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HIDDEN LITERARY TREASURE. " QURS is a wonderful country,” say those meritorious persons to whom the commendation of their native land is at heart, the salubrious climate, the fertility of the soil, the universal beauty of the landscape, the irriguous and unfading meadows, the pleasant villages, the frequent rivers with their commodious havens, all the external and visible means of enjoyment and opulence have long continued to furnish the theme of just praise. In later times, statistical panegyric, according to the fashion of the age of an iron age, in more than one sense, -has laboured to demonstrate the pre-eminence of England, by reason of our internal and invisible wealth-of our subterranean and hidden treasure. The value of the metals and minerals, that, with an unwearied activity and incredible ingenuity, are extracted every year from beneath the surface of this island, is, indeed, astonishing-so vast, indeed, that it would ill become the uninstructed to endeavour to measure it, or to attempt to repeat, in the language of more skilful calculators, the enormous reckoning. It is necessary, even for the most studious, to consent at once to be for ever ignorant of many things, and to be satisfied with a vague admiration, and with the conviction that our country is, in this respect, truly wonderful. If the term “hidden treasure” were understood in the largest sense; if the various capabilities that certainly exist, but as certainly have existed hitherto in vain; if all the precious things now concealed, and dishonoured, and trampled beneath our feet; if the whole of these, and whatever is now out of sight and out of mind, but Inight advantageously be brought to day, were included in those two familiar words, and if their extent and magnitude were fully explained, the admiration would be infinitely, and perhaps painfully, increased. Our unexplored and unprized wealth is prodigious. One instance may be adduced, which can be expressed in a few words : it will be intelligible to every one; and the simple fact, in a new and striking manner, will at once convince the most sceptical that ours is, indeed, a wonderful country.
It is not generally known, nor has it hitherto occurred to any person, not even to the most learned, to state, that there are several thousand MSS. in England, of great antiquity and importance, hidden and buried, and from the use of which scholars are practically shut out and wholly excluded, although these precious volumes are undeniably and indispus tably public property. It is unnecessary and inexpedient to detail exactly the minute particulars respecting the precise amount of the treasure and the mode of concealment; it will be enough at present to offer a brief and popular history of the extraordinary fact. A collection of the catalogues of the various MSS. in England and Ireland was published at Oxford in 1697, in folio. The first of the two volumes comprehends the libraries of the two Universities only: it may be laid aside, therefore, entirely; since, however unsatisfactory the arrangements at Oxford or Cambridge, with respect to the custody of MSS. and the access to them, may be, they have no connexion whatever with that very remarkable matter to which the attention of the curious is now directed, The second volume comprises the titles of about twelve thousand MSS. ; some of these were undoubtedly at that time the private property of the individuals in whose collections they found a place; and although many of the excepted books have since been transferred to public repositories, inasmuch as a nice accurary with respect to numbers is wholly unimportant, one-half may perhaps be subtracted, and six thousand volumes will remain--six thousand MSS. of great antiquity, value, and interest, belonging, unquestionably, to the king, or to the three estates, or to the people of England,that is to say, being public property, whereof the use ought to be as free to all who could estimate its worth, as it is to navigate the Thames, or to expatiate in Hyde Park; but which are as inaccessible, or rather far more so, since the diving-bell has opened the secrets of the deep, as if they were submerged in the hold of the Royal George. It is probable, indeed, that the number of MSS, is far greater than has been stated; a superficial inspection of the volume before referred to will convince even the least experienced that such is the case. Several of our cathedral and collegiate churches are altogether unnoticed ;-in no instance is the public library of any bishop, which is annexed to his see, and transmitted by each prelate to his successor, mentioned ;-the printed catalogue of the archiepiscopal library at Lambeth alone enumerates about twelve hundred MSS. Of the collections actually inserted the list is usually scanty and imperfect, containing such volumes only as the compiler deemed valuable, or chanced to have examined. Whether the total amount be really five, or ten, or twenty thousand, it matters not, in truth; for the smallest of these numbers, or a much smaller number than the smallest, would suffice to fill a mind capable of reflection with astonishment, that such things could be in any civilized, or, indeed, in any barbarous nation. If it were possible that, through some unaccountable accident, a few hundred books should be brought together amongst Hottentots, or Otaheitans, or New Zealanders, although the casual collectors might perhaps avail themselves of their literary stores as little as our bishops and deans, is it probable, or credible, that inquisitive strangers would be kept off with equal pertinacity by the less inhospitable savages ?
