of the Middle Ages, presented to a princess of the House of Bourbon, was known to have existed. This manuscript had disappeared, and for more than a hundred years it could not be traced. The Duc d’Aumale, son of Louis Philippe, while in Genoa, was informed (by a person who called upon him for that purpose ) that there was for sale in that city a valuable illuminated manuscript, and, as the Duke was known to be a collector of rare books, it would be shown to him. He accordingly followed his informant to an obscure part of the city, and into an old house, where the manuscript was produced. What was his astonishment, when he beheld before him the lost Bourbon manuscript, so long sought for in vain ! He immediately became its purchaser ; and whatever secret history belongs to the volume, connected with the time when it was invisible, it is now one of the most treasured realities in the magnificent library at Orleans House.
In the illuminated pages of many of these old manuscripts there lurks much more, doubtless, than meets the eye. Thus, that famous poem of the Middle Ages, the “ Romance of the Rose,” has passed for a mere fanciful allegory, or love-story. Splendidly illuminated copies of this Romance are well known. The British Museum possesses one, which Dibdin calls “the cream of the Harleian Collection ” : it is in folio, and replete with embellishments. He also mentions another copy, at that time belonging to Mr. North, the frontispiece of which represents Francis I. surrounded by his courtiers, receiving a copy from the author. Only the visible of the illuminated volume was probably opened to the eyes of Francis, or even of Dibdin. A later student pronounces the Romance to be a complete specimen of Hermetic Philosophy, concealing great truths under its allegory, — the Rose being the symbol of philosophic gold.
Such is the view taken of this Romance by our distinguished fellow-countryman, Major-General Hitchcock, who found time, in the interval between two wars, to collect and study three hundred volumes of Hermetic Philosophy, coming forth therefrom as a champion in defence of a much misunderstood class. This ingenious work, entitled “Alchemy and the Alchemists,” published in 1857, was written to prove that the alchemists were not foolish seekers for sordid gold, nor vain believers in the elixir of life, but philosophers of deep thought and high aims, who, in days when a man dared not say his soul was his own, veiled in mystic language, perfectly understood by each other, theological and philosophical truths, theories, and discoveries, which would have brought them to the stake or the rack, had they been produced openly. “ Man was the subject of alchemy, and the object of the art was the perfection, or at least the improvement, of man.” These were the real Hermetic Philosophers. After them came men who, not knowing the meaning of the symbolic language which concealed the spiritual truths, took the written word in a literal sense, and went to work with crucibles and retorts, seeking the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life, not knowing, indeed, the Scripture, that “the letter killeth, but the spirit maketb alive.”
Such a theory as that advanced in “ Alchemy and the Alchemists ” opens a new chapter in the visible and invisible of a library of Hermetic Philosophy.
The most ancient specimens of calligraphy extant are probably the Terence of the fourth century and the Virgil of the fifth century, in the Vatican Library. Alas for those who have no open sesame to that collection ! We shall never forget our disappointment upon entering the Vatican. We could not gaze even on the mouldy vellum or faded leather of old bindings, and saw nothing but stupid modern painted cases, bodies quite unworthy of the souls they hid. Gladly would we have laid aside our theory concerning unseen treasures, and looked that great collection face to face.
“ The taste for the external decoration of manuscripts,” says Labarte, (whose interesting “ Hand-Book on the Arts of the Middle Ages ” has been admirably translated by Mrs. Palliser.) “ already existed among the ancients. Marcus Varro called forth the praises of Cicero for having traced in his book the portraits of more than seven hundred celebrated persons ; Seneca, in his treatise ‘ De Tranquillitate Animi,’ speaks of books ornamented with figures ; and Martial addresses his thanks to Stertinius, who had placed his portrait in his library.”
These ancient works of Art have vanished, none have survived the stormy passage of ages, yet this casual mention of them carries us into the otherwise invisible past. We see the seven hundred portraits in Marcus Varro’s book, and walk into the library of Stertinius to give our opinion of the portrait of Martial.
“The miniatures of manuscripts were long considered,” says Labarte, “only as ornaments. Montfaucon was the first to recognize their usefulness as historical documents. To possess manuscripts of the Middle Ages with miniatures is in fact to possess a gallery of contemporaneous pictures.”
