Bernard Quaritch

BERNARD QUARITCH, who died in London in December last, was widely known as the great bookseller of his day; but comparatively few know the remarkable qualities and the intelligent and unremitting labor without which he never could have attained this high position. Mr. Quaritch was a rare union of the merchant, the scholar, and the bibliophilist, with the added and indescribable literary quality which made him the delight of all who knew him. He was not a man of “blandishments ; ” on the contrary, his demeanor was rather forbidding to strangers. He was impatient of differences of opinion, especially on matters connected with books ; he was frank, sometimes unpleasantly so, in the expression of his views, and the openness of his egotism was amusing to some, and the reverse to others.

My acquaintance with Mr. Quaritch began twenty years since at his shop, 15 Piccadilly, where I looked about, unquestioned, for some time, and finally seeing a book I wanted, asked the price of it from an elderly man who seemed connected with the establishment. It was so much higher than I expected that I made some remark indicating my opinion, whereupon I was told that the price was low, and that I shared with many of my countrymen their objection to paying a fair amount for a good book. Somewhat nettled by this charge I said, “ You must be Mr. Quaritch, for my friend Judge -, of Portland, told me you combined great knowledge of books with great rudeness.” The mention of the name of Judge - appeased Mr. Quaritch at once. He intimated that though he did not admire Americans collectively, he had the highest opinion of many individuals among them, and wound up by showing me a lot of his treasures, asking me to come again, which I did often during a stay of two months in London, laying the foundations of a friendship to which Mr. Quaritch contributed, up to his death, unnumbered kindnesses.

In 1880 Mr. Quaritch printed privately a pamphlet called Bernard Quaritch’s Letter to General Starring, Special Agent of the U. S. Treasury in London. The object of this letter was to set himself right with General Starring regarding a charge which had been made or inspired by a bookseller in New York, that he had made fraudulent entries at the New York Custom House of certain books which were dutiable by reason of their having been printed inside of twenty years. The pamphlet is thoroughly in keeping with Mr. Quaritch’s manly, straightforward nature, and a chapter of it is entitled History of my Life as a Bookseller and Publisher. He came to London from Prussia, his native country, in 1842, when twenty-three years of age, having had an apprenticeship of five years in the bookselling and publishing business in Nordhausen and Berlin. In London he found employment with Mr. Bohn, the well-known publisher and bookseller, with whom he remained four years, an intervening year being passed with a bookseller in Paris. In his earlier days with Mr. Bohn, when employed as general utility man and porter at 24s. a week, his confidence in the future was so great that he once said to his employer, “ Oh, Mr. Bohn, you are the first bookseller in England, but I mean to become the first bookseller in Europe.”

In 1847 Mr. Quaritch started in business for himself, settling at 16 Castle Street, Leicester Square, with a capital of £10. He says : “ My exceptional industry, coupled with exceptional business aptitude, not to mention the enjoyment of an iron constitution (nowise impaired by an abstemious and frugal private life devoted to study), produced corresponding but unexpected results. My progress was marvelous, and surprised everybody. I worked day and night, and soon developed from a stallkeeper, selling penny books, into one of the leading secondhand booksellers of London.” It will be seen from this paragraph that Mr. Quaritch did not hesitate to mention his own virtues, but it is none the less true that he never claimed any which he could not justly claim. Thirteen years of hard work in Castle Street enabled him to remove in 1860 to 15 Piccadilly, where the rest of his laborious and useful life was spent. The first opusculum of The Sette of Odd Volumes, an association of which I shall speak later, was printed in 1880, with the title, B. Q. A Biographical and Bibliographical Fragment. From this sketch came much of my information about Mr. Quaritch’s career as a bookseller and book lover. From the time he began business for himself he made a specialty of collecting linguistic and philological works, Oriental and European. He published Turkish, Arabic, and Persian grammars and dictionaries, formed great collections of Oriental manuscripts, and indeed up to his last days did not abate his interest in Oriental literature and publication. His knowledge of books, especially those of the scarcer and older classes (for these had his choicest affections), was simply amazing, and the result of natural ability, a memory which appeared absolutely perfect, great love of the work, and an appetite for it which made everything else in life secondary. Holidays with him were opportunities afforded for catching up on work a little behindhand, were generally, I think, if not always, thus employed by him, and his attitude toward idlers — as he considered all who were not constantly employed — was that of more or less open disapproval. He once wrote of a near relative : “ - is just now traveling for the benefit of my health (he is very well) in Ireland. I am as usual at my post.” In spite of his incessant labors at his desk in the back and dimly lighted part of his shop, where his shining bald head could be discovered from near the outer door, he was always ready to drop his work for a time to converse, on book topics, with any one he knew and thought worthy. A friend from this country once walked into 15 Piccadilly, having just come from the shop of Jamrach, the famous animal dealer, where he had been looking at the hippopotami, boa constrictors, and other wonders of nature. “ Where have you been this morning? ” said Mr. Quaritch. “ At Jamrach’s, looking at his curiosities,” was the reply. “ Who in the world is Jamrach ? ” “ Curiously enough, that is just what he said about you when I told him I was coming here.” Another once telling him how fortunate he had been in leaving Germany and starting his career in England was answered in perfect seriousness, “Well, if I had stayed in Prussia I might have been a von Moltke.”

