Sunday 10 December 2023


 John Ferriar (1761-1815)
‘The Bibliomania, An Epistle, to Richard Heber, Esq.’
   What wild desires, what restless torments seize
The hapless man, who feels the book-disease,
If niggard Fortune cramp his gen’rous mind,
And Prudence quench the Spark by heaven assign’d!
With wistful glance his aching eyes behold
The Princeps-copy, clad in blue and gold,
Where the tall Book-case, with partition thin,
Displays, yet guards the tempting charms within:
So great Facardin view’d, as sages tell,
Fair Crystalline immur’d in lucid cell.
   Not thus the few, by happier fortune grac’d,
And blest, like you, with talents, wealth and taste,
Who gather nobly, with judicious hand,
The Muse’s treasures from each letter’d strand.
For you the Monk illumin’d his pictur’d page,  
For you the press defies the Spoils of age;
FAUSTUS for you infernal tortures bore,
For you ERASMUS starv’d on Adria’s shore.
The FOLIO-ALDUS loads your happy Shelves,
And dapper ELZEVIRS, like fairy elves,
Shew their light forms amidst the well-gilt Twelves:
In slender type the GIOLITOS shine,
And bold BODONI stamps his Roman line.
For you the LOUVRE opes its regal doors,
And either DIDOT lends his brilliant stores:
With faultless types, and costly sculptures bright,
IBARRA’S Quixote charms your ravish’d sight:
LABORDE in splendid tablets shall explain
Thy beauties, glorious, tho’ unhappy SPAIN!
O, hallowed name, the theme of future years,  
Embalm’d in Patriot-blood, and England’s tears,
Be thine fresh honours from the tuneful tongue,
By Isis’ streams which mourning Zion sung!
   But devious oft’ from ev’ry classic Muse,
The keen Collector meaner paths will choose:
And first the Margin’s breadth his soul employs,
Pure, snowy, broad, the type of nobler joys.
In vain might HOMER roll the tide of song,
Or HORACE smile, or TULLY charm the throng;
If crost by Pallas’ ire, the trenchant blade
Or too oblique, or near, the edge invade,
The Bibliomane exclaims, with haggard eye,
   ‘No Margin!’ turns in haste, and scorns to buy.
He turns where PYBUS rears his Atlas-head,
Or MADOC’s mass conceals it veins of lead.
The glossy lines in polish’d order stand,
While the vast margin spreads on either hand,
Like Russian wastes, that edge the frozen deep,
Chill with pale glare, and lull to mortal sleep.  
   Or English books, neglected and forgot,
Excite his wish in many a dusty lot:
Whatever trash Midwinter gave to day,
Or Harper’s rhiming sons, in paper gray,
At ev’ry auction, bent on fresh supplies,
He cons his Catalogue with anxious eyes:
Where’er the slim Italics mark the page,
Curious and rare his ardent mind engage.
Unlike the Swans, in Tuscan Song display’d,
He hovers eager o’er Oblivion’s Shade,
To snatch obscurest names from endless night,
To give COKAIN or FLETCHER back to light.
In red morocco drest he loves to boast
The bloody murder, or the yelling ghost;
Or dismal ballads, sung to crouds of old,
Now cheaply bought for thrice their weight in gold.
Yet to th’unhonoured dead be Satire just;
Some flow’rs ‘smell sweet, and blossom in their dust.’
‘Tis thus ev’n SHIRLEY boasts a golden line,
And LOVELACE strikes, by fits, a note divine.
Th’unequal gleams like midnight-lightnings play,
And deepen’d gloom succeeds, in place of day.
   But human bliss still meets some envious storm;
He droops to view his PAYNTER’s mangled form:
Presumptuous grief, while pensive Taste repines
O’er the frail relics of her Attic Shrines!
O for that power, for which magicians vye,
To look through earth, and secret hoards descry!
