Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Monk, the Bookseller,
and the Manuscript:
Lydgate's Boke of the Sege of Troy
Bernard Quaritch's Catalogues

Mr. Quaritch's catalogues are accordingly of great interest to literary men and book collectors, and they are much sought after.
                    The Literary World,
Dec. 1873

I have it on good authority —  from Bernard Quaritch himself  — that he would have preferred his books and manuscripts to be of greater interest to literary men and book collectors than that of his catalogues.  And at one time, he even recommended that his customers destroy their catalogues after making selections from them.  But few collectors, if any, took Mr. Quaritch's advice.  One former owner of a small handlist, dated April 2, 1874, inserted it behind the front cover of a 1947 Quaritch commemorative catalogue.

The former owner wrote on the ffep of the commemorative catalogue that the items listed in the handlist were "priced by Bernard Quaritch himself."

This handlist describes a treasure of "Palæographic, Xylographic, and Typographical Monuments"  that Mr. Quaritch decided to display on private exhibition before dispersing them.

I am familiar with Bernard Quaritch (1819-1899), having more than a handful of catalogues and books by and about him in my library.  But in my research, I could find no mention whatsoever of this handlist or of the April 1874 private exhibition.   What I did discover, however, is that some of the items identified in the handlist were previously offered for sale in a Quaritch catalogue published six months earlier:  Catalogue No. 291, Bibliotheca Xylographica, Typographica et Palæographica.

Catalogue No. 291
links last checked Aug 2016

Here is Quaritch's catalogue listing of the first item on the handlist:  Lydgate's Boke of the Sege of Troy:

At least 14 items identified in the handlist were prevously listed in Bibliotheca Xylographica, Typographica et Palæographica:

17541 Apocalypse 1st ed
17542 Apocalypse 5th ed
17543 Speculum
17546 Catholicon
17567 & 15678 Mentelin's Latin Bibles
17597 Zell's Latin Bible
17997 Homer 1st 1488
18753 Lydgate's Boke
18755 Belial's Law Suit
18782 Madrigals, Ballads and Motetts
18787 Petrarca
18790 Psalterium (mislabeled 18890)
18791 Lancelot du lac (mislabeled 18891)
18792 Koran

There was no lack of publicity concerning Quaritch's catalogue, Bibliotheca Xylographica, Typographica, et Palaeographica:

    The Literary World:  Dec 1873

The Publishers Weekly: Feb 7, 1874

I rechecked the date of the handlist, thinking it was published on April 2, 1871.  But the last digit, although a poor impression, is definitely a "4."

Moreover, many of the items listed in the handlist, and in Bibliotheca Xylographica, Typographica, et Palaeographica, were acquired in 1873,  either at the Perkins Sale or from the purchase of the non-scientific books from the Royal Society's Norfolk Library.

I was scratching my head as to why Mr. Quaritch would conduct a private exhibition of books and manuscripts that he recently listed in a catalogue.  But a noted bibliophile, highly knowledgeable of the practices of the trade during that period, suggested that the handlist could have been directed toward a different clientele than those who received his catalogue.  Moreover, it was, and still is, customary for booksellers to relist items still available for purchase.

If anything, Bernard Quaritch was thorough to a fault, taking any and all steps to promote his firm and sell his books.  They didn't call him "the emperor of booksellers" for nothing.  Prior to the Perkins Sale, Quaritch published a list of the chief books and manuscripts in the Perkins Library up for auction, and offered his services on commission.

Quaritch's Catalogue of the Perkins Library

One of the manuscripts in the Perkins Library was Lydgate's Boke of the Sege of Troy. And in the listing, Quaritch stated that this manuscript "has been supposed to be the identical manuscript presented by Lydgate to King Henry V."   In 1412, Henry, then Prince of Wales, commissioned John Lydgate, a monk from Bury, to compose a poem on the destruction of Troy.  Lydgate completed the manuscript in 1420.  The work proved so popular that Lydgate was commissioned by others to create additional copies of the manuscript.  At least 22 manuscripts of Lydgate's Boke of the Sege of Troy, have been identified, some of which only fragments remain.

