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TABLE TALK.

THE PERFECTING OF THE BOOK.

HAVE spoken previously of the Society of Bibliophiles Contemporaines. The first publication of this society is before me, and consists of "Annales Littéraires," a collection of short essays or causeries by the members, including the president, M. Jules Claretie, of the Académie Française, M. Henri Houssaye, Mr. Richard Copley Christie, and other writers, French and English. With the literary merit of the volume I am not concerned. It is interesting, however, as an effort at obtaining perfection in all details of book-production. The aim of the society is to issue in the most artistic shapes one or two publications each year, and to secure in paper, printing, illustration, &c., the utmost possible of novelty and perfection. How far the result aimed at has been achieved I am not erudite enough to say. Type and paper are beautiful, and the printing, I am told by an expert, is as good as it can be. Coloured illustrations of the Queen of Roumania (the honorary president) and other dignitaries of the society are the best things that have been done in that line of art, which, however, is rapidly progressive. These accordingly cannot be regarded as final in execution. Very admirable are the borders to the pages, and the head- and tailpieces and other ornaments have the combined grace and fancy of French artists. The cover, too, is a charming artistic study. One aim of the enterprising founder of the society is at least fulfilled. No copy is available for the purpose of commerce, and the great Paris booksellers are on the look-out to secure a subscription copy or two, for which double the subscription price is forthcoming.

A

THE VENETIAN PRESS.

HISTORY of the Venetian Press such as has been contributed by Mr. Horatio F. Brown, is an important addition to those bibliographical works which are the delight of the collector. On account of her position in direct communication with Germany, the freedom of her laws, her wealth and liberality, and other kindred causes, Venice received at an early date an influx of skilled printers who carried to the highest point among Italian cities her reputation as a home of printing. Assuming to be correct, which bibliographers are indisposed to do, the date of 1461 borne by the Decor Puellarum, 1 J. C. Nimmo.

the colophon of which runs, "Anno a Christi Incarnatione MCCCCLXI, per Magistrum Nicolaum Ienson hoc opus quod Puellarum Decor dicitur feliciter impressum est. Laus Deo," Venice was four years in advance of any other Italian city. Leaving aside the debatable question, it may at least be said that within the decade 1470-1480, no fewer than fifty typographers, many of them of high eminence, were established in Venice, and that before the close of the fifteenth century she could number more printers than Rome, Naples, Florence, and Milan put together. The celebrity of the Aldine press has eclipsed the fame of other Venetian printers. In fact, however, the work of Jenson, of John and Vindelin de Spira, of Valdarfer, and other early masters, is in no case inferior to that of Aldus Manutius and his successors. Of the rise and fall of printing in Venice, of its struggles against the Inquisition and the Index Expurgatorius, of the establishment of the Guilds, and of other like subjects, Mr. Brown speaks with authority. The conclusions, moreover, are supported by documents from Venetian archives, now printed for the first time, as an appendix; and his book, which supplies many facsimiles of early printing, is one in which the bibliophile will revel.

I'

A FIFTEENTH CENTURY BOOKSELLER.

N the course of his researches through Venetian documents Mr. Brown has been fortunate enough to come upon the Day-book of a Venetian bookseller, name unknown, who followed his calling from May 17, 1484, to January 19, 1487-8. Very curious is this record as showing the price at which books were then sold, the record giving in some instances the condition and the purchaser's name. Books for which the collector of to-day would give their weight in gold, are disposed of at times for a few pence. It is edifying to find that the lightest class of books fetches the lowest price. The "Facetiæ of Poggio" are sold for nine soldi ; the "Inamoramento d'Orlando," for one lira; the "Morgante," one lira ten soldi; "Dante," with a commentary, brings, on the other hand, one ducat; "Plutarch's Lives," two ducats; while "Petrarch," with a commentary, is sold for only three lire. The "Dialogo de Santa Caterina de Siena," published with its beautiful engravings by Matheo de Co de ca, bound up with another volume of the same class, is sold for only two lire. A "Suetonius" brings four soldi, and a "Martial" fifteen. I have taken the instances Mr. Brown himself selects as characteristic; the document, which he prints in extenso, is worthy. of study, and is, in its way, unique. It supplies a list of purchases as well as of sales, and will doubtless attract much attention.

SYLVANUS URBAN.

THE

GENTLEMAN'S MAGAZINE.

FEBRUARY 1891.

THE FEATHERSTONE DIAMOND.

IT

BY THOMAS KEYWORTH.

I.

T is well to be famous for something; so my friends often told me, and then they added that I was famous for my paper-knife. This gave rise to a question which produced considerable controversy at the time: "Is a fact like that conclusive proof of the paper-knife being extraordinary, or may it mean that the owner is insignificant?"

I hope I took the banter in good part. Bowman said it was capital fun, and Sweepstone said anything would produce mirth if properly treated; and others made similar remarks, as they enjoyed the laughter which was produced. The men who were most thinskinned were readiest with their jokes, so I looked upon it as a compensation and tried not to begrudge them their amusement.

