Page images

Before passing to the libraries of the Revival epoch, we may observe that Mr. Edwards has not noticed in either of his works the libraries of the Arabs and the Moors during that period of their history which corresponds with the middle age of European civilisation. Of the extent of these libraries the most marvellous accounts are given by the native chroniclers. An Arab writer, Ibn Aby Tay, cited by M. Quatremère in his • Recherches sur l'Égypte,' is quoted by the distinguished author of the article · Libraries ' in the English Cyclopædia, the late Mr. Watts, to the effect that the library of Cairo (which Ibn Aby Tay represents as the largest in the empire) contained 1,600,000 volumes. Another statement represents the library of Tripoli as possessing, under the single head of Theology, no fewer than 3,000,000 volumes; and even the more sober writer, Makrizi, although in his account of the library of the Caliphs he only enumerates 18,000 volumes on the sciences and 2,400 copies of the Koran, yet declares that the entire collection filled no fewer than forty chambers. The accounts of the Moorish libraries in Spain are somewhat more modest. The Caliph Al-hakem at Cordova maintained collectors at Cairo, .Bagdad, Damascus, and all the other great centres of literary enterprise in the East; and his collection was reported to contain 400,000 volumes, every one of which Al-hakem was said to have read, catalogued, and noted with his own hand ! These accounts for the most part, however, involve a number of contradictory and plainly apocryphal details, and they are in themselves so evidently exaggerated as to be beyond all literal belief. Yet it is impossible not to feel that the very smallest reality which must underlie such exaggerations, cannot but represent a very large number; and, accepting the lowest estimate which even plausible conjecture can suggest, it must be acknowledged that these long unknown and forgotten collections présent a formidable challenge even to the most favoured contemporary repositories of books in the West.

With the revival of letters the modern history of libraries may be said to commence. Of the libraries which were founded, or which, from more ancient beginnings, grew into eminence, in the early part of that remarkable period, some have altogether disappeared; some are still extant, and still enjoy a greater or less degree of distinction; some have been absorbed in more recent or more favoured collections. There are three out of the number, however, which, independently of their later history, deserve, both for themselves and for their founders, a special mention; that of Lorenzo de Medici of Florence, that of

tury colendidly emo, numberly obscureient suco

Frederic, Duke of Urbino, and that of Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary. The history of the two former collections, the Medicean and Urbinian, is well known; but the fortunes of the third, that of Matthias Corvinus, were long involved in a mystery which has only been cleared up within the last few years.

In the liberality and energy which he displayed in the collection of books Corvinus was not surpassed by any of his contemporaries. His books were noted, even in that age of luxurious caligraphy, for the beauty of the manuscript; and may still almost at once be recognised amongst fifteenth century codices by this characteristic. The bindings were rich and splendidly emblazoned. The collection at the death of Corvinus, in 1490, numbered 50,000 volumes. Beyond this date its history is extremely obscure. It is conjectured that under the disorderly rule of his indolent successor, Vladislaus, many books may have been removed or lost; but the library still continued one of the glories of Buda at the time of the Turkish siege in 1627. From that date the collection, as a whole, is utterly lost sight of. That the library of Buda was ruthlessly plundered by the Turks, and the books mercilessly torn to pieces for the sake of the gold and silver ornaments of the binding, iş well ascertained; as also that the library building was eventually destroyed by fire. But it long remained a question whether any considerable part of the collection escaped destruction, and remained, unknown and unvalued, in the hands of its captors. For years vague traditions regarding its fate were current among the more sanguine scholars of Germany; and mysterious hopes were whispered about of the wholesale recovery of lost classics, which might be expected from untold Corvinian treasures that still lay concealed in the unvisited library of the Seraglio. These anticipations were cherished most of all at Pesth, where the pride of nationality combined with the spirit of scholarship to keep them alive; and they obtained some general credit from the accidental discovery at Buda, more than half a century after the siege, of a number of volumes, 'undoubtedly Corvinian, but despoiled of their binding, or at least of the costly materials with which it had been adorned. Not the least curious part of the story is the directly contradictory character of the reports as to the prospect of discoveries at Constantinople, which were made by visitors of that city, who professed to have received their information on the spot. Dr. Carlyle was assured by the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem, in 1801, that not a single Greek MS. existed in the Seraglio, or in any other reposi

