Imágenes de página




HE satire constantly directed against the bibliophile that he thinks more of the outside of a book than of the inside is not without some foundation in truth. A book appeals to some of us in more than one sense. The most sensible and unassailable, if in one sense most unimaginative of book-lovers, is of course the man who simply aims at possessing in the cheapest or most convenient of editions the work he desires to read. Worship of a book, as a book, is however both common and defensible. The book itself may be interesting as a work of art, and the possession of large-paper volumes with, as Sir Benjamin Backbite says in a hackneyed quotation, "a beautiful quarto page, where a neat rivulet of text shall meander through a meadow of margin," is to many minds of unending contentment. A beautiful, costly, artistic, or historical binding is a separate attraction, the most sought after perhaps in modern days, and the most delicate and perishable. Once more there is the mania for first editions in the case of Dickens, Thackeray, Browning, and Cruikshank in this country, and Balzac and the romanticists in France-the most generally diffused of all tastes. No hobbyist will dream of disputing the propriety of regarding a book in any of the lights mentioned. It is to be feared that, except in the case of the First Folio Shakespeare, the purposes of collectors of first editions are seldom critical. It may happen that a first edition contains passages that the authors think fit subsequently to suppress: a justifiable exultation is then to be found. in the possession of the unexpurgated work. While copies of the sadly diluted "Festus" of Philip James Bailey abound, to the detriment of a fine and an original poem, the first edition of a drama of remarkable beauty and inspiration is one of the most prized and inaccessible of modern English books.


HERE is to certain minds a distinct, if indefinable, pleasure in reading the work of a great or cherished author in the form in which it first, possibly under his own eyes, saw the light. Some


books even seem to lose their character when modernized in outward form. What man of taste could read the "Arcadia" of Sir Philip Sidney in a hot-press edition? One fancies Lamb hugging to his heart a folio Duchess of Newcastle, or Leigh Hunt felicitating himself on the acquisition of a duodecimo Carew. The amorous rhapsodies of the latter poet cause in a volume of modern shape some arching of the eyebrows, and the "World's Olio!" the "Nature's Picture, drawn by Fancie's Pencil," or the "Orations of Divers Sorts" of the Duchess, is not likely to be dragged from its obscurity. Altogether apart, however, from the sentimental pleasure of seeing a volume of seventeenth-century poets in the shape it originally wore, inaccuracies are common, even in the most elaborately got-up reprints. I have just been studying afresh the "Samson Agonistes" of Milton, one of the noblest of classical rhetorical tragedies. I have used for this purpose an edition issued in convenient form, with an introduction and elaborate notes, as one of a series of school classics. The original title-page is copied, and there is every appearance of trustworthiness. In one of the choruses I find it said of the Almighty that He

made our laws to bind us, not Himself,

And have full right to exempt

Whom so it pleases Him by choice, &c.

Turning to the first edition, I find that the word should be hath, when the meaning of an obscure and impossible sentence becomes plain. In another case both the first edition and the reprint are guilty of a curious error, due, in the first place, to Milton's blindness and inability to correct proofs. This, I think, no editor has had the courage to alter. Addressing his father, Samson says concerning his "shameful garrulity":

To have revealed

Secrets of men, the secrets of a friend,

How heinous had the fact been, how deserving

Contempt, and scorn of all, to be excluded

All friendship, and avoided as a blab,

The mark of fool set on his front?

But I God's counsel have not kept, His holy secret
Presumptuously have publish'd, impiously,

Weakly at least and shamefully, &c.

Here the two words in italics have dropped out of the line previous and should be restored to its close, giving both lines the requisite metrical form. Milton is fond of experiments in versification. In this case, however, there is obviously a slip in printing.



Spottiswoode & Co. der, ew-street Square, London.


« AnteriorContinuar »