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Vol. X. p. 237.
CATALOGUE OF THE HARLEIAN LIBRARY,
VOL. III. *
Having prefixed to the former volumes of my Catalogue an account of the prodigious collection accumulated in the Harleian Library, there would have been no necessity of any introduction to the subsequent volumes, had not some censures which this great undertaking has drawn upon me, made it proper to offer to the publick an apology for my conduct.
The price, which I have set upon my Catalogue, has been represented by the booksellers as an avaricious innovation; and, in a paper published in the CHAMPION, they, or their mercenary, have reasoned so justly, as to allege, that, if I could afford a very large price for the library, I might therefore afford to give away the Catalogue.
* This curious Preface, in which Dr. Johnson assumes the character of Thos. Osborne, the bookseller, escaped the Editor's notice while preparing the contents of this volume; nor indeed, has it hitherto appeared in any edition of our author's works. But it is surely worth reprinting as a proof that Johnson, at all times, had the “ pen of a ready writer.” C.
I should have imagined that accusations, concerted by such heads as these, would have vanished of themselves, without any answer ; but, since I have the mortification to find that they have been in some degree regarded by men of more knowledge than themselves, I shall explain the motives of my procedure.
My original design was, as I have already explained, to publish a methodical and exact Catalogue of this library, upon the plan which has been laid down, as I am informed, by several men of the first rank among the learned. It was intended by those who undertook the work, to make a very exact disposition of all the subjects, and to give an account of the remarkable differences of the editions, and other peculiarities, which make any book eminently valuable : and it was imagined, that some improvements might, by pursuing this scheme, be made in literary history.
With this view was the Catalogue begun, when the price was fixed upon it in public advertisements; and it cannot be denied, that such a catalogue would have been willingly purchased by those who understood its use. But, when a few sheets had been printed, it was discovered, that the scheme was impracticable, without more hands than could be procured, or more time than the necessity of a speedy sale would allow : the Catalogue was therefore continued without notes, at least in the greatest part; and, though it was still performed better than those which are daily offered to the public, fell much below the original design.
It was then no longer proper to insist upon a price;
and therefore, though money was demanded upon delivery of the Catalogue, it was only taken as a pledge that the Catalogue was not, as is very frequent, wantonly called for, by those who never intended to peruse it, and I therefore promised that it should be taken again in exchange for any book rated at the same value.
It may be still said, that other booksellers give away their catalogues without any such precaution, and that I ought not to make any new or extraordinary demands. But, I hope, it will be considered, at how much greater expence my Catalogue was drawn up: and be remembered, that when other booksellers give their catalogues, they give only what will be of no use when their books are sold, and what, if it remained in their hands, they must throw away : whereas I hope that this Catalogue will retain its use, and, consequently, its value, and be sold with the catalogues of the Barberinian and Marckian libraries.
However, to comply with the utmost expectations of the world, I have now published the second part of my Catalogue, upon conditions still more commodious for the purchaser, as I intend, that all those who are pleased to receive them at the same price of five shillings a volume, shall be allowed at any time, within three months after the day of sale, either to return them in exchange for books, or to send them back, and receive their money.
Since, therefore, I have absolutely debarred myself from receiving any advantage from the sale of the Catalogue, it will be reasonable to impute it rather to necessity than choice, that I shall continue it to two volumes more, which the number of the single tracts which have been discovered, make indispensably requisite. I need not tell those who are acquainted with affairs of this kind, how much pamphlets swell a catalogue, since the title of the least book may be as long as that of the greatest.
Pamphlets have been for many years, in this nation, the canals of controversy, politics, and sacred history, and therefore will, doubtless, furnish occasion to a very great number of curious remarks. And I take this opportunity of proposing to those who are delighted with this kind of study, that, if they will encourage me, by a reasonable subscription, to employ men qualified to make the observations, for which this part of the catalogue will furnish occasion, I will procure the whole fifth and sixth volumes * to be executed in the same manner with the most laboured part of this, and interspersed with notes of the same kind.
If any excuse were necessary for the addition of these volumes, I have already urged in my defence the strongest plea, no less than absolute necessity, it being impossible to comprise in four volumes, however large, or however closely printed, the titles which yet remain to be mentioned.
But, I suppose, none will blame the multiplication of volumes, to whatever number they may be continued, which every one may use without buying them, and which are therefore published at no expence but There is one accusation still remaining, by which I am more sensibly affected, and which I am therefore desirous to obviate, before it has too long prevailed. I hear that I am accused of rating my books at too high a price, at a price which no other person would demand. To answer this accusation, it is necessary to enquire what those who urge it, mean by a high price. The price of things valuable for their rarity is entirely arbitrary, and depends upon the variable taste of mankind, and the casual fluctuation of the fashion, and can never be ascertained like that of things only estimable according to
* This scheme was never executed; the fifth volume, the only one subsequently published, was a mere shop catalogue. C.
If, therefore, I have set a high value upon books : if I have vainly imagined literature to be more fashionable than it really is, or idly hoped to revive a taste well nigh extinguished, I know not why I should be persecuted with clamour and invective, since I only shall suffer by my mistake, and be obliged to keep those books, which I was in hopes of selling.
If those who charge me with asking an high price, will explain their meaning, it may be possible to give them an answer less general. If they measure the price at which the books are now offered, by that at which they were bought by the late possessor, they will find it diminished at least three parts in four : If they would compare it with the demands of other booksellers, they must find the same books in their hands, and they will be, perhaps, at last reduced to confess, that they mean, by a high price, only a price higher than they are inclined to give.
I have, at least, a right to hope, that no gentle