Here is Quaritch's listing of the Perkins manuscript of Lydgate's Boke of the Sege of Troy.

The Perkins Sale commenced on June 3, 1873.  Quaritch acquired nearly half the books at the auction.

The Auction Catalogue

Here's the auction catalogue listing of Lydgate's Boke of the Sege of Troy.  While the auction cataloguer does not positively identify this copy as the manuscript Lydgate presented to King Henry V, neither does he deny it. But he notes several manuscript entries showing the manuscript to be in the Mundy family as late as 1615.

Quaritch acquired Lydgate's Boke of the Sege of Troy for £1320.  He listed it in the handlist and in Bibliotheca Xylographica, Typographica et Palæographica for £1600.

I wondered how long it took Quaritch to find a buyer for the Perkins manuscript so I decided to track its listings.  The listing of the Perkins manuscript of Lydgate's Boke of the Sege of Troy in Catalogue No. 291 reappeared  in October 1874 when Bernard Quaritch published all his recent catalogues in a collected form, Bernard Quaritch's General Catalogue of Books of 1874

The Perkins manuscript of Lydgate's Boke of the Sege of Troy next appears in July 1877, but with one notable exception.  The cataloguer wrote, "and formerly considered to be the presentation copy to the king."  The cataloguer, probably Quaritch's chief cataloguer, Michael Kerney, extended the listing to three pages, and noted a coat of arms belonging to  Sir William Carrant.  Mr. Quaritch increased the price to £1720.

Catalogue No. 309

From November 1874 to  February 1877, Bernard Quaritch published monthly catalogues, and then combined them in October 1877, publishing a massive supplement (1672 pages) to the General Catalogue of 1874, which itself contained 1542 pages.   The Perkins manuscript of Lydgate's Book of the Sege of Troy does not appear in the Supplement.  But I shall make mention of Google's digitation of the Supplement.

When Google Books digitized the NYPL copy of the Supplement, it also digitized an interesting newspaper clipping that a NYPL librarian inserted in the book.

The Supplement

 Don't strain your eyes trying to read it!  I typed the newspaper clipping out in its entirety below:

New York Times
Letters To The Editor
Monday, Feb. 11, 1878

Book Collecting
To the Editor of the New York Times

   I trust you will allow me a little space to make some remarks upon an article under the above heading that appeared in the Tribune of Jan. 9               
   In that article my catalogue is stated to be untrustworthy by a writer who advises American book lovers not to buy books upon the faith of my descriptions, but to employ "a pair of impartial eyes" in the person of a London agent who shall examine the volumes, collate them with my catalogue, and act as best suits the interest of his distant friend.  Now, I have but three observations to make upon this magnanimous piece of criticism, and with your permission I will now lay them before the American public:
   1. The author, whose initials are G. W. S., is believed to be a person resident in London and sufficiently well known here as a minor light of American press literature, no less as an agent for transatlantic book-buyers.  If this assumption be correct, and his article bring him a profitable increase of business, he deserves to be complimented on his tact and skillful use of opportunity.  Everything is fair in war, according to the adage, and a perpetual hostility exists between the book-seller and the middleman who obstructs direct intercourse with the book-buyer.  The latter has naturally to remunerate his agent, but the agent expects a further gratification from the dealer ; failing which he sometimes supplies, from a different source, cheaper and inferior copies of the books which he may have been commissioned to buy.
   2. If the article in question had been written by an American savant or book-lover on his return from a trip to Europe, I should have endeavored to ascertain the exact cause of his discontent, and to explain it, if possible, before appealing openly to the justice of the American people. In the present instance, I can determine no motive beyond the jealousy of a virtual rival, which could have prompted such an attack upon my catalogue and myself.
    3. Error is incident to all human affairs, and I do not pretend to exemption from this universal law.  Consequently, there must be, and are many inaccuracies in my catalogues ; but I confidently ask the great body of book-buyers from Boston to San Francisco, to absolve me from the calumnious charge of writing false descriptions, and to grant that I can boast of at least average correctness in what I say concerning the editions and copies of books which I offer them. It may be asserted that those who are discontented with the result of direct purchase take warning but make no complaint. A pretty large experience assures me of the contrary, and also of the fact that, as a general rule, buyers find my books quite, equal to their expectations. Furthermore, and as a final discomfiture to my assailant, (who will excuse me if, in reference to his signature, I style him homo trium literarum,) I beg to say that my practice is to allow any customer who finds that a book ordered by him has been improperly described, the liberty of returning it and reclaiming his money.
                                                         BERNARD QUARITCH
               No. 15 Piccadilly, London, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 1878