Bowman would have it that I had stolen the paper-knife, and Sweepstone hinted something about a still more serious crime being connected with it. Then there were roars of laughter, which would have put a light heart into a hypochondriac.

I may remark at this stage, that Bowman and Sweepstone were two bachelor friends of mine, both good fellows, and both fond of a joke at other people's expense. Bowman was a solicitor and Sweepstone was a stock-and-share broker. Bowman always spoke about himself as a member of a learned profession, and he referred to Sweepstone as a mercantile Bohemian. Sweepstone returned the compliment by saying that lawyers existed on a reputation which they won when ignorance prevailed amongst people in general, but that stock-and share brokers were in "the foremost files of time," they represented the scientific spirit applied to the region of commerce.

VOL. CCLXX. NO. 1922.

But they never railed against each other long if they could find a third person to torment.

"That paper-knife was a marvellous production, I must confessonly fit for a millionaire," said Bowman. "Or a lunatic," responded Sweepstone, starting the laughter which followed. Because of remarks like these I persistently refused to say how it came into my possession.

Let me describe it. The blade was nine inches long, and it consisted of richly tinted agate. The stone had been worked until it was thin enough for the purpose to which it was devoted. Agate is exceedingly hard and brittle, so that great care must have been exercised by the lapidary who ground and polished it. On the blade was engraved the motto: "Nothing but leaves." The handle was silver; a good, substantial handle, which might have been on a dagger or a bowie-knife. It was richly chased, and the ornamentation was very beautiful. On each side of the handle, in the thickest part, there was an oval frame-work, representing coral and sea-weed. Inside the frame was a dolphin, which seemed to be swimming in water and bearing a child on its back. It was indeed a wonderful paper-knife; its only fault was that no ordinary mortal would ever have used it for cutting the leaves of a book or magazine.

"Lend me that stolen paper-knife," Bowman was fond of saying, if he found a book on my table which had not been cut; but I kept an ivory substitute for actual use and preserved the agate and silver one for show. Bowman had to be satisfied with the ivory, while I submitted to his remarks about the absurdity of keeping a white elephant. If I said anything about ivory being more like white elephant than the agate and silver, he solemnly failed to understand iny reference and asked me to explain my meaning.

"That paper-knife is like Bluebeard's key," said Sweepstone; "the crimson tints are indelible marks of blood. You cannot possibly wash them away, and therefore you are anxious to keep the proof of your guilt out of sight."

At that time I was classical master at the Millchester Grammar School. The school was situated in the middle of the town, near a river of filth. It was not surprising, therefore, that I lived several miles away, at a place called Barnfield. Railway-trains and omnibuses ran regularly between Barnfield and Millchester; so that, for all practical purposes, I was quite near enough to the scene of my labours, and I was glad to get away from the smoke and mud which prevailed in the town.

We had a bowling club at Barnfield, and it was in connection

with bowls that I became acquainted with Bowman, Sweepstone, and other men who resided in the neighbourhood. We called the club a bowling club because we had a bowling-green, and the name sounded like open-air exercise and innocent recreation; but I am afraid that other games were greater favourites with many of the members. "Give a dog a good name, and he cannot have the hydrophobia," said Sweepstone, in reference to our institution, which was patronised by men who would never have entered it if billiards or cards had been mentioned in the official title. "Every man who has any self-respect is a bit of a hypocrite," was Bowman's sententious reply.

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Previous to my appointment at Millchester Grammar School, I was for two years the private tutor of a young man whose education had been interfered with by ill-health. His name was Brayshaw, and he was nephew to Rumford Featherstone, a wealthy man, who died very suddenly, leaving his enormous fortune to a widowed sister the mother of my pupil.

I had paid several visits to Rumford Hall with Brayshaw during his uncle's lifetime, and had often noticed the agate paper-knife, with its massive silver handle. My pupil knew that I admired it, and promised me playfully that, if ever it came into his possession, he would transfer it to me. When he was at Oxford and I had settled at Millchester, I received a polite note from his mother begging my acceptance of the paper-knife as a memento of her deceased brother. I thanked her for the handsome gift, and wrote to her son also, acknowledging the celerity with which he had taken time by the forelock and fulfilled his promise before the appointed time.

I never satisfied my Barnfield friends about the manner in which the paper-knife came into my possession. One reason for this reticence on my part was that there were certain rumours in circulation, soon after Rumford Featherstone's death, which reflected unfavourably upon a young man called Woodrough, who had been his private secretary. Both Bowman and Sweepstɔne mentioned the subject in my hearing, and expressed their opinion that Woodrough had stolen the famous Featherstone diamond, which disappeared mysteriously at the time when Rumford Featherstone died.

I often smiled when I thought what a precious opportunity for banter was lost to my friends through their ignorance of the circumstances under which the paper-knife came into my possession. I could imagine Bowman raising his hands in pretended horror and exclaiming, "I knew there was theft connected with it. Jackson was in league with that private secretary, and they shared the booty;

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