The Story of Books
by Gertrude Burford Rawlings
New York D.Appleton and Company 1901
Book Florentine Book
Grolier Book
Renaissance Book
Next Page >
< Previous Page
< Chapter Index >
Last in point of date come the libraries of Byzantium, the city which the Emperor Constantine in 330 A.D.
made the capital of the eastern portion of the empire, and named after himself. He at once began to
gather books there, and his successors followed his example. Thus various libraries were established,
and those which survived the fires which occurred from time to time in the city, existed until its capture
by the Turks in 1452. On this occasion, and also after the assault by the Crusaders in 1203, the libraries
probably suffered. It is said, too, by some that Leo III wantonly destroyed a large number of books, but
the assertion cannot be proved. Among the lost treasures of Constantinople was" the only authentic
copy" of the proceedings of the Council of Nice, held in 325 A.D. to deal with the Arian heresy.

The ultimate fate of the imperial library at Constantinople yet remains a problem. Some are of opinion
that it was destroyed by Amurath IV., and that none but comparatively unimportant Arabic and other
Oriental manuscripts make up the Sultan's library. Some believe that, in spite of repeated assertions to
the contrary on the part of Turkish officials and others, there somewhere lies a secret hoard, neglected
and uncared for, perhaps, but nevertheless existent, of ancient and valuable Greek manuscripts. The
Seraglio has usually been considered to be the repository of this hoard, and access to the Seraglio is
very difficult and almost impossible to obtain.

In the year 1800 Professor Carlyle, during his travels in the East, took enormous pains and used every
means in his power to reach the bottom of the mystery surrounding the Seraglio treasures. He was
assured by every Turkish officer whom he consulted on the subject that no Greek manuscripts existed
there; and when by dint of influence in high quarters and much patience and perseverance he at length
gained permission to examine the Seraglio library, he found that it consisted chiefly of Arabic
manuscripts, and contained not a single Greek, Latin, or Hebrew writing. The library, or such part of it as
the Professor was shown, was approached through a mosque, and consisted of a small cruciform
chamber, measuring only twelve yards at its greatest width. One arm of the cross served as an
ante-chamber, and the other three contained the bookcases. The books were laid on their sides, one on
the other, the ends outward. Their titles were written on the edges of the leaves.

The result of the professor's researches went to confirm the belief held by so many that no Greek
manuscripts had survived. On the other hand, the jealousy and suspicion of the Turks would render it at
least possible that despite the apparent straightforwardness with which Mr. Carlyle was treated, there
were stores of manuscripts which were kept back from him.

A final touch of mystery was given to this fascinating subject by a tradition concerning a certain building
in Constantinople which had been closed up ever since the time of the Turkish conquest in the fifteenth
century. Of the existence of this building Professor Carlyle was certain. The tradition asserted that it
contained many of the former possessions of the Greek emperors, and among these possessions
Professor Carlyle expected that the remains of the imperial library would be found, if such remains

Of other libraries of olden times, such as those of Antioch and Ephesus, or those in private possession in
the country houses of Italy and Gaul, and which perished at the hands of the barbarians, it is not
necessary to speak more fully. It is sufficient to point out that they existed, and that though we possess
few details as to their furniture or arrangement, we are justified in concluding that the latter, at any rate,
were luxuriously appointed. It must not be inferred, however, that all the books which disappeared from
these various centres were of necessity destroyed. Many, and particularly some of the Byzantine
manuscripts, were dispersed over Europe, and survive to enrich our libraries and museums of today.
Next Page >
< Previous Page
< Chapter Index >
Copyright  © 2006 All Rights Reserved.