A recent instance will prove how effectually foreigners are prevented, by wicked and unnatural restrictions, from participating in the benefits that might be derived and communicated from our public, but concealed, hoards. Of about one hundred MSS. which are enumerated in the preface to the edition of Aristotle's works, lately published at Berlin, as having been collated by the editors in various countries, for the purification and correction of the text, one only is English. The MSS. of the various treatises of Aristotle, of which British damp and British worms enjoy a strict monopoly, are numerous. The intercourse of Prussian scholars with England is more frequent than that of many other continental nations : if their steady and resolute diligence were not notorious, the elaborate correction of the Stagyrite before alluded to would alone prove that such brave men are not to be driven out of the path which leads to knowledge by ordinary obstacles; yet ignorant and impudent impostors still dare to assert, that, in a land blessed by their auspices, the human mind rapidly crosses the field of science in every direction by forced marches, conquering and to conquer the difficult and the impossible.
That an alien, however bold, patient, wily, and indefatigable, should set his foot within the threshold of the library of any of our cathedral or collegiate churches, or of the public collection of MSS. in the care of a bishop, seems, of all impracticable things, the least practicable. All-daring and all-enduring cunning was the beautiful ideal of the Greek character in the days of the father of poetry, as it is in our times ; he has accordingly embodied the national subtlety, and has wrought therewith specious miracles. His hero, Ulysses, was able to eat of the curds and cheese, and to drink the milk and whey, although they were in the custody of the Cyclops; but the poet did not venture to predict, through Circe, or some other vehicle of prophecy, that a stranger of Grecian descent would one day enter a den guarded by a dean, and would obtain a sight of some mouldering copy of the divine poem. His loyal admirers never presume to doubt that Homer knew and foreknew all things; the prodigy was present, therefore, to his comprehensive mind, but he rejected it, although picturesque and striking, because it would have violated even the epic probability. To a foreigner, admission is, and has long been, absolutely impossible; to a native, it is difficult beyond description or conception. A large volume would not contain the various obstacles and disappointments which one inquisitive and active student has encountered within the space of a few years. The site of the library is not known to the vicinage; but time at last makes wise, and experience suggests the question—" Which is the door that is always locked ?" The outer door is found and examined, being black and solid, of oak and of iron : it is unusual, but not unlawful, to call aloud, to kick, or to strike, with hand, or stone, or stick. How few persons are able to hunt out those who can declare that he is absent, who would point out him, who could declare that the man is not to be found anywhere, who should make the first excuse! Sometimes, however, all are frank, and candid, and forward : whatever can be desired is forthcoming; they concede, in short, every thing but the key. The credulous scholar, confiding in promises, posts thither from a distance; and the key, he is told at the door, was forgotten, or lost, or mislaid, or another has been substituted by mistake. The resolute, however, sometimes triumph. After a resistance not unbecoming its strength, the outer door has yielded, and the inner door, in a struggle commensurate with its weakness, has also given way : but there is lock within lock; the press is locked ; and although the back of the desired MS. is seen through the bars, it cannot be approached. A determined inquirer, who was thus tantalized, urged strenuously that a fresh search should be instituted, since the game was in sight. The delay was long, and the reluctance great; nevertheless the key of the press was at last found ; and although the books were in the charge of a learned body far less hostile to letters than the corporations to which our literary treasures are usually confided, it was shown, by unerring proofs, that it had been missing, but never missed, for full eighty years.
At a library in the metropolis, a visiter has been repeatedly informed that the keeper of the MSS. was residing upon his living in Yorkshire : the period of his departure was so remote, that it was forgotten; and the time of his return so uncertain, that it could not be predicted. It is no easy task, indeed, to look a librarian in the face, still less easy is it to pin him down to anything definite; for, like a Hebrew witness, he is commonly a shifting, changeful fellow, although, like the Jew, civil and fair-spoken. An ünmerited opulence, however, has sometimes gene
Sept.-VOL. XXXIX. NO. CLIII.
