Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Prices Of Manuscript Books

( Originally Published 1898 )

IN a treatise devoted to an inquiry concerning the varying prices of hooks, it is necessary that at least one chapter should be devoted to manuscripts. There is no field of investigation which offers a more interesting subject for study, and few that are more difficult to master. Manuscripts are really more attractive than printed hooks, because they are so various, and have been produced over a much longer period of the world's history. It is therefore strange that so few authors care to trouble themselves about them ; that this is so may be seen from the large number of readers at the British Museum who are contented to quote over and over again from the much-used printed books, and the comparatively few who cultivate the virgin soil of the Manuscript Department, where there are endless stores of unused materials.

Manuscripts are usually somewhat miscellaneous in character, for they consist (1) of some of the finest examples of the pictorial art of many ages ; (2) of the originals of the great works of antiquity ; (3) of a large number of valuable works that have never been printed ; (4) of charters, documents, letters, memoranda, &c., which are of great value, but which are not books, and therefore do not come within the scope of our present inquiry. In respect to the prices of the manuscripts, it is very difficult to say anything of much value, because (i) many of the most important manuscripts have been transferred from library to library in bulk, and it is comparatively seldom that they come up for public sale ; (2) the buyers of manuscripts are fewer than those of printed books, and therefore it is more difficult to arrive at a real standard price for books which are practically unique, as there is no wide public opinion upon the subject. But for the present purpose, a still more important reason why this vast subject cannot be dealt with in a succinct manner is, that the materials for its history have not yet been thoroughly investigated by experts. The relative prices at different periods are hard to understand, even in England, where money has been better regulated than in most countries ; but when we have to deal with foreign countries and foreign coins, we are necessarily at a loss how to convert into their present value coins which may have been depreciated at the time we are dealing with, and have certainly been still more depreciated since : for instance, what idea is communicated to the mind of the modern reader when he is told that " Borso d'Este paid forty ducats for a Josephus and a Quintus Curtius, while his large two-volume Bible cost him 1375 sequins " ?

In dealing with manuscripts, it is most important to distinguish between plain and illuminated manuscripts. The neglect of this caution has led to an exaggerated idea of the cost of books before the invention of printing. Instances have been given of purchases at sums equal to a king's ransom. Hence it is supposed that books were so dear that they were quite out of the reach of any but the richest personages. But this view is erroneous, for we know that by means of the slave labour at Rome and the organised work in the monasteries, plainly written manuscripts could be obtained at a reasonable price. We know now that transcripts of MSS. can be had at a price which, if dear when compared with the price of a newly-published printed book, is by no means extravagant. What could be done at a centre of civilisation like Rome, where books were produced in large numbers and at low prices on account of the organisation of literary production, could be done at other places. There is evidence that at London, and at those seats of learning, Oxford and Cambridge, where caligraphy was a profession, books were not difficult to obtain. Every church and chapel must have had service-books. Probably during the Middle Ages, when travelling was arduous and expensive, persons living in out-of-the-way places had to pay special prices for their literary treasures.

The late Professor J. Henry Middleton referred to this matter of cost in his valuable work on " Illuminated Manuscripts " (1892). After quoting from Aulus Gellius, he wrote

"But ordinary copies of newly-published works, even by popular authors, appear to have been but little more expensive than books of this class are at the present day. The publisher and bookseller Tryphon could sell Martial's first book of Epigrams at a profit for two denarii barely two shillings in modern value (see Mart xiii. 3). It may seem strange that written manuscripts should not have been much more costly than printed books, but when one considers how they were produced, the reason is evident. Atticus, the Sosii, and other chief publishers of Rome, owned a large number of slaves, who were trained to be neat and rapid scribes. Fifty or a hundred of these slaves could write from the dictation of one reader, and thus a small edition of a new volume of Horace's Odes or Martial's Epigrams could be produced with great rapidity, and at very small cost" (P. 19).