The most beautiful specimen of ancient illuminated manuscript we have seen in this country belongs to the Honorable Charles Sumner. It is a missal of the fifteenth century, of finest quality. Several of the miniatures might well be claimed as the work of Van Eyck. The frontispiece consists of the portrait of the lady for whose devotions the book was prepared. She kneels before the Madonna, while her patron saint stands beside her. Beneath this celestial vision is the heraldic shield of the lady’s family, thus throwing in a glimpse of visible worldly grandeur. The borders and arabesques of this manuscript are equal in execution to the miniatures, and the missal is one of rare beauty.
Can we forbear alluding to that other treasure of Senator Sumner’s collection, — the Album which belonged to Camillus Cordoyn, who, more than two centuries ago, entertained guests at his house as they journeyed into Italy ? One of these, Thomas Wentworth, afterwards Lord Strafford, then a young man gayly travelling about the world, wrote his name in the volume, little thinking of the block and the axe which were to illustrate the closing chapter of his book of life. The immortal Milton, on his return from Italy, was the guest of the same nobleman. What would we not give for a look into that house at Geneva, and see this little volume laid before the visitor ! The glorious eyes of John Milton looked over its pages, and perhaps he listened to the story of some of the distinguished personages, now all forgotten, whose names and heraldic shields are there. Then he turned to a blank leaf, and wrote two lines from his own “Comus,” —
Heaven itself would stoop to her.”
He signed his name on that 20th of June, 1639, and the host took back the book. And now, more than two hundred years after, that page is held as priceless in this great republic beyond the sea.
We should speak gratefully of the externals of books, because for two long years our oculist did not allow us to open them. We dared not go farther than their titles, yet even these were talismans which revealed wide regions, and carried us from Indus to the Pole. We went with Arthur Penrhyn Stanley to the Holy Land, discovered Nineveh with Layard, explored Art treasures with Mrs. Jameson, plunged among icebergs with Parry. A volume of Belzoni bore us not only to pyramids and mummies in Egypt, but away to a strange old hall “in Padua, beyond the sea.” Cabalistic paintings cover the walls, misty with age ; lurking in one corner of the vast apartment is a gigantic wooden horse, that figured at some public festival four hundred years ago, and now pauses, ready to prance out of the mouldy past into the affrighted present; opposite stand two Egyptian statues, cat-headed human figures, resting their hands on their stone knees. These were gifts from Belzoni to his native city of Padua ; and his handsome head in the Eastern turban, turned into white marble, stands above the entrance-door.
Coming back from the Paduan hall, so weird and ghostly, we glance along the shelves at a long row of volumes which bear De Quincey’s name, and we need not open a page to feel the mysterious spell of the opium-eater. Like one of those strange dreams of his seems a remembrance which comes back to us with his name. A quaint, tall house in the old part of Edinburgh has admitted us into a quiet apartment, where, as the twilight is creeping in through the windows, a small gray man receives us, with graceful and tender courtesy. He converses with a felicity of language like that of his printed pages, but in a voice so sweet, so low, so exquisitely modulated, that the magical tone vibrates on the ear like music. It was De Quincey, who held us entranced until darkness gathered around us, then bade us farewell, his kind words lingering on the air, as, with a flickering candle in his hand, he flitted up the winding stair, and vanished away.
Another volume bears the name of William Wordsworth, and beneath his autograph he writes that it was purchased at Bath from a circulating-library. It is that strange journal of the Margravine of Bareith, sister of Frederic the Great, a sad story of those who dwell in kings’ houses ; but we think only of Wordsworth, and of the viewless history of the book carried by the poet from circulating in Bath to quiet rural Rydal Mount, and now having wandered over to New England.
A dainty volume near by bears the autograph of Rogers, and though the association is not so purely imaginative, perhaps, as a poet should call up, yet it always brings to our mind the breakfasts at his house, of which many of our friends have partaken, and related divers stories concerning those morning refections. They are invisible feasts to us, for we never even picked up the crumbs from them, except at second hand; yet this elegant little book knew all about them, and heard what was said before, and also behind — the table-cloth.