I’d spurn such gems as Marine beheld,
And all the wealth Aladdin’s cavern held,
Might I divine in what mysterious gloom
The rolls of sacred bards have found their tomb:
Beneath what mould’ring tower, or waste champain,
Is his MENANDER, sweetest of the train;
Where rests ANTIMACHUS’ forgotten lyre,
Where gently SAPPHO’s still seductive fire;
Or he, whom chief the laughing Muses own,
Yet skill’d with softest accents to bemoan
Sweet Philomel, in strains so like her own.
   The menial train has prov’d the Scourge of wit,
Ev’n OMAR burnt less Science than the spit.
Earthquakes and wars remit their deadly rage,
But ev’ry feast demands some fated page.
Ye towers of Julius, ye alone remain
Of all the piles that saw our nation’s stain.
When HARRY’s sway opprest the groaning realm,
And Lust and Rapine seiz’d the wav’ring helm.
Then ruffian-hands defaced the sacred fanes,
Their saintly statues, and their storied panes;
Then from the chest, with ancient art embost,
The Penman’s pious scrolls were rudely tost;
Then richest manuscripts, profusely spread,
The brawnt Churl’s devouring Oven fed:
And thence Collectors date the heav’nly ire,
That wrapt Augusta’s domes in sheets of fire.
   Taste, tho’ misled, may yet some purpose gain,
But fashion guides a book-compelling train.
Once, far apart from Learning’s moping crew,
The travell’d beau display’d his red-heel’d shoe,
Till ORFORD rose, and told of rhiming Peers,
Repeating noble words to polish’d ears;
Taught the gay croud to prize a flutt’ring name,
In trifling toil’d, nor ‘blush’d to find it fame.’
The letter’d fop now takes a larger scope,
With classic furniture, design’d by HOPE,
(HOPE, whom Upholst’rers eye with mute despair,
The doughty pedant of an elbow-chair;)
Now warm’d by ORFORD and by GRANGER school’d,
In Paper-books, superbly gilt and tool’d,
He pastes, from injur’d volumes snipt away,
His English Heads, in chronicled array.
Torn from their destin’d page, (unworthy meed
Of knightly counsel, and heroic deed)
Not FAITHORNE’s stroke, nor FIELD’s own types can save
The gallant VERES, and one-eyed OGLE brave.
Indignant readers seek the image fled,
And curse the busy fool, who wants a head.
   Proudly he shews, with many a smile elate,
The scrambling subjects of the private plate;
While Time their actions and their names bereaves,
They grin forever in the guarded leaves.
   Like Poets, born, in vain Collectors strive
To cross their Fate, and learn the art to thrive.
Like Cacus, bent to tame their struggling will,
The tyrant-passion drags them backward still:
Ev’n I, debarr’d of ease, and studious hours,
Confess, mid’ anxious toil, its lurking pow’rs.
How pure the joy, when first my hands unfold
The small, rare volume, black with tarnish’d gold!
The Eye skims restless, like the roving bee,
O’er flowers of wit, or song, or repartee,
While sweet as Springs, new-bubbling from the stone,
Glides through the breast some pleasing theme unknown.
Now dipt in ROSSI’s terse and classic style,
His harmless tales awake a transient smile.
Now BOUCHET’s motley stores my thoughts arrest,
With wond’rous reading, and with learned jest.
Bouchet, whose tomes a grateful line demand,
The valued gift of STANLEY’s lib’ral hand.
Now sadly pleased, through faded Rome I stray,
And mix regrets with gently DU BELLAY;
Or turn, with keen delight, the curious page,
Where hardy Pasquin braves the Pontiff’s rage.
   As in the fragrant garden blooms the rose,  
So my rich manuscript in crimson glows.  
‘Sweet,’ cries the Sage, ‘to view the infant-dress,  
The first rude efforts of the dawning press!  
But sweeter far to me these bright designs,  
Ere Caxton’s blocks imprest their clumsy lines.  
“But oh! my muse,” what madness would engage  
To sing the miniatures, and vellum-page?  
Steal from some happy bard a spark of fire,  
Whose never-check’d descriptions never tire!  
   “Pictures a score this curious work adorn,  
“Of men esteem’d in learning’s early morn.  