In the fifteenth century, even, illustrated Books of Hours were produced in France, Flanders, and Holland at a cheap rate. Mr. Middleton wrote---

" Education had gradually been extended among various classes of laymen, and by the middle of the fifteenth century it appears to have been usual not only for all men above the rank of artizans to be able to read, but even women of the wealthy bourgeois class could make use of prayer-books. Hence arose a great demand for pictured Books of Hours, which appear to have been produced in enormous quantities by the trade scribes of towns. such as Bruges, Paris, and many others. These common manuscript Hours are monotonous in form and detail ; they nearly always have the same set of miniatures, which are coarse in detail and harsh in colour" (P-141).

Mr. Middleton gives some further information respecting the cost of production of certain service-books taken from some church records in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

"From these accounts (1379—1385) we learn that six manuscripts were written, illuminated, and bound, one of them with gold or silver clasps or bosses, at a total cost of £14, 9s. 3d., more than £150 in modern value" (p. 222). " Three Processionals only cost L1, 17s, 4d., being on forty-six quaternions of cheap parchment made of sheepskin, which cost only 21d. the quaternion " (p. 223).

There was thus great variety of cost in the production of the various kinds of books, but when we consider the matter, we shall find it impossible to do other than believe that a demand for service-books, the price of which was not prohibitive, must have existed.

The Rev. T. Hartwell Horne gave in his "Introduction to Bibliography" some instances of the prices of manuscripts in the Middle Ages, but as some of these were evidently exceptional cases, although they have been used by historians to draw conclusions which we must consider as erroneous, they need not be repeated here.

Dr. S. R. Maitland in his admirable work on the "Dark Ages" comments with much acuteness on some of these cases as quoted by Dr. Robertson, and shows that the historian has drawn a general conclusion from special instances, which in certain cases have not been correctly reported. Maitland adds that some writer a few centuries hence might

"Tell his gaping readers. . . that in the year 1812 one of our nobility gave £2260 and another £ 1060 for a single volume, and that the next year a Johnson's Dictionary was sold by public auction to a plebeian purchaser for £200. A few such facts would quite set up some future Robertson, whose readers would never dream that we could get better reading, and plenty of it, much cheaper at that very time. The simple fact is, that there has always been such a thing as bibliomania since there have been books in the world, and no member of the Roxburghe Club has yet equalled the Elector of Bavaria, who gave a town for a single manuscript " (pp. 66-7).

Interesting particulars respecting the composition, binding, and expenses of Petrarch's library will be found in M. de Nolhac's monograph on the subject. Petrarch kept copyists in his house, whose short-comings occasioned him much vexation. He bequeathed his library to Venice, and the Venetians are accused of having suffered it to be dispersed, but it would seem that it never reached them.

We may judge from the immense number of manuscripts still existing, in spite of the wholesale destruction that occurred at various times, how large was the output in the Middle Ages. It is therefore preposterous to suppose that when books were being produced in large numbers in hundreds of monasteries in Europe they were only bought by kings or great nobles.

During the troubled times of the Barons' Wars there must have been great destruction of literary treasures, and at the Reformation, when whole libraries were destroyed and made waste-paper of, the ignorant waste was appalling. "The splendid and magnificent abbey of Malmesbury, which possessed some of the finest manuscripts in the kingdom, was ransacked, and its treasures either sold, or burnt to serve the commonest purposes of life. An antiquary who travelled through that town many years after the dissolution, relates that he saw broken windows patched up with remnants of the most valuable MSS. on vellum, and that the bakers hadn't even then consumed the stores they had accumulated in heating their ovens." That so much is left after the wholesale raid on the monasteries is largely due to the sound antiquarian taste of John Leland, to whom we of later ages are supremely indebted.

In all times of political convulsions the learning of the world stands a bad chance of escaping great loss, and we are told that twenty-five thousand manuscripts were burnt during the horrors of the French Revolution.