Singular experiences connected with books are sometimes known to their owners, quite invisible to others. In yonder corner are two volumes. Bookcollectors know that they are rare, and the uninitiated think they contain queer old wood-cuts, To us that corner is haunted ; an invisible lady hovers about those volumes. Once upon a time an order was given for those books, but the answer came back from over the sea, that they were not to be had, or to be had only at rare intervals on the breaking up of a library. To our no small surprise, very soon after this quietus had been given to bibliomaniacal hopes, the books in question appeared before us in excellent condition. We could hardly suppose that any one had been benevolent enough to break up a library on purpose to oblige us, and we waited to hear a very odd story.
Soon after the letter had been sent, announcing the ill success of our commission, the writer of it was in a bookshop in London, when a lady entered and desired an interview with the master. After some private conversation, the lady returned to her carriage and drove away. The bookseller remarked to his friend, that the lady had brought with her some books, which she desired to part with. Our informant asked to see them, and, lo! the very volumes for which in our behalf he had searched in vain : he immediately secured the prize, which was forwarded by the next steamer.
Can any one ask why the figure of the lady who brought those books to us three thousand miles over the sea “ haunts us like a shadow ” ? We see her ascend her invisible carriage, we go with her to her invisible home, we meet her viewless husband ; — here we shudder, but we recover ourselves ; we are convinced that he could not have been a book-collector, or she had not dared such a deed. Then we puzzle ourselves about her unseen motives for selling the books. Had she gambled ? Had she bet on the losing horse at the Derby ? Had she bought an expensive bonnet ? Or was it the impulse of some strong benevolent purpose ? Why did she sell those books ? Since she did thus part with them, we thank her, and are content that by very strange combinations of circumstances, blending the visible and invisible together, those books, viewless in her library, are now apparent in our own.
Here is another volume which has also something mystical about it in its visible and invisible effect. It is a copy of Dibdin’s “ Bibliomania,” which belonged to Dawson Turner. A note in his handwriting states that the tools required for the binding were used exclusively for Lord Spencer, and that a view of Strawberry Hill will be found on its edges. Gilt edges, however, are all that meet the eye ; but turned by a skilful hand to the right light, the gilding vanishes, and a picture of Strawberry Hill appears, painted with velvety softness. Such a nice bibliomaniacal fancy must have delighted Dibdin ; and as he was at one time librarian at Althorpe, he doubtless was the medium of bestowing this charm upon the binding of his own work for his friend.
The invisible in libraries has ever seemed to us linked with those who have written or read the books. If souls are allowed to return to their earthly haunts, a library would surely be the place to meet them. For this reason we have cherished a firm belief in the apparition which the distinguished librarian of the Astor Library beheld, and never desire to hear any commonplace explanations concerning it; and on visiting the Astor collection, we were more desirous to see the spot where the reading phantom appeared than all the rest of the building. Who shall say that authors and students do not come back to the books which contain their invisible souls, or spirits like themselves ? Without venturing to invoke the sceptred sovereigns of literature, or to call up the shades of the prophets and sibyls of elder time, yet at midnight what a circle might come forth and visit the library ! Scott and Burns and Byron, Burke and Fox and Sheridan, all in one evening ; clever, pretty Mrs. Thrale comes bringing Fanny Burney to meet Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth ; Horace Walpole, patronizing Gray, Rogers, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, and Charles Lamb, what a social club that would be ! Ah, the librarian of the Astor is more fortunate than we ; these spirits are all invisible, and we catch not even at midnight the rustle of the leaf they turn or the passing murmur of their voices. Yet within the library, ever ready to meet us, their souls still linger; and when we open the visible book which enshrines it, we find the hidden spirit.
A number of gentlemen once went together to a friend's house. While they awaited his entrance, one of the party, being a lover of books, naturally turned to the shelves of the library. Without any particular attraction to the title, he chanced to take down one of the volumes. As he opened it, a sealed letter fell from between the leaves on the floor. He took it up, and, to his no small astonishment, perceived that it was addressed to himself.
