|The Story of Books
by Gertrude Burford Rawlings
New York D.Appleton and Company 1901
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|Richard de Bury, the famous old book collector or bibliomaniac to whom reference has already been made,
bequeathed his books, which outnumbered all other collections in this country, to the University of
Oxford, where they were housed in Durham College, which he had endowed. He has left an interesting
account of how he gathered his treasures, which may fitly be quoted here. Aided by royal favour, he tells
us, "we acquired a most ample facility of visiting at pleasure and of hunting as it were some of the most
delightful coverts, the public and private libraries both of the regulars and the seculars. . . .
Then the cabinets of the most notable monasteries were opened, cases were unlocked, caskets were
unclasped, and astonished volumes which had slumbered for long ages in their sepulchres were roused
up, and those that lay hid in dark places were overwhelmed with a new light. . . . Thus the sacred vessels
of science came into the power of our disposal, some being given, some sold, and not a few lent for a
The embassies with which he was charged by Edward III gave him opportunity for hunting continental
coverts also. "What a rush of the flood of pleasure rejoiced our hearts as often as we visited Paris, the
paradise of the world! . . . There, in very deed, with an open treasury and untied purse-strings, we
scattered money with a light heart, and redeemed inestimable books with dirt and dust." Richard de Bury
also furthered his collection by making friends of the mendicant friars, and" allured them with the most
familiar affability into a devotion to his person, and having allured, cherished them for the love of God
with munificent liberality." The affability and liberality of the good bishop attained their object, and the
devoted friars went about everywhere, searching and finding, and whenever he visited them, placed the
treasures of their houses at his disposal.
Although the mendicant orders were originally forbidden property of any kind, this rule was afterwards
greatly relaxed, especially as regards books, and in Richard de Bury's time the friars had amassed large
libraries and were well known as keen collectors.
In France it was not an uncommon practice for a monastery to levy a tax on its members or its
dependent houses for the increase of its library, and in several houses it was customary for a novice to
present writing materials at his entry and a book at the conclusion of his novitiate. As early as the close
of the eleventh century Marchwart, Abbot of Corvey in North Germany, made It a rule that every novice
on making his profession should add a book to the library.
The monastic libraries met their doom at the time of the Reformation and of the suppression of the
religious houses. Nearly all the books at Oxford, including the gifts of Richard de Bury, were burnt by the
mob, and under Elizabeth the royal commissioners ordered the destruction of all "capes, vestments,
albes, missals, books, crosses, and such other idolatrous and superstitious monuments whatsoever."
Since those who ought to have been more enlightened classed missals and books among idolatrous and
superstitious monuments, it is not to be wondered at that the ignorant and undiscriminating mob should
glory in their wanton destruction. Books that escaped the fire or the fury of the mob were put to various
uses as waste paper. They were employed for "scouring candlesticks and cleaning boots," for the
wrapping up of the wares of "grocers and soap-sellers," and were exported by shiploads for the use of
continental bookbinders. On the continent, too, fire, wars, plunder, and suppression dispersed or
destroyed many of the monastic collections.
A comparatively recent instance of book destruction caused by the fury of the rabble is afforded by
the great losses undergone by Bristol Cathedral library in the riots which took place in connection with
the passing of the Reform Bill. The palace was set on fire, and the library, which was lodged in the
Chapter-house, was brought out and most of the volumes hurled into the flames. Others were thrown
into the river, into ditches, and about the streets, and although about eleven hundred were subsequently
recovered from second-hand clothes dealers and marine stores, only two copies and one set remained
As a natural consequence of the revival of learning in the fourteenth century, private libraries began to
increase in size and in number, and the collection of books was no longer left to monks and priests. King
John of France gathered a little library, some say of only twenty volumes, which laid the foundation of the
great Royal Library, now the Bibliotheque Nationale. These he bequeathed to his son, Charles V., who
increased the number to nine hundred, for his known fondness for books and reading obtained for him
presentation volumes from many of his subjects.
His books included works of devotion, astrology, medicine, law, history, and romance, with a few classical
authors. Most of them were finely writ. ten on vellum, and sumptuously bound in jewelled and
gold-bedecked covers. They were lodged in three rooms in the Louvre, in a tower called" La Tour de la
libraire." These rooms had wainscots of Irish [bog ?] oak, and ceilings of cypress" curiously carved."
According to Henault, the library of the Louvre was sent to England by the Duke of Bedford while Regent
of France, and only a few volumes afterwards found their way back to Paris.
One of the finest libraries of this period was possessed by Philippe Ie Bon, Duke of Burgundy. It
contained nearly two thousand volumes, mostly magnificent folios clothed in silk and satin, and
ornamented with gold and precious stones. Books were now the fashion, the fashionable possessions,
the fashionable gifts, among those who were wealthy enough to afford them. Louis de Bruges, Seigneur
de la Gruthyse, was another famous collector, whose books were no less splendid in their size, beauty,
and costliness, than those of the Duke of Burgundy. His collection was afterwards added to the Royal
Library, and some of its treasures still exist in the Bibliotheque Nationale.
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