Carelessness and the contempt felt for old books are still the great destructive forces in the East, and the Hon. Robert Curzon, who travelled in search of manuscripts, gives in his "Visits to the Monasteries in the Levant " (1849) a lively account of the irreparable losses that are constantly occur-ring. (See also Archdeacon Tattam's and M. Pacho's narratives of their negotiations with the monks of the Nitrian Desert for Syrian MSS., and the subsequent experiences of Tischendorf and Mrs. Lewis.) One of the most recent literary events is the recovery of a number of Jewish manuscripts from a Genizah or storehouse of old papers and parchments at Cairo, where they were preserved indeed, but entirely neglected.

The late Mr. Thorold Rogers paid considerable attention to the prices of books, and recorded many valuable facts respecting them in his important work, " History of Agriculture and Prices in England." After commenting on some prices in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, he adds, " such prices indicate that written literature was not wholly inaccessible to the general public " (vol. i. p. 646).

The particulars of the cost of church books give perhaps the best idea of prices, because these were needed by a large number of the population. Some of them were of small price, while others of a more elaborate character were of great price. In the year 1278 the bailiff of Farley spent six shillings and eightpence for books for the church, and in 1300 the monks of Ely paid six shillings for a Decretal, and two shillings for Speculum Gregorianum. In 1329 the precentor received six shillings and sevenpence, with an instruction to go to Balsham to purchase books.1 In 1314 a Bible cost three pounds, and in 1357 a book was bought for Farley church for four shillings.

Mr. Blades printed in his Life of Caxton an inventory of the library of Jean, Duc de Berri, at the château of Mohun sur Yevre, 1416. At the death of the duke the library contained one hundred and sixty-two volumes, valued at 14,909 livres.

In 1443 twenty-seven volumes were purchased by the authorities of King's Hall, Cambridge, from the executors of John Paston (who had been their steward), at a cost of L8, 17s. 4d. In 1447 the same college bought a Psalter for three shillings and eightpence, and a Donatus for one shilling.

In 1449 twenty new Processionals cost All Souls College one hundred and thirteen shillings and fourpence, and in 1453 a book of Wycliffe's was bought for seven shillings and sixpence, and one written against him for three shillings and sixpence.' A manuscript of 157 leaves, containing some of the works of St. Gregory, was bought in 1455 for 3, 6s. 8d.

In 1459 Fastolfe's books were highly priced ; thus a fair Mass book was fixed at ten pounds, and a Holy Legend at the same sum, while two new great Antiphons were together 113, 6s. 8d.

One of St. Augustine's Epistles, containing 179 leaves, sold sometime after 1468 for L1, 13s. 4d., and about the same time one of St. Bernard's Treatises, written on 211 Ieaves, was bought by Richard Hopton from the executors of a former possessor for twenty shillings.

Perhaps a rather more accurate idea of the cost of manuscript books can be obtained from a consideration of the cost of materials and the pay of the scribes, and, fortunately, particulars have come down to us which allow of a comparison of the various expenses.

A pocket lectionary was made in 1265 for the use of Eleanor de Montfort, Countess of Leicester, and sister of Henry III. Twenty dozen of fine vellum were purchased for the work at the price of ten shillings, and the writing, which was executed at Oxford, cost fourteen shillings.

Richard du Marche, an illuminator, was paid forty shillings for illuminating a Psalter and a pair of tablets for Queen Eleanor, consort of Edward I.

In the same accounts of this queen an entry is made of L6, 13s. 4d. to Adam the royal goldsmith for work done upon certain books.'

Professor Middleton printed in his "Illuminated Manuscripts" (pp. 220–23) extracts from the Manuscript Records of the Collegiate Church of St. George at Windsor, from which it appears that John Prust (Canon of Windsor from 1379 to 1385) was paid ,L&14, 9S. 3d. for six manuscripts written, illuminated, and bound, one of them with gold or silver clasps or bosses. The six books were an Evangeliarium, a Martyrologium, an Antiphonale, and three Processionals.

The three Processionals only cost 1, 17s. 4d., being written on forty-six quaternions of cheap parchment made of sheepskin, which cost only 2l d. the quaternion.