Quaritch was responding to an article which appeared in the Jan 9, 1878 issue of the New York Daily Tribune.  Homo trium literarum, by the way, is a classic way of calling a man "a thief."  The phrase, in latin, means "man of three letters."  And the latin word for thief is fur.  

You can view the  Tribune article in its entirety at (scroll left)

The Perkins manuscript of Lydgate's Boke of the Sege of Troy, still unsold,  appears in Catalogue No. 332,  Catalogue of Manuscripts, Miniatures, & Drawings, Nov. 1880.   And it reappears as the lead-off catalogue of Quaritch's General Catalogue of Books of 1880, an enormous catalogue of 2395 pages:

Catalogue No. 332

The listing of the Perkins manuscript of Lydgate's Boke of the Sege of Troy is essentially the same as the July 1877 listing.

There is no title page per se for the General Catalogue of 1880.  But the last listing in the 1880 catalogue is a listing for the catalogue itself, part of which is displayed below:

There was no lack of publicity for this general catalogue either, with numerous articles printed, including one in the April 1881 issue of Notes and Queriesand another in the January 1882 issue of The Bibliographer.

The Perkins manuscript of Lydgate's Boke of the Sege of Troy next appears in a shortened version in Feb. 1882 in Catalogue No. 342, Catalogue of Romances of Chivalry.  The reader is referred to Quaritch's Catalogue of Manuscripts [Cat. No. 332] for a more complete listing.

Catalogue No. 342

And that is the last time the Perkins manuscript of Lydgate's Boke of the Sege of Troy appears in a Quaritch catalogue — at least in this blog post.  I wouldn't be surprised if a search of the Bernard Quaritch archives turned up additional catalogue listings of this manuscript.

Sometime in 1882, James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford, a noted collector of early printed books and manuscripts, purchased the Perkins manuscript of Lydgate's Boke of the Sege of Troy from Bernard Quaritch.   It had taken Quaritch nine years, at least one handlist, at least four catalogue (291, 309, 332, 342), and several general catalogues to sell the manuscript.

Lord Crawford exhibited a number of his early books and manuscripts while giving a talk before the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society in Nov. 1883, including his copy of Lydgate's Boke of the Sege of Troy.

I like that last sentence:  An interesting volume might be written on this manuscript.  Indeed, a number of books have been written which included scholarly views of this manuscript, particularly Bibliotheca Lindesiana, written by Nicolas Barker and published by the firm of Bernard Quaritch for the Roxburghe Club in 1977.

Lord Crawford sold the Perkins manuscript of Lydgate's Boke of the Sege of Troy to Mrs. Enriqueta Rylands in 1901.  And this manuscript, now identified as English MS 1, is in the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester.

This library has an interesting web page about English MS 1, as well as a blog post about the digitation of the manuscript.  And thanks to the University of Manchester, I can post the image of Lydgate presenting The Boke of the Sege of Troy to King Henry V:

Copyright of the University of Manchester

In the Bigynnyng:  English MS 1

Another image of English MS 1:


         subject:  the boke of troy
Dear Jerry, 
I suspect that the G.W.S. who assailed Quaritch in the New York Tribune was the Tribune’s London correspondent George William Smalley. You also illustrate the entry from Quaritch’s Catalogue 342 (i.e. part IV of the General Catalogue). I attach a scan of my own copy of this catalogue, formerly owned by the Earl of Crawford, and appreciatively characterized. There are a few notes and one or two ticks (of interest?) but nothing for The Boke of Troy. (Peter Howard) Serendipity Books and myself jointly bought the remaining stock and reference library of Bill Wreden some 20 years ago, and this was one item I kept for myself — too good to sell!
Yours sincerely,
Ian Jackson, Berkeley