“On vellum stands inscrib’d each sage’s name,  
“Their portraits rich with gold and minium flame;  
“Some walk in gardens trim, or books peruse,  
“Or white-rob’d bards address a gothic muse,  
“No brisk, deep-bosom’d, Attic maiden she.  
“But starch and prim, and scarcely fair to see.  
“Square beards, and long-ear’d caps, and furs abound,  
“And decent robes depending sweep the ground;  
“Nay, strange extreme of fashion’s sov’reign rule.  
“Some hold what belles have term’d a Ridicule.  
“(The lovely triflers think not as they trip.  
“Their bag was fashion’d from the Cynic’s scrip.)  
   “Then happy seats appear in beauteous dyes,  
“The softest verdure, and the clearest skies;  
“Stately and fair the porch and airy hall.  
“And costly tapestry clothes the naked wall.  
“St. Gregory hard at study there I spy,  
“His glory and tiara strike the eye;  
“His books well-bound, with many a gilded spot,  
“A clever reading-desk has Gregory got!  
“Had the tenth Leo thus his leisure spent,  
“We yet hal pray’d in Latin, and kept Lent.  
   “But greater bliss the cliarming picture fills,  
“When golden sun-beams smile on verdant hills,  
“Or soft retreats in flow’ry vales are made,  
“Where the young forest rears its tender shade.  
“Then at a safe distance pinnacles are seen,  
“And glitt’ring towers surmount the swelling green;  
“Gay belts of war! the city’s specious pride.  
“Which sullen cares, and quiv’ring anguish hide.  
“For near the lofty fane or op’ning square,  
“The sad blind alley teems with hopeless care.  
“Dire, in those ancient times, the wretch’s plight.  
“Ere the dim pane transmitted scanty light:  
“When ill-join’d shutters barr’d the longing view,  
“And where light flow’d, the winter enter’d too.  
“As shiv’ring hands the wooden leaf withdrew.  
“Their’s was the shapeless bolt, the dunghill-floor,
“And blacken’d thatch the humble caves peep’d o’er:  
“Without, the putrid kennel chok’d the way,  
“And all was filth, disgust, and deep dismay.
“No ballads then bedeck’d the lab’rer’s cot,  
“Nor Francis Moore foreboded cold or hot:  
“Whose cuts grotesque, and artless rhymes supply,  
“(What ev’n the poor require) (he poor man’s library.
“More solid good the mystic church with-held:  
“Their eyes the sacred volume ne’er beheld,  
“Save when at church the reader turn’d with care,  
“The glitt’ring leaves, and spoke the foreign prayer:  
“With doubtful hope the pauper’s bosom beat,  
“He left, unedified, his gloomy seat.  
“Or when the Freer, on some high festal day  
“Would relics rare, and miracles display;  
“And prate, as tell the sly Italian drolls.  
“Of Gabriel’s feather, or St. Lawrence’s coals.  
“In sin the wretch might live, in sin might die;  
“Give money—money, was the preacher’s cry.  
   “Then light arose — the darkling cot was blest,  
“When Tindal’s volume came, a hoarded guest.  
“Fierce, whisker’d guards that volume sought in vain,  
“Enjoy’d by stealth, and hid with anxious pain,  
“While all around was penury and gloom.  
“It shew’d the boundless bliss beyond the tomb;  
“Freed from the venal priest, the feudal rod,  
“It led the suff’rer’s weary steps to God;  
“And when his painful course on earth was run,  
“This, his sole wealth, descended to his son.  
   “Now, when no tyrant-statutes cramp belief,  
“When Smithfield’s only martyrs are its beef,  
“Amidst the crouds whom rarer books entice,  
“Still Tindal’s Bible is a gem of price.  
“True, the blest owner now no longer fears  
“The bishop’s summons thund’ring in his ears  
“No more he turns the leaves with trembling hope,  
“Or dreads lest Satan come, in guise of Pope;  
“On that stout shelf, where ev’n Polemics sleep,  
“He shews its boards, inclosed in lasting sheep.  
“There long untouch’d may Tindal’s labours lie,  
“For book-collectors read not what they buy.”
   Can I forget my CASSAS’s? fav’rite theme!  
Where truth exceeds Romances boldest dream.  
In those rude wilds, by wand’rers scarcely trod,  
Before the pencil, Fancy drops her rod;  
O’eraw’d she sees transcendant nature reign,  
And trembling copies what she dar’d not feign.  
   But scarcer books had kept their station here.  
Had warning Cynthius touch’d my infant-ear.  
And shew’d the grave collector’s toil employ’d.  
To gain the works my childish sport destroy’d.  
PARISMUS then had shone in decent pride,  
And bold ST. GEORGE, with SABRA at his side:  
And REYNARD’s wiles, by learned clerks pourtray’d,  
Dame PARTLET wrong’d, and ISGRIM sore bewray’d:  
And eke that code, of wit the peerless store,  
Where peruk’d beaux their hooded dames adore.  
These once wore mine, till, reckless of their scope,  
I left their charms for Milton and for Pope.  
And who can say, what books, matur’d by age.  
May tempt, in future days, the reader’s rage?  
How, flush’d with joy, the Bibliomane may shew  
His CARRS uncut and COTTLES, fair in row;  
May point, with conscious pride, to env’ying throngs  
His HOLCROFT’S dramas, and his DIMOND’S songs?  
So winter-apples, by the prudent Dame  
Are hoarded late, and wither into fame.  
So Antiquarians pierce the Barrow’s soil,
And loads of crockery pay their learned toil;  
The wond’rous fragments rich museums grace.  
And ev’ry Pipkin rises up a Vase.  
   With deep concern, the curious bid me tell,  
Why no Black-Letter dignifies my cell:  
No Caxton? Pynson? in defence I plead  
One simple fact; I only buy to read.  
I leave to those whom headstrong fashion rules.  
The cheapest page of wit, or genuine sense  
Outweighs the uncut copy’s wild expense.  
What coxcomb would avow th’absurd excess.  
To choose his friends, not for their parts, but dress?  
Yet the choice Bard becomes some ancient stains;  
I love, in Gothic type, my CHAUCER’S strains;
And SPENCER’S dulcet song as deeply charms,  
When his light folio boasts ELIZA’s arms.  
Nay doubly fair the Aldine pages seem,  
Where, broadly gilt, illumin’d letters gleam.  
For stupid prose my fancy never throbs,  
In spite of vellum-leaves, or silver knobs.  
   But D______n’s strains should tell the sad reverse,
When Business calls, invet’rate foe to verse!
Tell how ‘the Demon claps his iron hands,’
‘Waves his lank locks, and scours along the lands.’
Though wintry blasts, or summer’s fire I go,
To scenes of danger, and to sights of woe.
Ev’n when to Margate ev’ry Cockney roves,
And brainsick poets long for shelt’ring groves,
Whose lofty shades exclude the noontide glow,
While Zephyrs breathe, and waters trill below,
Me rigid Fate averts, by tasks like these,
From heav’nly musings, and from letter’d ease.
   Such wholesome checks the better Genius sends,
From dire rehearsals to protect our friends:
Else when the social rites our joys renew,
The stuff’d Portfolio would alarm your view,
Whence volleying rhimes your patience would o’ercome,
And, spite of kindness, drive you early home.
So when the traveller’s hasty footsteps glide
Near smoaking lava, on Vesuvio’s side,
Hoarse-mutt’ring thunders from the depths proceed,
And spouting fires incite his eager speed.
Appall’d he flies, while rattling show’rs invade,
Invoking ev’ry Saint for instant aid:
Breathless, amaz’d, he seeks the distant shore,
And vows to tempt the dang’rous gulph no more.
John Ferriar, Illustrations of Sterne: with Other Essays and Verses, 2nd edn, 2 vols (London: Printed for Cadell and Davies, By J. and J Haddock, Warrington, 1812), II, pp. 201-15.