Mr. Falconer Madan tells us that "in 1453 John Reynbold agreed at Oxford to write out the last three books of Duns Scotus's Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, in quarto, for 2s. 2d. each book," and that "a transcript in folio by this Reynbold of part of Duns Scotus on the Sentences is in both Merton and Balliol College Libraries at Oxford, one dated 1451."

Sir John Fenn quotes in illustration of one of the Paston Letters the account of Thomas, a limner or illuminator of manuscripts residing at Bury St.

Edmunds, against Sir John Howard of Stoke by Neyland in Suffolk (afterwards Duke of Norfolk), dated July 1467.

In quoting the foregoing particulars of the early sale of MSS. and of the cost of production, no attempt has been made to calculate the present value of the amounts set down, because the data for such a calculation are not available. It will, however, be well if the reader remembers that the various amounts mentioned must have been equal at the very least to ten times these sums in the present day. Professor Middleton multiplies by ten, but when we find an expert scribe charging one penny and twopence for one leaf, and the " commons" of another is set down at tenpence per week, we may safely reckon the multiplier at considerably more than ten in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

The scribes and illuminators already mentioned were the individual workers, who were employed by corporations and men of wealth to produce books for their libraries ; but the wholesale producers of books, who employed armies of scribes, must not he overlooked in this place. Vespasiano di Bisticci of Florence (b. 1421) was the chief of these booksellers, and he assisted to form the three most famous libraries in Italy the Laurentian in Florence, that of the Vatican, and the library of Federigo, Duke of Urbino, which was afterwards bought by Pope Alexander VII. and incorporated into the Vatican Library. Vespasiano was an author as well as a bookseller, and has recorded some of his doings in his Fite degli Uomini Illustri. He gives a detailed list of the works he obtained for the Duke of Urbino, which comprised all the known classics, the Fathers, books on astrology, science, medicine, art, music, and all the Italian authors and poets. Vespasiano claimed that in this magnificent library, which cost 30,000 ducats, every author was found complete, and not a page of his writings was missing. Every book was written on vellum, and there was not a single one of which he was ashamed. Vespasiano was ever ready to form a library, as the following anecdote will prove.

Niccolo Niccoli having spent a long life and all his patrimony in collecting, left his books to Cosimo to found a public library. Cosimo built the fine pillared hall in the Convent of San Marco, and then proposed to form a worthy public library, of which the legacy of Niccoli should be the nucleus. He sent for Vespasiano for his advice, who said, " You could not buy books enough." "Then what would you do ?" asked Cosimo. " Have them written," re-plied the bookseller. On which Cosimo gave the commission, and Vespasiano set forty-five scribes and illuminators to work, and furnished two hundred volumes in twenty-two months. Cosimo was so pleased with the books, that he employed the successful purveyor to supply the illuminated Psalters and Missals for the Church of the new Convent of San Marco.1 No wonder, perhaps, that Vespasiano expresses his great dislike for the new-fangled art of printing. Every century has its own social convulsion, and thinks it the most important of all time. We talk of the revolutionary change made by the introduction of machinery in the nineteenth century, but we seldom realise how great a change in the occupations of the people took place in the fifteenth century, at the period of the invention of printing. Large numbers of men entirely dependent on their labours as scribes were thrown out of work. Many of these men were members of influential bodies, who were not inclined to sit clown idly under their misfortunes, so they petitioned against the use of printing ; but fate was too powerful for them, and their endeavours to boycott the printing-press were not successful, even though Vespasiano di Bisticci said that Duke Federigo would have been ashamed to have a printed book in his library.

John of Trittenheim, Abbot of Spanheim, who is known in literature as Trithemius, said some hard things against printing in an essay, De Laude Scriptorum Manualium, thus ;

" A work written on parchment could be preserved for a thousand years, while it is probable that no volume printed on paper will last for more than two centuries. Many important works have not been printed, and the copies required of these must be prepared by scribes. The scribe who ceases to perform his work because of the invention of printing can be no true lover of books, in that, regarding only the present, he gives no due thought to the intellectual cultivation of his successors. The printer has no care for the beauty and the artistic form of books, while with the scribe this is a labour of love."