He called the attention of his companions to this strange circumstance. As it could be no breach of decorum to break the seal of a letter addressed to one’s self, he did so. The surprise was increased by finding a bank-note within. The letter came from a well-known gentleman, and bore the date of a year past. When the owner of the house entered, he found his guests in quite a tumult of surprise and puzzle. At first he was quite as much at a loss as themselves to account for this discovery. It was, however, remembered by the gentleman to whom the letter was addressed, that about a year before he had applied to the writer for aid in some charity, but, having many demands of the same kind to supply, he declined. Afterwards, as it appeared, he regretted having done so, and had accordingly inclosed the money. Probably, soon after, he met the gentleman in whose book it was found, (with whom he was on intimate terms.) and asked him to give the letter as addressed. The receiver brought it home, laid it on his table, and forgot it. The book lying open, it may be that the letter slipped between the leaves and the volume was returned to the shell. And there it had waited for more than a year, holding the invisible letter quite safe, until the person to whom it was addressed took down, for the first time in his life, a volume from those shelves, and received into his own hand the communication intended for him. No one can wonder that the invisible in libraries has a strong hold on the faith of our friend.
Although few may be so fortunate as to find bank-notes in letters addressed to themselves between the leaves of books in libraries, yet we all have felt the sensation of discoverers of hidden treasures. After carelessly looking at a volume which has stood on the shelves for years, we open it and find within thoughts which appeal to our deepest experiences, high incentives to our nobler energies, deep sympathy in our sorrows, sustaining words to help us on with our life-work. How differently do we ever after regard the visible of that book ! The invisible has been revealed to us, and we almost wonder whether, if we had looked into it two or three years before, we should have found there what now we prize so much. Perhaps not; for after different experiences in life come different revelations from books. The pages which a few years ago we might have glanced over with indifference now speak to us as if uttering the emotions of our own souls.
Sometimes it is a work of fiction which we open for the first time, the title of which has been familiar to our eyes. Out of it invisible spirits walk. We are introduced to charming people who never existed, and yet who become our daily companions. We go with them through many trials, we rejoice with them, we know all their secrets, and share with them many of our own. Is it possible, that, shut up between those covers, long unknown, all these existed which have since made life brighter and better to us ?
In Sterling’s “ Onyx Ring,” Walsingham, the poet, takes down a volume from Sir Charles Harcourt’s library, and reads a charming romance, apparently from its pages. A lady of the company' afterwards turned to the same book, which proved to be a work of Jeremy Bentham’s, and searched in vain for the graceful narrative. Walsingham smiled at her perplexity, and said, “Those only find who know where to look.”
The invisible world of thought, and the invisible representation of it in books, have known many changes since Cicero looked at the volume which Marcus Varro had illustrated; and from an earlier civilization than Cicero’s comes the exclamation of the soul-wearied Job, “ Oh that mine adversary had written a book! ” Solomon also exclaims, “ Of making many books there is no end.” He dreamed not of the extent to which the manufacture would be carried in these days. On the other hand, how little we know of the literary world existing in the days of Job or Solomon ! and may we not be led by these exclamations to suspect not only a large supply of books, but even the existence of an Arabian Review or a Dead-Sea Magazine ?
The increase of wealth, and the restless activity of intellect in the new world which surrounds us, lead naturally to the accumulation of libraries, both public and private. In our daily walks we often pass dwellings which we know hold literary treasures. Sometimes the beauties of Nature can be combined with those of Art, even in a city, around the library. We recall one from the windows of which we look forth, not on crowded streets, but on the wide river as it bends to the sea. Behind the distant hills the heavens are resplendent with the autumnal hues of sunset, the water is aglow with reflected glories, while swooping and sailing over the waves come the white sea-gulls. It is a leaf from the illuminated prayer-missal for all eyes and hearts. The literary treasures of that friend’s library have been elsewhere described, some of them gifts from wise men, earnest women, world - worshipped poets, bearing on their leaves the signatures of their authors’ friendship. Other treasures are there, visible and invisible, among which we would fain linger, but we must pass on. We enter another library, once filled with rare and costly works, which taught of the wonderful structure of plants, from the hyssop on the wall to the cedar of Lebanon. Gone now are these volumes, and vanished, too, is their collector, whose wide and generous culture was veiled by the curtain of modesty and quietness. His collections he bestowed upon a public institution, where the wonders of God’s universe will be a subject of study for all coming time. These he gave, and then went peacefully away from our sight to learn yet wider and grander lessons at the feet of that Teacher who, when he was on earth, bade his followers “consider the lilies of the field.” Is not that library as real to us as when the books filled its shelves, and we were welcomed by the gentle voice of its master?
