Tag Archives: Bibliomania

Bishop Bury: a 14th century bibliomaniac

philobiblion-pic-001Bishop Bury of Durham spent so much money on books that he lived in dire poverty and debt and when he died all that could be found to cover his corpse was some underwear belonging to his servant.

The facts regarding his library are mind blowing. According to W.M. Dickie, who wrote a paper on Bury and his magnum opus , the Philobiblon, in The Book Handbook (1949), he had more books than any bishop in England. Five wagons carried them away, which suggests that the number of volumes was more than 1,500. This compares with the Sorbonne’s 1,722 in 1338, the 380 volumes at Peterhouse College, Cambridge, in 1418 and the 122 housed in the University Library there in 1424.

In his Philobiblon Bury writes of wishing to found a college in Oxford and to endow it with his library, but no college is named. Some historians have maintained that the library was bequeathed to Durham College, but there is no evidence that the college received any such endowment. The sad truth is that this wonderful library was probably broken up and sold off to pay Bury’s huge debts.

The Philobiblion is revealing as to how many of Bury’s books were acquired:

“We were reported to burn with such desire for books, especially for old ones, that it was more easy for any man to gain our favour by means of books than of money. Wherefore since support by the goodness of the aforesaid Prince (Edward III)…we were able to requite a man, well or ill, to benefit or injure mightily great as well as small, there flowed in instead of presents and guerdons, and instead of gifts and jewels, soiled tracts and battered codices, gladsome alike to our eye and heart…In good will we strove so to forward their affairs ( the affairs of donors of books) that gain accrued to them, while justice suffered no disparagement”

In this way Bury, when Keeper of the Privy Seal, was given four books, namely Terence, Vergil, Quintilian and Jerome against Rufinus by Richard de Wallingford, Abbot of St Albans, who also sold to Bury for fifty pounds of silver, thirty-two other books, of which he gave fifteen to the refectory and ten to the kitchen (presumably at Westminster Abbey), an act which was later condemned by Thomas Walsingham, former scriptorarius at the Abbey. The Abbot’s motivation in securing such an astonishing bargain for Bury was to promote the interests of his monastery at Court and indeed Bury helped him secure a royal charter giving the Abbot the exceptional right of imprisoning excommunicated persons. When Bury became Bishop of Durham in a fit of remorse he restored some of the books to St Albans. And following his death, Wallingford’s successor at the Abbey secured other volumes at a discounted price from Bury’s executors. One of these, John of Salisbury’s Policraticus—now in the British Museum—bears an inscription recording its sale to Bury and its repurchase in 1346 from his executors. Only two other manuscripts are known to have belonged to Bury. One is in the British Museum and the other is in the Bodleian. Both are from St Albans. Continue reading

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A Bibliomaniac of the Boulevards 2

Jules Bollly (merci)

The five volume  auction catalogue of Boulard's vast collection showed up in auction at Christies New York in 2005. It made $5750. It does not appear to have ever left the book trade - possibly book dealers are almost the only collectors for them - and the exact same set is now on sale online at $20000. Christie's catalogue entry is below. It should be noted that Boulard was also a distinguished translator - the French Wikipedia list many of his works (they put the size of his book collection at a mere 500,000.) He translated works from English (including much Dr. Johnson) Italian, German and Latin and also translated from French into German. During the revolutionary period publisher's note him as 'Citoyen Boulard.' Lawrence S. Thompson in his Notes on Bibliokleptomania, without much evidence, writes that Boulard "...had 'itchy fingers' whenever he saw a volume that could not be bought and excited the acquisitive instincts in him." Another interesting note of Thompson's is that '…when the collection was auctioned off in 1828-1833, it played havoc with the Paris market.' One wonders how long it took to recover and if such a thing could happen again in these less resilient times (for books) - if another Boulard style estate emerged out of Los Angeles or London with half a million good books the effect could be seismic…especially if, as happens, yet another collection emerged shortly after.   Nodier (that man again - note his mention of underbidding) gives this eyewitness account of the perils of bibliomania:

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A Bibliomaniac of the Boulevards 1

Max Sander's article Bibliomania, freely available from Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons, yielded the gripping tale of the murderous monk/ bookseller Don Vincente (see recent jots) . He talks of other crazed collectors including the English bibliomaniac Richard Heber who filled 8 houses with books, but for all his acquisitiveness was a discerning collector. The sale of his books took 184 days. The following collector, Boulard, was very much of a quantity man and may have accumulated more books than any individual in the history of the world - 800,000 by some accounts and half that by others… the sale of his books took 248 days.150,000 were sold as scrap. Sander writes:

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A Bibliomaniac Serial Killer 2