When, however, Trithemius found it necessary to exhort his own monks, he was not able to speak very favourably of their love of books

"'There is, in my opinion, no manual labour more be-coming a monk than the writing of ecclesiastical books, and preparing what is needful for others who write them, for this holy labour will generally admit of being interrupted by prayer and of watching for the food of the soul no less than of the body. Need, also, urges us to labour diligently in writing books, if we desire to have at hand the means of usefully employing ourselves in spiritual studies. For you see that all the library of this monastery, which formerly was fine and large, has been so dissipated, sold, and made away with by the disorderly monks before us, that when I came I found but fourteen volumes."

Others were wiser than to oppose the new art, and many scribes, recognising the inevitable destruction of their trade, became printers. Caxton's master, Colard Mansion, was an extensive writer of manuscripts before he took to the business of printing at Bruges. Much has been written upon famous collections of manuscripts, and upon the individual works which compose them, but it is not often that these come to public auction, so that the particulars of prices are comparatively meagre. The grand collections of the British Museum and the Bodleian' are preserved in safety for the use of the learned, and we only know that they are of the greatest value. What they would fetch if sold now can only be guessed, and it would be merely frivolous to inquire. Three of the grandest collections in the Museum the old Royal Library, the Cotton, which was only saved from slow destruction by the establishment of the British Museum, to which it was transferred, and the Harley, which the nation obtained for £10,000 must now be of untold value.

The purchase by the British Museum of the library of Dr. Charles Burney greatly added to the completeness of the collections of Greek Classics.

Mr. Madan has given in Appendix A to his most useful and interesting work on "Books in Manuscript," 1893, a list of public libraries which contain more than 4000 MSS. The largest collections are as follows :—British Museum, 52,000, and 162,000 charters ; Bodleian Library, 31,000; Royal Library, Vienna, 20,000; Brussels, 30,000; Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, 80,000; Royal Library, Berlin, 16,000 ; Munich, 26,000 ; the Vatican, Rome, 23,600 ; Biblioteca Nazionale, Florence, 15,000; Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid, 25,000.

Among the manuscripts is the wonderful Iliad of Homer on vellum, formerly belonging to Mr. Towneley, which, although it cannot be dated further back than the beginning of the fourteenth century, is supposed to be of the earliest date of the MSS. of the Iliad known to scholars. A committee appointed to consider the purchase of the library stated in their report: "With respect to the value of the manuscripts, the Homer is rated by the different witnesses at from £60o to £800, and one of them supposed it might even reach so high a price as £1000 ;1 the Greek rhetoricians are estimated at from £340 to £500 ; the larger copy of the Greek Gospels at £200 ; the geography of Ptolemy at £65 ; and the copy of Plautus at £50. One witness estimates the whole of the ancient manuscripts at upwards of £2500, and an eminent bookseller at £3000." "The books with manuscript notes, together with Dr. Burney's Variorum Compilation, including the Fragmenta Scenica Grcaeca, are estimated by one at £1000, and by another as high as £1340." It must be remembered that this was written in 1818, and these prices may be multiplied considerably at the present day.

Even those large private collections which have been in the market of late years have mostly been sold in bulk, so that little light has been thrown upon the current value of fine manuscripts.

One of the best sources of information respecting present prices is to be found in Mr. Quaritch's admirable catalogues of his collections of literary treasures.

When the treasures of Hamilton Palace were dispersed by public auction, the priceless collection of manuscripts was sold by private contract to the German Government. The amount paid has never been officially announced, but it is believed to have reached the sum of L75,000. Some of these manuscripts were not required at Berlin, and they were sold in May 1889 by Messrs. Sotheby for £15,189.

The gem of the collection was the fifteenth-century manuscript of Dante's Divina Commedia, illustrated with upwards of eighty drawings, attributed to Sandro Botticelli. Of it a writer in the Times said, "This priceless volume may, without exaggeration, be described as the most valuable manuscript in existence, from its artistic interest, for it stands alone as an example of a literary work of the first order illustrated by an artist of the highest rank."