The crowds which form the living stream that surges through Washington Street and eddies around the Old South Church seldom, perhaps, pause to think of that edifice as one of the links uniting the memorable past of our country’s history with the momentous present. Still less do they who raise their eyes to the tower to learn the hour of the day imagine that there is an invisible library connected with the familiar form of the belfry. Yet a romance of literary and historic interest encircles it. At the time of the Revolution, Dr. Prince was pastor of the Old South Church, and in the tower he kept his historical treasures along with the New England Library. Among these volumes were Governor Bradford’s letter-book and the manuscript of his “ History of the Plantation of Plymouth.” During the siege of Boston, the British turned the Old South into a riding-school, and the troopers had free scope to do what mischief they pleased. After the evacuation of the town the library was found in a disordered condition, and the valued manuscripts of Bradford were missing. Some time after, a person observed that the article he had bought from a grocer in Halifax was wrapped in paper written over in a peculiar hand. He deciphered enough to make him earnest to obtain what remained of the manuscript in the grocer’s possession. It proved to be fragments of the missing letter-book of Governor Bradford. Years passed on until 1856, when the attention of an historical writer was attracted by a quotation, in a note to an English work, from “a manuscript history of the Plantation of Plymouth, in the Fulham Library.” As the extract contained passages not found in any part of that history known in America, it immediately occurred to those interested that this might be the missing volume from the Prince Library. A correspondence was thereupon opened with the Bishop of London. The handwriting of Bradford being authenticated, as well as that of Dr. Prince, which was found in a memorandum, dated “ June 28th, showing how he obtained it from Major John Bradford,” there could no longer remain a doubt that this was indeed the lost historical treasure. Part of the manuscripts of Bradford had been carried by the British soldiers to Halifax, and sold at last as waste-paper to a grocer; and the rest, after some history unknown, reached England and found protection under the care of the Bishop of London. A copy of this manuscript is now in the possession of the Boston Historical Society.
In the rooms of that society is preserved the Dowse Library. A rare collection of books, formed by a man daily engaged in the mechanic craft of a leather-dresser, is a singular illustration of the visible and invisible of libraries. We recall past days in Cambridge, when, beneath the sign of a white wooden sheep, we entered the unpretending house which contained not only the leather-dresser’s shop, but a small gallery of pictures and this valuable library. We remember, also, with grateful interest, the modest, but manly, welcome of the master of both the mechanic craft and the treasures of art and literature, and how quietly he would give us a few words about his books. The Dowse Library we visit is always there, and although much is visible in the beautiful room where the bequest of the owner has been fittingly enshrined, yet its distinctive charm is invisible.
The City Library of Boston has one feature entirely new in the visible of a great public collection. A large portion of the books, under certain regulations, are circulated among the inhabitants of the city, and thousands avail themselves of this privilege. Here, then, is opened a great fountain of knowledge in the midst of a wide population : all may come, without money and without price. The visible pages of learning, wisdom, science, truth, imagination, ingenious theory, or deep conviction lie open not only to the eyes, but to the hearts and homes of a great people. It is like the overflowing Nile, carrying sweet waters to irrigate many waste places, and clothing the dry dust of common life with the flowers, the fruit, and the sustaining grain, springing from invisible seeds cast by unseen hands into the wide field of the world.
“If,” says Lord Bacon, “ the invention of ships was thought so noble, which carrieth riches and commodities from place to place, how much more are letters to be magnified, which, as ships, pass through the vast seas of time, and make ages so distant to participate of the wisdom, illuminations, and inventions, the one of the other ! ”
NOTE, — Since these pages were written, one who knew how to prize the visible and invisible of books has passed away. The silent library of George Livermore speaks eloquently of him. That collection, gathered with a love which increased as years advanced, includes ancient copies of the Bible of rarest value. His life Was a book, written over with good deeds and pure thoughts, illuminated by holy aspirations. That volume is closed, but the spirit which rendered it precious is not withdrawn ; living in many hearts, it will continue to be a cherished presence in the world, the home, and the library.