« AnteriorContinuar »
curio, calls him back and says that he will give him a bushel of silver for it. This the merchant accepts : the money is paid ; and the merchant returns to the Emperor to give him an account of the transaction.
Then Charlemagne convokes the bishops and priests of all the province, and placing before them the money which the mouse has fetched, reads them a homely lesson on the foolishness of collecting profitless trifles. Sternly he enjoins them in future to use their money in administering to the wants of the poor rather than to throw it away on such unprofitable baubles as a painted mouse. The guilty bishop, now become the laughing-stock of the province, is permitted to depart without punishment.
History does not relate what became of the poor mouse. Probably its stay in the bishop's collection was not a long one, and doubtless his collecting activities were for the future somewhat restricted. At all events it is unlikely that natural history had any special attractions for him thereafter.
Doubtless the great majority of book-collectors are not specialists. They may set greater store by a certain class of works which appeals to them from some whimsical reason, but until they have grown middle-aged in their pursuit most of them are but dilettanti.
Yes, we can hear you exclaim, “but if your collecting propensities are to be curbed and countless books passed by, books which your very instinct urges you to acquire, surely you will lose most of the charm of collecting ? How dull to be obliged to purchase only those works to which you have vowed to confine yourself.'
Dull! No. We can assure you from our own experience that this restraint will but serve to redouble your eagerness, to sharpen an appetite in danger of becoming blunted by a plethora of desiderata and a shrinkage of your purse. So that whereas before, a short stroll about the bookshops would discover to you abundance, or at least plenty, of books that you would like casually to possess, now that you have become a specialist you must go further afield. Often you will return empty-handed from your rambles, and your sanctum (to the delight of the housemaid) will not be invaded quite so often by stacks of 'dirty old books. Order will come out of chaos ; many works bought upon impulse because they appealed to you at the moment will be weeded out and discarded. Moreover the shillings which this process yields will enable you to send that priceless gem, the chef d'euvre of your collection, to the binder's, that its extrinsic appearance may be fashioned in keeping with its intrinsic worth.
More important still, you will become a known man. The booksellers will remember you, and one day when you reach home from a long and
barren ramble, you will find a postcard awaiting you, announcing the discovery of some book for which you have long sought.
'Sir, I have found a copy of the Vitruvius
John Brown.' Your ramble may have been on a cold winter's afternoon, it may have been raining and wet underfoot, but will not this cheer you up and warm you better than any cup of tea ? And what will be your sensations as you undo the parcel, take out the treasure (which you once saw in Johnson's catalogue for £3), turn eagerly to its title-page, and collate it as gently as though you were handling some priceless work of art ? Don't tell me! The specialist gets a thousand times more pleasure out of his hobby than ever did casual buyer. Besides, what rapture will be his whenever he chance upon some book for which he has long been searching, or upon some work on his very subject and yet unknown to him ; for book-collecting is full of surprises.
Some of the booksellers will ask you for a list of your wants. You may safely supply them with one, and it is not necessary to state the maximum price which you are prepared to pay for each. Should you do so, probably it will be taken to indicate that you are prepared to pay the price named, and the book when found will be offered to you at that price (or a few shillings less to give the idea of a bargain) when you might have had it at a considerably lower figure. Remember also that the very fact of a book being sought for enhances its price. Suppose that a country bookseller sees an advertisement in the trade journal asking for a copy of a certain obscure sixteenthcentury work, and that he recollects he has a copy somewhere in stock. He finds it among his shelves marked, possibly, five shillings. When he answers the advertisement it is more than likely that he will ask a pound or even two for it. At the same time, however, you must consider whether or not the book is worth as much to you. It may be a little known and, to the world at large, a valueless book, and you may have to wait some years before you are able to secure a copy; whereas by advertising for it you may procure a copy almost immediately. Do you prefer to take the chance of having to wait years for a book which you urgently want, or to pay a longish price and possess it at once ?
There is another point to be considered. Should you ever part with your collection en bloc, or should your executors dispose of it, this volume will be an item of the collection of works in which you specialise. As such it will be much more likely to realise the larger than the smaller price, especially as the disposal of a collection of books upon a definite subject attracts to the rostrum other collectors of a like class of works.
Surely every book-collector is in his heart of hearts a specialist. Have you ever taken into your hands some choice gem of your collection without wishing that there were others in your library of the same genus ? Is there not some one volume among your books that demands your first consideration when new shelving is put up, when your books are re-arranged; the volume to which you would fly first of all if a fire broke out in your sanctum ? Reader, we can almost hear you turn in your chair at the awful prospect of having to make choice between your precious tomes ! Indeed we are with you whole-heartedly, for there are two books, two priceless gems, rescued (the one from Austria, the other France) after years of patient search from the forgotten dust of ages, two books which ever strive for the ascendancy in our bibliophilar affections. Far from us be it to make distinction between them. Granted, however, that you have made up your mind as to the identity of the treasure, do you not wish to possess other equally choice works of the same class, on the same subject ? Suppose some distant relative of yours with great propriety should die, bequeathing you all unexpectedly far more worldly goods than you had ever hoped to possess ; supposing also that you were 'without encumbrances' or ties of any description, and that your