It is impossible here even to register some of the many beautiful works that made the manuscripts of the Duke of Hamilton so famous. Great dissatisfaction was felt by the British public when it was found that these treasures were to be transported to Berlin. Before the final decision was made, Mr. Ruskin, in a " General statement explaining the nature and purposes of St. George's Guild," wrote

" I hear that the library of Hamilton Palace is to be sold some time this spring. That library contains a collection of manuscripts which the late Duke permitted me to examine at leisure, now some thirty years ago. It contains many manuscripts for which I have no hope of contending successfully, even if I wished to do so, against the British Museum or the libraries of Paris and Vienna: But it contains also a very large number of manuscripts, among which I could assuredly choose some for which the partly exhausted general demand might be not extravagantly outbid, and I think the English public ought to have confidence enough in my knowledge of art and history to trust me with a considerable sum for this purpose."

Mr. Quaritch, who entered into Mr. Ruskin's plans, circulated this pamphlet, and asked for contributions to be sent to him, which he would for-ward to Mr. Ruskin. Had the Government of this country been of the same mind with Mr. Ruskin, these manuscripts would not have been lost to the country.

The sale of the Hamilton manuscripts to a foreign Government naturally caused those who were interested in these matters to feel great anxiety lest the Earl of Ashburnham's manuscripts, which it was known the owner wished to sell, should also be sent abroad. This collection consisted of upwards of three thousand manuscripts in about four thousand volumes, and were made up of purchases from the Duke of Buckingham (Stowe) and M. Libri ; and of an Appendix consisting of separate manuscripts purchased from time to time by the late Lord Ashburnham.

(1) The Stowe collection grew out of the library of MSS. formed by Thomas Astle, the palaeographer, and Keeper of the Records in the Tower. Astle directed by his will that his collection should be offered to the Marquis of Buckingham on certain specified terms, one of which was the payment of the sum of £500. This amount was not of course any measure of their value, and the bequest was made in gratitude to the Grenville family for favours which Astle had received from them. A room was built at Stowe by Mr. (afterwards Sir John) Soane to receive the collection, in which were charters, registers, wardrobe accounts, inventories, correspondence, and many items of the greatest historical value. O'Conor's Irish MSS. and the State Papers of Arthur Capel, Earl of Essex, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland in the reign of Charles II., afterwards found a home at Stowe. In April 1849 the Marquis of Chandos wrote to Sir Robert Peel, stating that he had recently had offers from private parties for the Stowe manuscripts, and offering them to the British Museum. Sir Frederick Madden valued the collection at £8300, but he was only authorised to treat with Lord Chandos for the Irish manuscripts separately, and to seek for further information respecting other portions of the collection. In the meantime, however, the whole number were sold to Lord Ashburnham for £8000.

(2) Libri collection. In June 1846 the Trustees of the British Museum applied for Treasury sanction to the expenditure of £9000 in the purchase of the Libri manuscripts, but this was refused. In September following renewed application was made for £6600 for the collection, less the Napoleon papers valued at £1000. The Treasury allowed 16000 with commission to agents, but the negotiation failed, and Lord Ashburnham obtained the MSS. for £8000.

(3) Barrois collection, chiefly consisting of French romances and poems, was offered to the British Museum in 1848 for £6000. It was examined by the Keeper of the Manuscripts, who recommended the purchase, but apparently no application was made to the Treasury, and the collection was soon afterwards sold to Lord Ashburnham for the same amount.

(4) Appendix of MSS. collected separately by Bertram, fourth Earl of Ashburnham, among which were some splendid illuminated manuscripts.

