Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

mentions, are lost beyond all hope of recovery? • The Nigramansir' was actually seen by Thomas Warton, the poet-laureate, in the 'fifties of the eighteenth century, and is described by him in some detail. His account is so interesting that it deserves quoting.

'I cannot quit Skelton,' he writes, without restoring to the public notice a play, or MORALITY, written by him, not recited in any catalogue of his works, or annals of English typography; and, I believe, at present totally unknown to the antiquarians in this sort of literature. It is, The NIGRAMANSIR, a morall ENTERLUDE and a pithie written by Maister SKELTON laureate, and plaid before the king and other estatys at Woodstock on Palme Sunday. It was printed by Wynkin de Worde in a thin quarto, in the year 1504.

Against this Warton makes the following note: ‘My lamented friend Mr. William Collins ... shewed me this piece at Chichester, not many months before his death (Collins died in 1759), and he pointed it out as a very rare and valuable curiosity. He intended to write the History of the Restoration of Learning under Leo the Tenth, and with a view to that design had collected many scarce books. Some few of these fell into my hands at his death. The rest, among which, I suppose, was this Interlude, were dispersed.'

Warton then goes on to describe the book in detail, and this circumstance, together with the fact that he quotes one of the stage directions (enter Balsebub with a Berde') seems to point to the fact that he actually had the volume in his hands. It concerned the trial of Simony and Avarice, with the Devil as Judge. “The characters are a Necromancer or Conjurer, the Devil, a Notary Public, Simonie, and Philargyria or Avarice. . . . There is no sort of propriety in calling this play the Necromancer : for the only business and use of this character is to open the subject in a long prologue.'1 Unfortunately there is no other mention of this interesting work, and of recent years its very existence has been doubted.

It was at Chichester,' wrote Hazlitt,“that the poet Collins brought together a certain number of early books, some of the first rarity; his name is found, too, in the sale catalogues of the last century as a buyer of such ; and the strange and regrettable fact is that two or three items which Thomas Warton actually saw in his hands, and of which there are no known duplicates, have not so far been recovered.' Mr. Gordon Duff, in his * English Provincial Printers,' mentions seventeen books described by Herbert at the end of the eighteenth century, of which no copies are now known to exist. Another rare volume is known to have existed about the same time. A copy,

-1 Possibly the title was Nigromanser, from niger, black, and manser, a bastard.

B

the only one known, of 'The Fabulous Tales of Esope the Phrygian' by Robert Henryson, published at London in 1577, was formerly in the library of Syon College ; for it is included in Reading's catalogue of that college library, compiled in 1724. But its whereabouts is now unknown. Fortunately in this case a later edition has survived.

Another mysterious volume is the treatise concerning Elizabeth Barton, the Maid of Kent, who was burnt at Tyburn in 1534. Cranmer, describing her story to a friend, writes : ‘and a boke (was) written of all the hole storie thereof, and putt into prynte, which euer syns that tyme hath byn comonly sold and goone abrod amongs all people. From the confession of John Skot, the printer of this work, at the trial, it seems that seven hundred copies were printed ; but no copy is now known to exist:

Other works there are as yet unseen by bibliographer, such as Markham's. Thyrsis and Daphne,' a poem printed in 1593, and the 1609 and 1612 quartos of Ben Jonson's 'Epicone or the Silent Woman. This last was seen by William Gifford a century ago, but neither is now known to exist. Or is a copy extant of Horace's Art of Poetry' english'd by Jonson and published so late as 1640. Alas! the list of works by 'rare Ben Jonson' now lost to us, it is feared, for ever, is quite a lengthy one. Who has seen the original

issue of “Gude and Godlie Ballatis, printed at Edinburgh in 1546? Of this book it has been said that, after the Bible, it did more for the spread of Reformation doctrines in Scotland than any other volume ; so presumably a fairly large edition was printed.

That the editions of some of these early-printed books, now with us no more, were of considerable size may be judged from contemporary evidence of their widespread popularity. Speaking of the * Morte d'Arthur,' Mr. E. G. Duff remarks : Of the popularity of the book we have striking evidence. Of Caxton's edition two copies are known, of which one is imperfect. The second edition, printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1498, is known from one copy only, which is imperfect; while the third edition, also printed by de Worde is, again, only known from one imperfect copy. It may well be, considering these facts, that there were other intervening editions which have entirely disappeared.'

1 The perfect copy was purchased by Mr. Pierpont Morgan at the sale of the Hoe Library, in 1911, for £8,560. It formed originally one of the twenty-two Caxtons, which were dispersed in 1698 with the library of Dr. Francis Bernard, Physician to King James the Second, when it realised two and tenpence! It became the property of the great Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, and was acquired later by the Countess of Jersey for two and a half guineas. Passing thus into the Osterley Park collection, it was purchased, when that library was sold in 1885, by Bernard Quaritch for £1,950.

Where are these volumes now? It is difficult to believe they have been utterly destroyed, leaf by leaf, so that no vestige of them any longer exists. Surely they will turn up at an auction sale some day, for they may well be safely ensconced, at this very moment, on the shelves of some neglected country library. Mr. Duff himself records the discovery recently of a copy of Caxton's Speculum''amongst some rubbish in the offices of a solicitor at Birkenhead.'

What a vast number of books there is, also, of which only one copy is known to exist. Of the early editions of Shakespeare's plays alone, more than a dozen are known by solitary examples. Of such books Hazlitt remarks that he has met in the course of a lengthened career with treasures which would make a small library, and has beheld no duplicates. Probably many of these incognita and rarissima perished in the great fire of London ; others again met their fate solely through their own popularity, being “thumbed' to pieces. In 1494 Pynson thought well enough to reprint Caxton's "Book of Good Manners’; but of this once popular book one copy onlythat which was formerly in the Amherst Library -now survives.

Then there is that ancient romance of European popularity 'The four Sons of Aymon. One of the great cycle of Charlemagne romances, such was its popularity that by the end of the thirteenth

« AnteriorContinuar »