The great monument left by Mr. Quaritch is in his wonderful catalogues, the first complete indexed one having been issued in 1860, and including about 7000 entries. This was followed by a larger one in 1862, and in 1868 one of 15,000 titles. In 1870 another of 1194 pages appeared, the last section of which was entitled Catalogue of Manuscripts, both Blocks and Productions of the Printing Press. This contained sixteen Greek manuscripts, a manuscript Evangelisterium executed in 1040, a manuscript German Bible with a large engraved initial 1445, two Caxton’s Gutenberg’s Catholicon, and three copies of Eliot’s Indian Bible. Idle Bibliotheca, Xylographica Typographica and Palæographica came three years later, and is a work of great and increasing value, wherein about 1300 examples from the early presses of various countries are accurately described in chronological sequence from actual inspection. In the preface to another great catalogue in 1874, Mr. Quaritch says: “ No such catalogue of valuable books and manuscripts has ever been issued, and it is unlikely that it can ever be done again, owing to the increasing rarity of good old books, and the fact that, financially considered, the capital to acquire it realizes less than the percentage of profit readily secured by ordinary investment. Whether, further, any bookseller will be blessed with such uniform good health, such universality of range in all branches of literature, and, I may add, such a devotion to his trade, time alone will tell. Anyhow, this catalogue has been the greatest effort in my career as a bookseller. . . . I trust that my house will remain, as it has been, useful to scholars and collectors from all countries. I will cheerfully devote the remainder of my life to gratify their wishes.”

Mr. Quaritch meant every word he said in the above quotation. He knew he was the greatest living bookseller, and mentioned the fact as something patent and irrefutable. He was also perfectly sincere in stating his willingness to devote his life to gratifying the wishes of scholars and collectors, and he did it. He would take as much trouble in searching out some obscure, cheap book for which he might get 10s. as for one worth £100, and his customers could rely on his most unselfish efforts in either case. In 1880 Mr. Quaritch produced his greatest catalogue, which contains the descriptions of over 28,000 books, in 2395 pages. This enormous work, by reason of the rarity and extraordinary value of the books and manuscripts it describes, and its copious index, is a veritable monument of bibliography, bibliophily, and typography, which will be regarded with wonder and veneration so long as the love and use of books exist. Mr. Quaritch, in the interesting preface to the catalogue, says : “ People who are ignorant of the real value of books, and who probably confound expensive articles with dear ones, exclaim against the heavy prices to be found in my catalogues. It is as though they were incapable of seeing that the choicest copies of the best editions must necessarily command a far higher appraisement than ordinary copies of other issues. . . . In fact, a first copy of any edition of a book is, and ought to be, more than twice as costly as any other.”