Dethie by a learnede year 1863-4he officials of traditiona

tory belonging to the Sultan. On the contrary, Tischendorff was led by a conversation with the Patriarch Constantine to entertain the very opposite opinion, and a new impulse was given to the search by these more promising communications. Within the last twenty years a succession of scholars have sought to resolve the question by personal examination, the most remarkable of whom have been Dr. Mordtmann, author . of a work on the Antiquities of Byzantium, Mr. Newton, of the British Museum, M. Emmanuel Miller, who was commis- : sioned by the late Emperor of the French to collate some MSS. bearing upon the Life of Cæsar, and, above all, a party of Hungarian scholars, MM. Kubinyi, Ipolyi, and Henzlmann, members, although not, we believe, official delegates, of the Academy of Pesth. Not one of these missions, however, led to a full and satisfactory resolution ; owing partly to want of time on the part of the visitor, partly to the traditionary jealousy and obstructiveness of the officials of the library ; until at length, in the year 1863-4, the doubt was set at rest for ever by a learned German resident of Constantinople, Dr. Dethier, Director of the Austrian School, who, through the active representations of his ambassador, obtained permission to make a detailed and leisurely examination of the contents of the Seraglio Library. Dr. Dethier's report to the Academy of Pesth may be regarded as extinguishing for ever the high hopes which were once entertained. The Scraglio Library according to his report contains in all about a hundred MSS., of which only sixteen are Corvinian-plainly recognisable, as well by their binding as by the characteristic beauty and distinctness of caligraphy which belong to all Corvinian books. Of this poor remnant hardly one-fourth belongs to ancient literature at all ; and even of those books which are ancient, not a single one contains a line that is not already known and published. Nor can it fail to be regarded as a singular illustration of the futility of human projects, that, among the various sources to which we are indebted for the preservation of what remains of ancient learning, scarcely a single fragment can be traced to that great collection which was the glory and the marvel of its age, and which, humanly speaking, seemed to promise most and best for the perpetuation of classic learning in the modern world. Mr. Edwards has printed, chiefly from Dr. Vogel's contribution to the “Serapeum,* a catalogue of the small remnant of this once noble collection now traceable throughout Europe. The number of MSS. in Mr. Edwards’

[ocr errors]

list is in all but a hundred and two, making, with those now identified in the Seraglio Library, one hundred and eighteen. Of these it is curious to observe that only a single one * is stated to be preserved in the ancient seat of the Corvinian Library, namely, in the University of Pesth. By far the largest share is in the Imperial Library at Vienna, which possesses forty-three. The Seraglio comes next, with its sixteen MSS. described above: Wolfenbüttel has twelve, and Ferrara eleven. It is somewhat remarkable that the labours of Corvinus should be all but unrepresented in the great modern collections. The Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris has but a single Corvinian MS., while the library of the British Museum does not possess even one.

These noble foundations, and the others which grew up in the latter half of the fifteenth century, are the connecting links between the libraries of the old world and that of the modern, They began as manuscript collections; and it is the rapidity with which they grew in extent, and the wideness of the range of authors and subjects which they reached, under the costly and tedious process of transcription, that forms the great marvel of their creation at such a period. But while their glories were still new, and just as the generous rivalry of their founders had reached its highest point, the conditions of the great problem of the multiplication of books, in which all alike were engaged, underwent, in the discovery of the art of printing, that complete and unexpected revolution from which the fortunes of literature have, as it were, drawn a new life, and through which its capabilities have received a development so prodigious as almost to amount to a new creation. Of the facilities afforded by the new art, Corvinus, Lorenzo, and eren Duke Frederic, lived long enough to avail themselves largely in extending their collections; but as collectors of printed books they were so speedily and so completely eclipsed, even by the collectors of the sixteenth century, that their fame must practically rest upon their manuscripts, which are now beyond all price, and which for beauty and accuracy were unrivalled even in their own day.

Among what are regarded as the great libraries of the modern period, the earliest to turn the new art systematically to advantage in extending its literary stores, was the venerable

* The list, however, although very interesting, is not complete. The Library of the Institute at Pesth contains at least three Corvinian MSS. not enumerated in this catalogue.

library of the Vatican. Although this collection dates from a far earlier age, and indeed, if considered simply as the pontifical collection, without reference to its actual locality, is entitled to the very first rank in point of antiquity among the libraries of the West, we have deferred our notice of it to this place, because, even since, in the race of progress as to number of volumes, it has been outstripped by very many collections throughout Europe, the importance and value of its contents and its pre-eminent services to literature must always maintain it in the very highest rank among the depositories of human knowledge. From the middle of the fifth century there are distinct evidences of the existence at Rome of a Pontifical Library, or indeed of two libraries; although we know little of their contents beyond the fact that in them were deposited the official documents of the See. The most important, however, of the ancient papal collections were eventually concentrated in the Lateran Palace. There is reason to believe that the collection was for the age a very considerable one; and Pope Zachary, who, as being a Greek by birth, took an interest in his native literature, not only added to its store of Greek fathers and other Greek writers, but encouraged the translation of the Latin fathers into Greek for the use of his fellowcountrymen. On the removal of the papal court to Avignon, the Lateran Library shared in the migration; and it was upon the return of the popes to Rome that the seat of the library was permanently fixed in the Vatican. The transfer of books however, at this time, appears to have been far from complete; for so late as the pontificate of Pius V., a collection of MSS., amounting to 158 in number, which had remained at Avignon, was added to the Vatican Library.

Perhaps indeed it is not too much to regard the enlightened Pope Nicholas V. as the true founder of the Vatican Library. His zeal for the collection in all parts of the world of Greek and Latin MSS., which has been honourably commemorated by every historian of the revival of letters, was mainly directed to the enlargement of the Vatican collection; and the names of its earliest librarians at this period—Perotti, Filelfo, Platina---are the best guarantee that his design was ably and judiciously seconded by the agents who were employed. All the pontiffs of that time--Callistus III., Pius II., Paul II., and Sixtus IV.-are entitled to their share of this praise. The number and variety of the Incunabula, almost all acquired at the date of publication, which the Vatican still possesses, is at once explained by the circumstances of the time. Most of the new products of the infant presses throughout

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »