left the press before the end of the fifteenth century. All of
these cannot possibly be of interest, and many of them that are
"rare," are rare precisely because they are uninteresting. They
have not been preserved because they were thought not worth
preserving. This is a great cause of rarity; but we must not
hastily conclude that because a book found no favour in its own age,
therefore it has no claim on our attention. A London bookseller
tells me that he bought the "remainder" of Keats's "Endymion" for
fourpence a copy! The first edition of "Endymion" is now rare and
valued. In trying to mend the binding of an old "Odyssey" lately, I
extracted from the vellum covers parts of two copies of a very
scarce and curious French dictionary of slang, "Le Jargon, ou
Langage de l'Argot Reforme." This treatise may have been valueless,
almost, when it appeared, but now it is serviceable to the
philologist, and to all who care to try to interpret the slang
ballades of the poet Villon. An old pamphlet, an old satire, may
hold the key to some historical problem, or throw light on the past
of manners and customs. Still, of the earliest printed books,
collectors prefer such rare and beautiful ones as the oldest printed
Bibles: German, English,--as Taverner's and the Bishop's,--or
Hebrew and Greek, or the first editions of the ancient classics,
which may contain the readings of MSS. now lost or destroyed.
Talking of early Bibles, let us admire the luck and prudence of a
certain Mr. Sandford. He always longed for the first Hebrew Bible,
but would offer no fancy price, being convinced that the book would
one day fall in his way. His foreboding was fulfilled, and he
picked up his treasure for ten shillings in a shop in the Strand.
The taste for incunabula, or very early printed books, slumbered in
the latter half of the sixteenth, and all the seventeenth century.
It revived with the third jubilee of printing in 1740, and since
then has refined itself, and only craves books very early, very
important, or works from the press of Caxton, the St. Albans
Schoolmaster, or other famous old artists. Enough has been said to
show the beginner, always enthusiastic, that all old books are not
precious. For further information, the "Biography and Typography of
William Caxton," by Mr. Blades (Trubner, London, 1877), may be
consulted with profit.
Following the categories into which M. Brunet classifies desirable
books in his invaluable manual, we now come to books printed on
vellum, and on peculiar papers. At the origin of printing, examples
of many books, probably presentation copies, were printed on vellum.
There is a vellum copy of the celebrated Florentine first edition of
Homer; but it is truly sad to think that the twin volumes, Iliad and
Odyssey, have been separated, and pine in distant libraries. Early
printed books on vellum often have beautifully illuminated capitals.
Dibdin mentions in "Bibliomania" (London, 1811), p. 90, that a M.
Van Praet was compiling a catalogue of works printed on vellum, and
had collected more than 2000 articles. When hard things are said
about Henry VIII., let us remember that this monarch had a few
copies of his book against Luther printed on vellum. The Duke of
Marlborough's library possessed twenty-five books on vellum, all
printed before 1496. The chapter-house at Padua has a "Catullus" of