These catalogues and the numerous subsequent ones issued by Mr. Quaritch have the greatest value for collectors and book lovers, not only by reason of the enormous quantity of rare and valuable books mentioned, but for the full and exact bibliographical notes they contain, a large proportion of which are the original work of Mr. Quaritch, and the assistants whom he had educated and trained and inspired with his own love and appreciation of letters. Many of these catalogues — I think all those Mr. Quaritch considered important ones — have prefaces or introductions from his own hand which are really essays on books, that his peculiar individuality of style make as interesting as they are valuable. These catalogues are frequently, perhaps generally, confined to books on one or a few kindred subjects, and I know of none which do not include many items of great importance. One before me, dated 1890, is entitled A Catalogue of Mediæval Literature, especially of the Romances of Chivalry and Books relating to the Customs, Costumes, Art, and Pageantry of the Middle Ages. There are 461 titles, most of the books being rare, and many manuscripts of great value, the most precious one, priced at £850, being the illuminated manuscript of the Roman de la Roso of the fifteenth century. The introduction is a compendious and most interesting history of the literature of chivalry, and it is doubtful if there exists anything on the subject in which so much information is packed in a dozen pages. Another is A Catalogue of Bibles, Liturgies, Church History, and Theology. Of the 1000 titles (circa) 441 are Bibles, the two most valuable priced at £500 and £420 respectively. Then come collections of missal books, hagiology, and church history, all not in manuscript being from early presses, and about 200 titles of books on “ the Church in the British Isles,” mostly of the seventeenth century and earlier. It is doubtful if this catalogue, as well as many others from the same source, could have been made outside of Mr. Quaritch’s establishment, as neither the material nor the skill in arranging and describing them existed elsewhere.

In 1890 Mr. Quaritch sent to New York, in charge of his son, what he called in his catalogue “ a peerless collection of books and manuscripts exhibited to the Bibliophiles of America,” and on the reverse of the title-page was this legend : “ Hos artium et litterarum flores speciosos rarissimosque Populo Americano sapientiae veterum haeredi capiti scientiae novorum legendos, eligendos, diligendos commendat. B. Q.” The interesting “ foreword ” begins : “ There is, I believe, neither exaggeration nor brag in the statement I venture to make, that so many book rarities as are described in the present list can nowhere in America be found united in a single assemblage. A similar assertion applied to European libraries other than public collections would be no less true.”

I will not attempt to specify the treasures of press and binding in this rare lot of books and manuscripts, and fortunately a large proportion of the whole remains in this country.

The constant and unfailing supply of desiderata that Mr, Quaritch always had on hand was duc to his prodigious knowledge of books, which led him to judge with almost unerring certainty what was best worth buying from any of the large collections coming to the auction block, and his courage in purchasing at the great sales and elsewhere the best that was offered. He was truly the autocrat of the auction room, and nothing, apparently, stopped him when something came up that he wanted or fancied. As long ago as 1873 his purchases at the Perkins sale of books and manuscripts amounted to £11,000, which was a small sum as compared with the cost of many of his later acquisitions, those from the Ashburnham sale reaching nearly £40,000.

In a letter from Mr. Quaritch in 1896 he concludes some remarks on a notorious scene which had lately taken place in the House of Commons with these words : “ Physical force is the ‘ ultima ratio ’ of government, and I am an advocate of it even in private life. In my fights — at sale rooms — I give and take no quarter.” When the great Spencer library was sold, in 1892, to Mrs. Rylands, who gave it to the city of Manchester, Mr. Quaritch, who was authorized too late to treat for its purchase by a gentleman of New York, wrote, “ My collection of books is more valuable and useful than the Spencer library, and may be had for £120,000. This is about one half paid for the Spencer library.” He afterward told me that the collection he spoke of could be selected from his stock then on hand on the lines of the Spencer collection, and would be equal in most respects, and superior in a good many.

Mr. Quaritch never hesitated to express his opinion, favorable or unfavorable, on any subject; and when it came to a question of the genuineness of some rare manuscript or early printed book, he was likely to give his views in strong language. The famous Columbus letter was a case in point. A letter purporting to be such was owned by a New York collector, and sold at his sale, I think in 1891. Of this letter Mr. Quaritch says : “ The owner deliberately bought in preference a forgery, when he could have had from Maisonneuve in Paris the genuine first Spanish Columbus letter. I hear the - letter fetched $4300. Surely no sane person would have bought it.” Mr. Quaritch bought the Maisonneuve letter, which he afterward sold to the Lenox Library in New York. He wrote of it in 1892 : “ So long as my Spanish Columbus letter remains in my hands, the Chicago show is imperfect.”