Charles Nodier

Last part of this thrill-packed  piece on murder, mayhem, obsession, vengeance and book collecting. Slight doubt is cast on this (incredible) event. The story has inspired a wealth of articles and books from Flaubert right up to Basbanes. However, in 1928 a book appeared in Spain written by bibliophile and author Ramon Miquel I Planas (1874-1950) seeking to rectify the story of Don Vincente and arguing that the anonymous article in  La Gazette des Tribunaux (Paris 1837which had informed the world of the murders had no basis in fact. **Planas argued that the article had been written by French occultist (Priory of Sion) author and librarian Charles Nodier, (1780-1844), most known for his influence on the French Romantics. He found that Don Vincente’s crime does not appear in any local newspapers of the time, that there was no monk by the name of Fra Vincentes at Poblet at the time of its closure, and that the local ‘colour’ does not ring true. Planas's theories have also been later disputed..but if Nodier was  the original author, it should be noted that it was rumoured that he had killed a man for outbidding him at auction during one of his trips to Spain.

The account, indeed, does have a slight air of legend about it - especially the part about each victim returning with alacrity  to the shop to report a missing leaf…booksellers will tell you that often  a missing page is not discovered for years. What does ring true is the murderous anger of the person outbid (almost as deadly as the ire of the person who has been relentlessly bid up to way beyond the price that they had intended to pay. Pace Nodier.) The fetish / obsession about uniqueness is also familiar in rare bookselling lore..The bookseller  'unwilling to part with all but the cheapest of his stock' and who keeps every good book he ever gets (or prices them so high that only a very rich madman would buy ) is also an all too familiar type in life and legend and one who is still with us online and in the cloud…

** This part is in the debt of the ARCA Crimes against Art blog where there are more info and links/ footnotes on the case.

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A Bibliomaniac Serial Killer 1

Furs et Ordinaciones, Valencia 1482

This is an oft told tale of book madness and murder. It has elements that ring true and also mythic elements. It inspired the young Flaubert's 1838 novella Bibliomania. This version comes from the unrecorded scholar Max Sander's article Bibliomania,   freely available from Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons. It was published in a criminal law journal in 1943. Sander, a 'scholar specialising  in bibliographical-iconographicaI research work' gave his address as The Huntington Hotel, Pasadena, California. See part two for an update and queries on this story...

...As a young man, Don Vincente was a monk in the Cisterciens cloister Poblet near Tarragona, and because of his passion for books he was made keeper of the cloister's valuable library. During a political disturbance of the time the cloister was pillaged, and there was good reason to believe that Don Vincente had been familiar with the plunderers. It was hinted that he had shown them the place where the cloister's gold and silver treasures were hidden, in order to secure precious books for himself. Be that as it may, he went to Barcelona and opened a bookshop with a remarkable stock of rare books, which was patronized by all collectors although he almost never sold a really important item. His frugal livelihood and small business expenses could be covered by selling cheaper stock. He was never seen reading a book; only to own them and look at them, to turn over their leaves was of interest to him. When he had a chance to buy a precious book, he was obliged to sell something more substantial from his beloved stock, but even then the buyer almost had to wrench away his acquisition before Don Vincente reluctantly parted with it.

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How to Buy Books 1892 and 2015

J.H. Slater's Book Collecting - A Guide for Amateurs (Swan Sonnenschein, London 1892) concludes with a still useful chapter - 'Books to Buy.' The author regrets that there is no device (vademecum) 'capable of being carried in the waistcoat pocket which will enable him to spot a rarity at a glance...' This was just over 100 years before smartphones which, to some extent, now fulfil this very purpose (and if the book has a barcode there are also applications that will emit a noise telling you to buy.) The reference to the need for a register of 'scarce but mean-looking' English books (now known as 'sleepers' and which every good book scout or 'runner' has in his or her head) concludes with a florid latin quotation concerning glory..

Slater starts by mentioning the pathologically acquisitive bookseller Naude and the rich bibliomane Heber...

But Naude had the wealth of Mazarin at his back, and free licence to purchase as and where he would at the Cardinal's expense, while Heber was rich beyond the dreams of avarice;the modern book hunter, whose means we will suppose are limited, must discard the yard measure and the scales, and rely on his judgment, taking care to get the utmost value for his money. He will have to make up his mind to buy or not to buy on the spur of the moment, for while he is consulting his books of reference at home, a golden opportunity may be missed. This is his capital difficulty, and one which it will take years of experience to surmount, for there is no vade mecum capable of being carried in the waistcoat pocket, which will enable him to spot a rarity at a glance ; nothing, in fact, which can compensate for a lack of practical knowledge.

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