rated insolence; and a churlish pluralist has manifested his vexation, that the applicant should seek to learn, with such rudeness, às has moved the mildest observer to desire that the wrathful clerk were straightway consigned to a neighbouring horse-pond, for the ablution of his angry discourtesy. Whenever the student presents himself at à conventual or corporate library without a special recommendation, the want of it is alleged against him ;-robbers and burglars are addicted to the perusal and transcription of Greek MSS., and they often effect their nefarious purposes under the pretext of collation and emendation : the thing is notorious; and if the abandoned critic would escape the watchhouse and the police, he must run for it. Should the simple wight appear armed with written introductions, his case is more cruel ; for the refusal is not less certain, but more tedious. With gentleness and gratitude must he politely accept any excuse, and all excuses in long succession, through a regard for the feelings and reputation of the introducer; a worthless list of useless printed books for a catalogue of valuable MSS.; a broomstick for a book; or an old hat instead of a librarian. A promise misleads, by inducing the loss of time and of toil; a kick or å cuff is conclusive, and declares that satisfaction, legal or military, may perchance be had, literary never. The enumeration of evils would be endless, as the evils themselves are enormous. How, then, are they to be remedied? The cure is easy and effectual.
At Vienna, at Naples, at Milan; in France, in Denmark, it is said, and partially even in Spain ; in countries which we contemn as barbarous, all the MSS. in the custody of corporations have been collected by the authority of the state, and deposited in a public library. The inconveniences which we now perceive were felt, or rather some of them only. The insecurity of most valuable possessions, and the dispersion in remote places of objects that ought to be assembled in the capital, were the alleged grievances; that access should be refused was a crime of which less arrogant nations were happily ignorant. Nor was the prudent collection, in all cases, a modern innovation; sometimes—as, for example, at Vienna-it was effected at an era which our pert philosophers would scorn as uncivilized. Our gross and guilty negligence has already received a merited, but most cruel, chastisement: at Carlisle many choice, unesteemed, but inestimable, MSS. were burnt; at St. Paul's, also, it is said, and in Sion College; and the contents of the Chapter library at Westminster were destroyed by fire; amongst the last some have asserted, whether erroneously none can now determine, that the accursed flames, hot from the depths of perdition, devoured the Second Decade of Livy. How much injury, never to be repaired, would have been avoided, had the scattered volumes been gathered together betimes ! A folio, containing about half of the Lexicon of Suidas, seems to have disappeared from the Chapter library at Durham, where, however, the administration has been more careful than in other similar repositories : the MS. is described in the Oxford catalogues, but not in the particular catalogue lately published at Durham. Many stray MSS. attest the frequency of abstraction; and it is to be feared that damp and neglect have too often committed fatal ravages : hence, perhaps, in part arises the unwillingness to admit visiters. But these evils must cease.
It is the paramount duty of an enlightened administration, without loss
of time, to despatch a trusty and experienced person, armed with the authority of the legislature, to collect these precious memorials, and to deposit them in the British Museum. It is not necessary for the purposes of literature that the property should be changed; each volume may be inscribed and registered as belonging to the particular body in whose charge it is found, but entrusted by the state to the British Museum for safe custody and more convenient reference. Thus the silly quibble about the private property of corporations will be avoided ; and there will be no temptation to forget that these fictitious creatures, whether sole or aggregate, are ancillary to, and wholly dependent upon, the public will. Nor will the direction of a munificent testator, that the books by him bequeathed should remain in a specified place, occasion any difficulty; for he selected the locality only because it would be commodious to the studious, and he would doubtless rejoice that their convenience should be augmented by a wise and well-ordered change. By the word manuscript, charters, records, and other muniments and evidences of legal rights, are not here signified, but those ancient writings only which the ordinary acceptation of the term by the learned would denote: the greater part of our sepulchred wealth is Latin, much Greek, and a portion in English, French, or other languages. To descant upon the value of the precious remains is needless : every manuscript has its peculiarities--an individuality, a certain idiosyncrasy; its leaves can never be turned over without profit. As those who would fully understand an author desire to consult every printed edition, so would they also examine every manuscript, each manuscript being, in truth, a different edition; the chief use of printed books being, perhaps, as some have taught, to prepare the reader for the study of MSS., inasmuch as the ancient usage of comprehending a work thoroughly existed at a period long anterior to the invention of printing. Whoever, for the moderate charge of one guinea a year, purchases the privilege of advertising his name every week or month on the drab cover of a sixpenny discourse, touching all, or not touching any, of the sciences, is deemed a patron of learning and of learned men, being himself, of course, most learned: no other encouragement is known to the age. Nevertheless, the necessity of searching for and collecting the vast mass of hidden treasure is so obvious and urgent, that if it be duly insisted upon it cannot long be delayed. Frequently and strenuously to press so important a matter will not be discreditable; nor surely is the first suggestion.