In the remarkable catalogue issued in February, 1895, entitled Bibliotheca Hispana, containing about 2400 titles of books in Castilian, Catalan, and Portuguese, Mr. Quaritch has a preface from which I quote the following : “ I am desirous of becoming recognized as their London agent by all men outside of England who want books. The need of such an agent is frequently felt abroad by the heads of literary institutions, libraries, and book lovers generally. They shrink from giving trouble to a bookseller in matters which require more attention and effort than the mere furnishing of some specific article in his stock, and they must often wish it were possible to have the services of a man of experience and ability at their constant command. Such services I freely offer to any one who chooses to employ them. No fee is required to obtain them, and not a fraction is added to the cost of the supplies. ... I ask for nothing but the pleasure of attending to the wants of those who are as yet without an agent in London. Whether the books to be procured through my intervention be rare or common, single items or groups, the gems of literature and art or the popular books of the day, I shall be happy to work in every way for book lovers of every degree.”

This was the proclamation of a man who loved books and all who loved books, and many in this country can bear witness to the fervor and industry with which he carried out his offer in letter and spirit. His great wisdom and the accumulations of over half a century of book lore were at the service of anybody, high or low, who would take the trouble to ask of him. Outside of his kindliness and generosity, so universally extended, as a matter of business he was content with fair profits on his bargains, and one could always feel, in buying high-priced books from Mr. Quaritch, that no defect would be unmentioned by the seller, and that the buyer was not paying more than the value of the article.

Mr. Quaritch was incomparably the best informed, most munificent, and most liberal bookseller of this or any age, and it is very doubtful if the man lives who has the combination of knowledge, industry, enthusiasm, and high principles necessary to fill his place. In the Letter to General Starring before mentioned, he says: “ My conduct ever since I was a man has been such as to win the respect and confidence of most people. Though I am what is called in England only a tradesman, the standard of my honor is as high as that of the best in the land. The character of the Chevalier Bayard — sans peur et sans reproche — has been my ideal through life.” This and other quotations I have made from what Mr. Quaritch has written might be taken to indicate an egotism that is sometimes, if not often, the mark of boastfulness rather than performance ; but this conclusion would be far from correct in Mr. Quaritch’s case. He was a man of absolute truthfulness, and his knowledge of books and of his own strong, masterful character was so profound and accurate that what would be extravagance of statement in ordinary men was generally within the facts when said by him.

The principal if not the only recreation of the latter years of Mr. Quaritch’s laborious life came from his connection with the famous club known as The Sette of Odd Volumes. This association was the outgrowth of frequent meetings of Mr. Quaritch and a few friends which lasted for several years, and in 1878 they resolved themselves into a permanent club called “ Odd Volumes, — united once a month to form a perfect Sette,” the odd volumes being the different members. While the object of the club was stated, in the rules formulated by Mr. Quaritch, to be “ conviviality and mutual admiration,” the real idea was to make it an intellectual aristocracy, to which only representative men of their various vocations should be eligible. Mr. Quaritch was thrice made president, in 1878, 1879, and 1882, and his addresses on these and on other occasions before the Sette are most interesting, being full of learning, information, and humor. These are preserved in the Year Books of the “Sette,” which also has had “issued ” to it about seventy privately printed “opuscula” and “miscellanies.” Of these Mr. Quaritch contributed A Short Sketch on Liturgical History and Literature, and an Account of the Great Learned Societies and Associations and of the Chief Printing Clubs of Great Britain and Ireland; also, not included in the opuscula, Palæography, Notes upon the History of Writing and the Mediæval Art of Illumination. This beautiful and important work, with its magnificent illustrations, was extended from a lecture delivered before the Sette of Odd Volumes by Mr. Quaritch, who privately printed 199 copies for his personal friends. The monthly dinners of the club, held of late years at Limmers Hotel, to which a member has apparently the privilege of inviting any number of guests, will always be considered, by those fortunate enough to have attended, as the most interesting gatherings in London ; and there amongst his old friends, all distinguished in some way in letters, science, or arts, Mr. Quaritch appeared at his best. The Sette of Odd Volumes shared with his books his choicest affections, and it will mourn, with the happily fast increasing body of book lovers, the loss of that wise and wonderful man who, on the foundation of integrity, ability, and untiring industry, built up a name and fame which shall last as long as the flowers of literature are admired and cherished.

Dean Sage.