With respect to some of these manuscripts a difficulty had arisen, owing to M. Léopold Delisle's claim that a large number of the manuscripts in the Libri collection had been stolen from libraries in France by Libri while holding the office of Inspector-General of Libraries. M. Delisle also alleged that at least sixty of the Barrois manuscripts were stolen from the Paris National Library. In November 1879 Lord Ashburnham offered to treat for the sale of his library of printed books and manuscripts with the Museum alone, or jointly with the French Government, naming £16o,000 as the price for the whole, and stated that he had received an offer to that amount "from another quarter." The Trustees then asked whether Lord Ashburnham would treat for the manuscripts alone, and his answer in January 1880 was that he had ascertained that the offer he had received of £160,000 for the whole library from a private individual was intended for private speculation, and that the collection was worth a great deal more. This amount, which comes to about 1500 for each manuscript, seems to be very large, but competent authorities have agreed to the valuation. At any rate, the Treasury was not prepared to buy the whole at such a price, and the Principal Librarian treated for the Stowe collection alone, the price of which Lord Ashburnham fixed at £30,000.1 In the end these were purchased for the nation.

For many years the late Sir Thomas Phillipps was an omnivorous collector of manuscripts, and his collections were vast. They are gradually being sold by auction. Several portions have passed under the hammer of Messrs. Sotheby, and others are still to follow.

A very fine collection of illuminated manuscripts was gathered in a very short period by William Morris. It is fortunate that a collection made by one who knew so well what to buy is not to be dispersed or taken out of the kingdom. As long as it remains intact it will be a worthy monument of an enthusiastic lover of art who, while teaching the present age, was not forgetful of the history of the earlier workers in the same spirit.

We cannot register prices of such priceless manuscripts as the Gospels of St. Cuthbert, for two centuries at Lindisfarne, and now among the Cottonian MSS. in the British Museum, or the Book of Kells at Trinity College, Dublin both of the seventh century; but some few hooks of great interest which have been sold by auction may be mentioned here. The chief of these is the splendid manuscript of the Bible in the British Museum, said to have been presented by Alcuin to Charlemagne. The vicissitudes of this book are very remarkable. It was confiscated during the French Revolution, and eventually came into the possession of M. Speyr Passavant of Basle, who unavailingly offered it for a large sum to the chief libraries of Europe. It was offered to the Trustees of the British Museum, first for £12,000, then for £8000, and lastly for £6500. The unfounded claims of the proprietor, who appears to have been very much of a charlatan, appear to have damaged the repute of the MS., and it remained on his hands. On 27th April 1836 the volume was put up to auction at Evans's rooms, and was described in six pages of a catalogue in which it was the chief lot. It was catalogued as the Emperor Charlemagne's Bible a manuscript on vellum by Alcuin, completed A.D. 800, presented to Charlemagne A.D. 801 at the ceremony of his coronation, and mentioned in his will. The date is not undisputed, and it is supposed by some to be of about forty years later. The statement that this Bible is mentioned in the Emperor's will is absolutely denied. The price registered in Evans's sale catalogue is £1500, and the purchaser is given as Scordet, but the book was really bought in, and it is said that few of the biddings for it were genuine. After this failure fresh overtures were made to the British Museum, and in the end it was bought for that library for £750, which must be considered a small price for so splendid and interesting a book. There was some correspondence on this Bible in the Gentleman's Magazine, in which Sir Frederick Madden took part. These letters are reprinted in Gomme's Gentleman's Magazine Library (" Literary Curiosities," 1888, pp. 234-64). Another historical manuscript of particular beauty which has been several times sold by auction, and now safely reposes at the British Museum, is the famous so-called Bedford Missal (really Book of Hours), written and illuminated for John, Duke of Bedford, Regent of France under Henry VI., to whom he presented the book in the year 1430. It passed into the hands of Henry II. of France, and long subsequently into those of Lady Worsley (widow of Sir Robert Worsley), from whom it was purchased by the Earl of Oxford, who bequeathed it to his daughter, the Duchess of Port-land. At the latter's sale in 1786 it was bought by James Edwards the bookseller for £213, 3S. At Edwards's sale in 1815 it was bought for £687, 15s. by the Marquis of Blandford, who afterwards sold it to Mr. Broadley. At Broadley's sale in 1833 Sir John Tobin bought it for £1100. Sir John's son sold it to the bookseller from whom the British Museum purchased it in 1852.

