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I have no repugnances. Shaftesbury is not 800 genteel for me, nor Jonathan Wild too low. I can read anything which I call a book. There are things in that shape which I cannot allow for such.
In this catalogue of books which are no books--biblia a-biblia, I reckon Court Calendars, Directories, Pocket Books, Draught Boards bound and lettered on the back, Scientific Treatises, Almanacks, Statutes at Large: the works of Hume, Gibbon, Robertson, Beattie, Soame Jenyns, and generally all those vol. umes which "no gentleman's library should be without:" the Histories of Flavius Josephus (that learned Jew), and Paley's Moral Philoso phy. With these exceptions I can read almost anything. I bless my stars for a taste so catholic, so unexcluding.
I confess that it moves my spleen to see these things in books clothing perched upon shelves, like false saints, usurpers of true shrines, intruders into the sanctuary, thrusting out the legitimate occupants. To reach down a wellbound semblance of a volume, and hope it some kind-hearted play-book, then, opening what “seem its leaves," to come bolt upon a withering Population Essay. To expect a Steele or a Farquhar, and find Adam Smith. To view a well-arranged assortment of block-headed Encyclopædias (Anglicanas or Metropolitanas) set out in an array of russia or morocco, when
tithe of that good leather would comfortably
re-clothe my shivering folios—would renovate Paracelsus himself, and enable old Raymund Lully to look like himself again in the world. I never see these impostors but I long to strip them, to warm my ragged veterans in their spoils.
To be strong-backed and neat-bound is the desideratum of a volume. Magnificence comes after. This, when it can be afforded, is not to be lavished upon all kinds of books indiscriminately. For instance, I would not dress a set of Magazines in full suit. The dishabille, or half binding, (with russia backs ever,) is our costume. A Shakspeare or a Milton (unless the first editions) it were mere foppery to trick out in gay apparel. The possession of them confers no distinction. The exterior of them (the things themselves being so common), strange to say, raises no sweet emotions, no tickling sense of property in the owner. Thomson's Seasons, again, looks best (I maintain it) a little torn and dog's-eared. How beautiful to a genuine lover of reading are the sullied leaves and worn-out appearance, nay, the very odour, (beyond russia,) if we would not forget kind feelings in fastidiousness, of an old " Circulating Library” Tom Jones, or Vicar of Wakefield! How they speak of the thousand thumbs that have turned over their pages with delight ! of the lone sempstress, whom they may have cheered (milliner, or harder-working mantuamaker) after her long day's needle. Hoa, running far into midnight, when she has matched an hour, ill spared from sleep, to steep her cares, as in some Lethean cup, in spelling out their enchanting contents! Who would have them a whit less soiled? What better condition could we desire to see them in?
in some respects the better a book is, the less it demands from binding. Fielding, Smollett, Sterne, and all that class of perpetually self-reproductive volumes Great Nature's Stereotypes—we see them individually perish with less regret, because we know the copies of them to be "eterne." But where a book is at once both good and rare, where the individual is almost the species, and when that perishes, We know not where is that Promethean torch That can its light relumine; such a book, for instance, as the Life of the Duke of Newcastle, by his Duchess: no casket is rich enough, no casing sufficiently durable, to honour and keep safe such a jewel.
Not only rare volumes of this description, which seem hopeless ever to be reprinted, but old editions of writers, such as Sir Philip Sydney, Bishop Taylor, Milton in his prose works, Fuller, (of whom we have reprints, yet the books themselves, though they go about, and are talked of here and there, we know have not endenizened themselves, nor possibly ever will, in the national heart, so as to become stock books,) it is good to possess these in durable and costly covers. I do not care for a First Folio of Shakspeare. I rather prefer the common editions of Rowe and Tonson, without notes, and with plates, which, being so execrably bad, serve as maps or modest remembrancers to the text; and without pretending to any supposable emulation with it, are so much better than the Shakspeare engravings, which did. I have a community of feeling with my countryman about his Plays, and I like those editions of him best which have been oftenest tumbled about and handled. On the contrary, I cannot read Beaumont and Fletcher but in Folio. The Octavo editions are painful to look at. I have no sympathy with them. If they were as much read as the current editions of the other poet, I should prefer them in that shape to the older one. I do not know a more heartless sight than the reprint of the “ Anatomy of Melancholy." What need was there of unearthing the bones of that fantastic old great man, to expose them in a winding-sheet of the newest fashion to modern censure? What hapless stationer could dream of Burton ever becoming popular ? The wretched Malone could not do worse, when he bribed the sexton of Stratford Church to let him white-wash the painted effigy of old Shakspeare, which stood there, in rude but lively fashion depicted, to the very colour of the cheek, the eye, the eyebrow, hair, the very dress he used to wear, --the only authentic testimony we had, however imperfect, of these curious parts and parcels of him. They covered him over with a coat of white paint. By, if I had been a justice of peace for Warwickshire, I would have clapped both commentator and sexton fast in the stocks, for a pair of meddling sacrilegious varlets.
I think I see them at their work, these sapient trouble-tombs!
Shall I be thought fantastical if I confess that the names of some of our poets sound sweeter, and have a finer relish to the ear, (to mine at least,) than that of Milton or of Shakspeare? It may be that the latter are more staled and rung upon in common discourse. The sweetest names, and which carry a perfume in the mention, are Kit Marlowe, Drayton, Drummond of Hawthornden, and Cowley.
Much depends upon when and where you read a book. In the five or six impatient minutes before the dinner is quite ready, who would think of taking up the “ Fairy Queen” for a stop-gap, or a volume of Bishop An. drewes's sermons ?
Milton almost requires a solemn service of music to be played before you enter upon him. But he brings his music; to which, who listens, had need bring docile thoughts and purged
Winter evenings--the world shut out with less of ceremony the gentle Shakspeare enters.