Two instances of most interesting manuscripts sold at very inadequate prices may here be recorded. One of the most distinguished among the Ashburn-ham manuscripts was one known as the Alhani Missal. It is a manuscript of offices, and was executed apparently for Alemanno Salviati, gonfalonier of Florence and brother-in-law of Lorenzo de' Medici, and given by him to one of his relatives of the house of Baroncelli. This beautiful volume contains five full-page miniatures, each the work of a master. The first is by the hand of Amico Aspertini, of Bologna, the pupil of Francia ; the next is attributed to Lorenzo di Credi ; the third and fourth of high excellence, though unassigned; and the fifth by Perugino, signed " Petrus Perusinus pinxit." For this artistic treasure Mr. James Dennistoun gave £20 in Rome in the year 1838. When he had purchased it he found that opposition to its leaving Italy would be made on the part of the Roman authorities, so he had it unbound and divided, and got it sent to England privately a few pages at a time. He afterwards sold it to Lord Ashburnham for £700. These facts were printed in the Times in '883 by a cousin of Mr. Dennistoun.

Mr. Madan gives in his " Books in Manuscript," 1893, a very interesting account of a bargain obtained by the Bodleian Library, which account is here re-produced in a somewhat condensed form. "Six years ago [1887] a little octavo volume, in worn brown binding, stood on the shelves of a small parish library in Suffolk, but was turned out and offered at the end of a sale at Sotheby's, presumably as being unreadable to country folk." It was de-scribed iii the catalogue as "Latin Gospels of the Fourteenth Century, with English Illuminations." For the sum of 16 it passed into the Bodleian Library, and came to be catalogued as an ordinary accession. It was noticed that the writing was of the eleventh century, and that the illuminations were valuable specimens of old English work of the same century, comprising figures of the four evangelists, of the Byzantine type, which was common in the west of Europe ; the drapery, however, colouring, and accessories were purely English. The book itself was seen to be not the complete Gospels, but such portions as were used in the service of the Mass at different times of the year. On a fly-leaf was found a Latin poem, describing how the hook had dropped in the water and was brought up by a soldier, who plunged in after it. Surprise was expressed that the book was uninjured, save a slight contraction of two of the leaves, and to this expression was added, "May the king and pious queen be saved for ever, whose book was but now saved from the waves ! " Curiosity was felt as to the identity of this king and queen, when the difficulty was solved by a reference to Forbes-Leith's " Life of St. Margaret of Scotland," where this passage occurs : " She had a book of the Gospels beautifully adorned with gold and precious stones, and ornamented with the figures of the four evangelists painted and gilt. . . . She had always felt a particular attachment for this book, more so than for any of the others which she usually read." Then follows a story almost identical with the one given above, which proves that the identical book is now preserved in the Bodleian Library.

It is not often that bargains such as these can be obtained, but in spite of a great rise in price large numbers of manuscripts are still purchaseable on reasonable terms. The late Mr. J. H. Middleton was particularly urgent in pointing this out, and his words may appropriately close this chapter

"On the whole, a fine manuscript may be regarded as about the cheapest work of art of bygone days that can now be purchased by an appreciative collector. Many of the finest and most perfectly preserved manuscripts which now come into the market are actually sold for smaller sums than they would have cost when they were new, in spite of the great additional value and interest which they have gained from their antiquity and comparative rarity. For example, a beautiful and perfectly preserved historical Anglo-Norman Vulgate of the thirteenth century, with its full number of eighty-two pictured initials, written on between six and seven hundred leaves of finest uterine vellum, can now commonly be purchased for from £30 to £40. This hardly represents the original value of the vellum on which the manuscript is written.

"Manuscripts of a simpler character, however beautifully written, if they are merely decorated with blue and red initials, commonly sell for considerably less than the original cost of their vellum.

" A collector with some real knowledge and appreciation of what is artistically fine can perhaps lay out his money to greater advantage in the purchase of manuscripts than by buying works of art of any other class, either mediaeval or modern."

Home | More Articles | Email: